Monday, May 26, 2014

4 comments Mitch Williams, M.D.

I found it very enlightening a little over a year ago to find out that Mitch Williams has a blog. Last time we heard from him on this blog he was telling us that Jack Morris should be in the Hall of Fame and Curt Schilling should not. Not that Mitch would hold a grudge against Schilling from their time together with the Phillies of course. Not at all. Mitch also railed against these "smart guys" who think they are capable of running an MLB team. Guys like Jon Daniels of the Rangers and Andrew Friedman of the Rays who have clearly shown they can not run an MLB team effectively. I also find it enlightening that Mitch Williams has apparently earned his medical degree. I say he has earned his medical degree because he seems to know exactly why so many pitchers are having elbow injuries. See, pitchers aren't throwing enough these days and the fact more medical information is available to explain why a pitcher has "dead arm" or just doesn't feel right when he throws...well, those aren't the explanation for why so many pitchers are having elbow injuries.

At what point does baseball as a whole finally figure out that a pitch count is not the way to stop arm injuries? By the way, who was the pitching mastermind who decided 100 pitches was the magic number?

It certainly wasn't someone with a M.D. like Mitch Williams has, that's for sure.

It seems to me that it is happening way more today that it ever did back in the 80s and earlier.

It seems that way because wider knowledge of elbow injuries leads to better and quicker diagnosis of those injuries. It's like a home owner who asks the question, "Why does it seem like we have more cockroaches now that the pest guy has sprayed for them?" It's because more knowledge about a problem leads to a greater awareness of that problem, which leads to the perception the problem is a big problem. Back in the 1980's pitchers weren't having Tommy John surgery and bouncing back in 9-12 months like many modern pitchers are either. Mitch needs to keep that in mind as well.

When will organizations get back to what is really important? That being teaching proper mechanics

This coming from a guy who as a pitcher had the absolute opposite mechanics that a pitching coach would consider "proper" and admits he didn't always know where the ball was going to go.

and throwing a whole lot more than they do presently. They spend all this money to get pitching, then treat it as though it is a fragile piece of crystal. If I’m an owner and I am going to pay the kind of money they are paying, I would make darn sure that the pitching coach knows the proper way to throw a baseball to limit injury.

I didn't know there was a proper way to throw a baseball to limit injury. Please describe this proper way for us Mitch, because you know, there is one definite way to throw a baseball in order to avoid injury.

The only real way to strengthen all the throwing muscles is to throw every day and do it properly.

Again, what the fuck does "properly" mean? This seems like a vague use of a word in order for Mitch to make it seem like he knows exactly what he means when I don't really think he does.

I watch pitchers at the big league level that long toss and the mechanics of their long toss is absolutely nothing like the mechanics they use on the mound. They are trying to throw the ball 300 feet.

So Mitch is saying that he used the same pitching motion and mechanics to throw a baseball during a game that he used for long toss? I'm just wondering because I feel like he has to have adjusted his mechanics and throwing motion just a little bit or else the ball would have gone all over the baseball field.

It should be called long throwing.

You are the one who just called it "long toss" twice in that last paragraph.

That is getting a maximum of 120 feet and walking into it using the same arm slot, the same step, and staying behind your head with your fingers on top of the ball and throwing it as hard as you can high to low. That is how you strengthen the throwing muscles.

And of course Mitch is working under the assumption that strengthening the throwing muscles is the key to avoiding major elbow injuries. I'm not a doctor and every pitcher's arm is different, so this is an assumption I'm not willing to make at this point.

The other thing: eliminate the slide step to hold baserunners...I don’t believe in sacrificing stuff and command to hold a baserunner.

This coming from a guy who spent most of his career sacrificing command in order to make sure he had good stuff. William has a career 1.21 strikeout to walk ratio. The only year in his career he threw over 100 innings he was 10th in the American League in walks. It's absolutely hilarious to me that Mitch Williams is talking about himself not wanting to sacrifice command to hold a baserunner. Mitch Williams' entire pitching style sacrificed command.

And yes, I also find it funny that a guy who pitched 691.1 innings in his career thinks he's an expert on how starting pitchers should stay healthy and try to avoid major elbow injuries. The most innings Williams pitched in one appearance during his career was 4.0 innings and the most pitches I could find he pitched in one start is 70 pitches. So, to hear Mitch Williams lecture about 100 pitches being an arbitrary number is interesting considering he never hit that number in the majors. But hey, I'm sure he knows 100 pitches is arbitrary because he knows a guy who could pitch over 100 pitches without any type of issues...perhaps a guy like Curt Schilling.

