Thursday, January 28, 2010

What's Next for Neshek?

Ever since he burst onto the scene as a dominating set-up man in 2006, striking out 53 in just 37 innings of work, people have debated Pat Neshek's motion. Due to its unique quality from start (where he does not raise his lead leg) to finish (after the arm's whipping action concludes with him seemingly firing an imaginary gun in the air), his mechanics became a polarizing subject. One group focused on his biomechanics and chain-fluidity questioned whether he could remain healthy in spite of little to no power generated from the bottom-half of his body; the other group favored the results over the process said don't fix what's not broken.

Without question, Neshek’s unorthodox delivery raises plenty of eyebrows. It’s funky, quirky and seems to hypnotize opponents. Yet somewhere in that organized chaos, there was something putting undue stress on his elbow. By his own admission, Neshek is incapable of changing his delivery. According to Kelly Thesier, while traveling on the Twins’ Winter Caravan, Neshek was asked on more than one occasion if he had designs on altering his deliver since the injury. Neshek said "I can't really throw another way. Everything is going to be the same. Some people think I got injured because I throw a funny way."

If he cannot change, what does this mean for him and the organization?

What stands out to me the most about his mechanics while re-watching this clip from, is that Neshek does a significant amount of scap loading. Essentially, scap loading is when a pitcher forcibly pulls his shoulder off of the acromial line, exerting effort to move their arms towards first base (if they are right-handed) or third (if left-handed) and the north-south invisible axis between second base and home. You should be able to pick this out in the pitching clip above but certainly the photo below. This disrupts timing and often puts stress on the shoulder and elbow. This, more than anything else, is his biggest problem.

Admittedly, the merits of implementing this type of arm action have been contested. Carlos Gomez, a one-time contributor to, is a major advocate of this. In a 2007 write-up on Jake Peavy, Gomez tried to explain why he is in favor of scap loading by taking the reader through an exercise to illustrate his point: Stand up, elbows at shoulder height (or slightly below), forearms parallel to the ground and at a 90 degree angle with the upper arm. Now, imagine someone is behind you and slowly elbow that person without rotating your torso. Feel that stretch in your pec/shoulder? That elastic loading and subsequent unloading of the shoulder (and the correct timing of it) is a big driver of arm speed. Think of it as stretching a rubber band and then letting it go.”

This can generate velocity. No question. For someone who used little of his lower body in his mechanics, Pat Neshek was able to reach around 90-mph on his fastball. Still the real issue is, at what cost? 

Kyle Boddy at, on the other hand, is staunchly against it's use. Boddy used some weightlifting science to reaffirm his belief that scap loading is detrimental to a pitcher’s arm. Boddy writes: “For those people who are educated in the field of exercise science and weightlifting, they will all tell you that proper bench press form involves stopping when the elbow is right at (or just beyond) the shoulder line and no further. Why? It is simple: This position of shoulder horizontal abduction is mechanically weak.” Similar to Gomez, Boddy continues by referencing an article from Real Weight Lifting to educate why, mechanically, this is not suited for the body:  “[I]magine you were lying on the bench press. Put your arms up in front of you and hold the imaginary bar. Flair your elbows out to 90 degrees, like most people do on the bench press. Now, pull your elbows back and stretch your chest as if you were lowering the bar down. You’ll find that it’s hard to pull your arms back past a certain point, and you feel a stiffness or tension in the back of your shoulders, behind the rear delt. That feeling is your rotator cuffs being compressed against your shoulder blades, and telling you that the shoulder is not meant to flex in that direction.”

Meanwhile Chris O’Leary, another pitching mechanics guru, believes that scap loading’s use falls somewhere in-between those stances. By his account, O'Leary suggests there to be a correct way to scap load and a dangerous way to scap load. In his dissertation on the practice, O’Leary identifies numerous pitchers whose mechanics have a variation of scap loading. On the list are Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens and Tom Seaver. What trait all these pitchers’ share is that they keep their throwing elbow below their shoulder. The riskiest method of scap loading, says O’Leary, is just the opposite: when a pitcher raises his elbow above his shoulder line creating what he refers to as the inverted W. In the essay, O’Leary names several pitchers who are guilty of this method including Anthony Reyes, Jeremy Bonderman and Mark Prior. All of those pitchers have had extensive arm and shoulder issues and major corrective surgery (Tommy John and rotator cuff). Looking at the picture below, you can see Pat Neshek belongs in this group. 

Neshek’s method of scap loading surely qualifies as an inverted W. Unfortunately there is an extended trail of scar tissue that originated from pitching like this. He has already admitted he will not make any adjustments. Without any alterations to this approach, I suspect that he is highly susceptible to a slew of injuries, more so now that he’s closing in on his 30’s and he ages.

From the organization’s standpoint, the Twins have navigated through almost two complete seasons without his assistance and do not seem to be convinced that he will (1) return to his pre-injury form or (2) stay healthy. In fact, they built their bullpen anticipating future hiccups. Acquiring set-up Jon Rauch at the trade deadline in ’09 demonstrates this mentality. Unlike some of the other potential trade targets, Rauch’s contract extended through 2010 giving the organization additional cushion if Neshek never fully rebounds. Likewise, although some payroll could have been cut by allowing Jesse Crain walk, instead the Twins offered him arbitration. The Twins are prepared for life without Neshek.