Mitch seems like an old school-type guy and many of those old-school guys will say those "who've never played the game" don't know what they are talking about when it comes to injuries to pitchers (or any other baseball-related fact, this was Mitch's criticism in his column last year about how Daniels/Friedman were running their respective teams). I can accept that, even though I think it's dumb, but what's the difference in a guy "who never played the game" running a MLB team and Mitch Williams, a guy who never had to make 100 pitches during an appearance in the majors lecturing his readers on what it takes the body to recover from throwing 100-120 pitches in a start?

Bottom line is: it ain’t the number of pitches thrown, it is the manner in which they are thrown.

Fine, I can accept this. Bottom line: This is still an opinion and not a statement of fact. Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy both have pretty easy and normal throwing motions and mechanics and they are working on a combined four Tommy John surgeries right now. I'm sure Mitch Williams knows exactly what they did wrong in throwing the baseball of course. Because Mitch's mechanics and throwing motion were so stellar and all.

The only people in a baseball stadium who should have a clicker are the people counting how many hot dogs they have sold.

Yeah Mitch, it's 2014 and they don't need a clicker to count how many hot dogs are sold. Them computers can figure out how many hot dogs were sold.

If you need a clicker to tell you when a pitcher is tired, you shouldn’t be a pitching coach.

The "clicker" doesn't tell a manager or pitching coach when the pitcher is tired. It just states how many pitches the pitcher has thrown. From that number, the pitching coach or manager decides whether to pull the pitcher or not. A pitch count isn't used to determine exactly when a pitcher is tired, this seems to be what Mitch believes, but is used as a way of determining when the manager will pull the pitcher for having thrown too many pitches.

A pitcher’s body doesn’t feel the same every day!

OMG! You are probably so right!

Some days he may be tired after 80 pitches, some days he may not tire until 150 pitches.

Or some days he may throw 20 pitches and 20 years later lecture pitching coaches and managers on exactly how a pitcher's arm feels after throwing 150 pitches.

That is why there are pitching coaches.

At this point, it is probably best to point out that Mitch Williams was a pitching coach for two years in 2002 and 2003. He's no longer a pitching coach, but I'm sure his team had great mechanics and never got injured.

To sit and watch their pitcher and know when his legs are breaking down, when his mechanics are changing to deliver the ball, or when the other team is beating him all over the park. A clicker can’t tell you any of those things.

No, but a person's eyes can tell you these things. I don't think any pitching coach or manager uses a clicker to determine if a pitcher is getting killed out there. Mitch is basically just speaking nonsense at this point. Pitching coaches and managers aren't a slave to a pitch count to the point they don't notice how the pitcher is throwing the ball or haven't noticed the other team just scored four runs in an inning.

I played professional baseball from the time I was 17 until I was 32. In that time, there was never a day that went by that I didn’t throw if we were at the ballpark. I never got stiff, sore or hurt.

Again, a key point that Mitch has left out is that he threw a total of 691.1 innings in the majors. In terms of workload, he wasn't exactly killing it one day and then going out to throw the next day. He was a relief pitcher whose job it was to be ready everyday. So when discussing how he never got stiff, sore or hurt then he needs to remember he wasn't pitching heavy workloads every fifth day.

My arm was trained to throw — and to throw a lot.

Except Mitch's arm didn't throw a lot without giving his arm a day of rest when he played in the majors. I'm sure he threw on the side and everyone knows a pitcher really throws more than X amount of innings per year when side work between starts, warming up prior to a start and long toss are included. It's just Mitch is using himself as an example of how a player can throw a lot of pitches and then bounce back, except Mitch was a reliever, so he didn't throw a lot of pitches in one appearance. This is like a sprinter telling a long distance runner how to conserve his energy and prevent injury. The experience of the sprinter on what he has to do in order to recover and prevent injury could be different from that experience of a long distance runner.

People laughed at my delivery, because I fell off the side of the mound after throwing. 

Mitch's delivery and mechanics are not something a pitching coach would necessarily teach his pitchers to replicate.

Two things accounted for that: I threw across my body,

Some people try to account for injuries to certain pitchers by explaining the pitcher throws across his body and puts undue stress on his arm. I just hope Mitch understands that when he's talking about arm injuries and how he went about avoiding them.

and from 1990 until 1997 I had no PCL in my right knee.

That doesn't sound like a major injury potentially caused by Mitch's pitching motion at all.

So at a certain point, my landing leg would give out. I don’t care if a pitcher bursts into flames after he lets go of the ball. As long as he gets up and back with his lower half to allow his arm to catch up and be in the correct spot at release, that is what matters.

And that is the way to avoid major arm injuries, right? I think I'd be much better persuaded if Mitch Williams, M.D. had some sort of other data to inform me his opinion is correct other than to say, "I threw a lot of pitches and didn't get hurt." Especially since Mitch didn't throw a lot of pitches in one appearance.

These pitchers are not china dolls.

No, but they are investments and can be rather expensive investments at that.

They simply need to throw more and throw correctly.

I can get behind throw correctly, but I'm a little shaky about saying a pitcher should throw more. Constant repetition can strengthen muscles, but it's also a good way to wear down a muscle or tendon if overused. There's really no perfect formula on how to prevent elbow injuries that I have heard. Of course maybe I should pay more attention to Mitch Williams, M.D. who knows through his vast experience of never throwing 100 pitches in a major league game what it takes to recover from throwing 100 pitches in a major league game. 


rich said...

That is getting a maximum of 120 feet and walking into it using the same arm slot, the same step, and staying behind your head with your fingers on top of the ball and throwing it as hard as you can high to low.

That actually seems like it'd be worse for your arm than... just pitching every day.

Seriously, if a normal pitching maneuver destroys a guys arm, how much worse is this going to be for them. What an unfathomably stupid thing....

I played professional baseball from the time I was 17 until I was 32. In that time, there was never a day that went by that I didn’t throw if we were at the ballpark.

As a Phillies fan, there are some days I wish Mitch had skipped.

No, but they are investments and can be rather expensive investments at that.

This is more poignant than anything said by any baseball "analyst" in the past decade.

If I'm dumping 20+M into a guy over 6-8 years GUARANTEED, your damn right I'm treating him like a high priced investment.

Bengoodfella said...

Rich, I don't know what the proper procedure to save a player's arm might be. That didn't sound like the right procedure to save a player's arm though.

I do get how players who are treated like investments can be over-protected. I don't doubt that's true at all. I also understand that pitchers need to throw to strengthen their muscles, but if I am a GM I'm simply not running my best pitcher out there for 130 pitches in a start.

I have no idea why there are so many arm injuries and I don't think Mitch does either. He was a reliever, so he can't act like he was throwing 100 pitches during his starts or anything.

Eric Long said...

This is so great. Mitch Williams being Mitch Williams. I wrote something recently about elbow injuries and basically had to admit that I have no freaking idea why they are occurring so much more. I think your point that we know more is valid. In the past, pitchers with bad elbows would just fade away and would be discussed as having a "dead arm" or "lost velocity." These days, we (figurative we, not me in any way!) can fix just about anything mechanical by just sewing in a new [name your favorite connective tissue]. As you also state, Mitch Williams, who looked like he was having a seizure on the mount when he pitched, should not be offering advice on pitching mechanics.

The other thing I had to comment on is his explanation for the purpose behind long toss. I pitched (poorly) in high school, and long toss was an important day after pitching ritual. The purpose was not arm strength, but to stretch out the muscles, tendons, ligaments of the arm. The idea was to get as long a motion as possible and get a lot of air under the ball. This worked so much better than regular arm stretches. 250-300 foot long toss was the best remedy to combat muscle soreness, and thus likely protects the muscles. From what I've seen, major leaguers tend to do this appropriately. I find it absolutely hilarious that throwing ball 120+ feet (which is not long toss at all!) on a line with a motion that mimics your pitching mechanics would be advisable. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, though. Mitch Williams' answer to getting batters out was to just throw the ball as hard as possible and pray that the batter swung or that the ball miraculously made it into the strike zone. This is exactly the type of dude who would not only take a brute force approach to long toss, but also proclaim that muscle strength is the reason that long toss is important. Mitch Williams has succeeded in making my head hurt.

As a bit of an aside, if I had to take a wild guess regarding why we see so many injuries in sports these days, aside from because we diagnose more of them, I would suggest that too much muscularity and strength might be the issue, as this can reduce flexibility (not my idea, but I certainly buy into it). Look at all the hamstring problems in the NFL.

Bengoodfella said...

Eric, I actually would agree with your guess. I think perhaps more muscle training and strength and conditioning has to do with the rise in arm injuries. I also think it has to do with pitchers just throwing harder now than they used to.