Breaking Down the Broken Down-A video analysis of Mark Prior

First, a note to my readers.

Here’s how I know that I’m just not that good a writer yet. I spend WAY too much time and thought trying to come up with witty, catchy intros and conclusions that “tie it all together.” Most of the time, my intros just plain suck. Most of my best insight and analysis come when I just put down what I’m thinking at that exact time. George Carlin says “I don’t do transitional material, I just move right on to the next thing.” That’s sort of my philosophy as well. Cook my steak perfectly and I’ll forgive you if the sides aren’t that good. With apologies to all my English teachers, THT editors, and readers who are looking for something a bit more professional, I promise that I’ll try to work on the whole intro/body/conclusion thing. Just not today….

The above paragraph is a product of the frustration of having to come up with an introduction for Mark Prior. Do I really need an introduction for Mark Prior? Exactly.

Let’s take a look at some of he mechanical differences in Mark Prior’s delivery over the years.

Tempo changes

In my opinion, this is where his problems begin.

All three have been synchronized to when Prior begins his descent from the top of his knee lift. From the top of the knee lift to release, #1 takes 26 frames, #2 takes 27, and #3 is at 28 frames (all of these at 30 frames/second). Now, Prior has never really been quick in the tempo department by power pitcher standards. In general, most power pitchers will take anywhere from 19 to 23 frames, so Prior has always been deliberate. The idea is this. The faster you are with your body towards the plate, the more momentum you build into footplant and the less work your arm has to do to produce 95+mph force. You’ll jump farther from a running start than from a walking start. It’s pretty much the same principle at work here.
Now, two frames slower isn’t a HUGE difference for most. For Prior however, the more deliberate pace has altered his arm action.

Arm action changes

This clip is synchronized to release at frame 20.

Two specific reasons why I like the ’01 version better:

1) He breaks his hands later. His arm travels roughly the same distance is less time =(in theory) better arm speed.
2) Notice how #4 (the ’01 version) maintains a slight bend in his elbow. #5 (the ’07 version) straightens out his arm on the way back. I’ve slowed the animation down at the key points in his delivery (frames eight through 10).

I mentioned that his more deliberate tempo has changed his arm action. By slowing his body down and breaking his hands earlier, the ’07 version’s arm is waiting for the front foot to land in order to start bringing the juice. His arm action has gotten longer because it has to compensate for his slowed down pace. Speed anyone up and watch his arm action get shorter.
Why do catchers and infielders have such short arm action?
One, they have been taught to be shorter. Second, they HAVE to be shorter because an infielder or catcher trying to make a quick throw doesn’t have the luxury of extending the arm ALL the way back to do so. I’m not advocating that pitchers throw like catchers. However, I prefer shorter arm action on pitchers for both injury reasons and mechanical efficiency. The shoulder takes a beating when the arm gets completely extended.

Did you also notice…

Arm slot changes

This is the one thing I really noticed that is new for this year. Check this out:

It looks like Prior has made a conscious change to not bring the elbow above the shoulder. I can’t blame him for that. There’s evidence out there to suggest that bringing the elbow above the shoulder plane causes extra stress on the shoulder.

It looks like a lower arm slot doesn’t it? Well, it does to me. His head in ’04 moves slightly to the left at release, whereas ’07 keeps his head more stable. My guess is that, in the offseason, he worked on his posture (not moving his head out of the way) and not bringing his elbow above the shoulder plane. Also, does it look like he is opening up too soon now? Watch the entire clip, noting the front shoulder. Maybe it’s the camera angle, but it sure looks like he’s flying open.

One more big difference: INTENT

The follow through is an indication of what the body has done throughout the delivery. Some more video:

WOW!! There’s not much I need to say about this. Frame #8 is MUCH more aggressive than #9. Here are the key frames that show me his intent to throw hard. Last video, I promise…

Notice how ’04’s body goes forward and “bows” forward more. Not only does this demonstrate more aggressiveness with his arm and body, but it also helps the arm by not being so abrupt with his finish. It gives the arm a slightly longer arc for it to decelerate.

Open letter to Mark Prior

OK, I have some suggestions.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

Dear Mr. Prior,

I realize that most of us have been taught to be deliberate and “under control” with our mechanics. You were taught the “tall and fall” and learned it well. You were blessed with the arm strength and learned the proper arm action to put 95+mph force on the ball. However, you need your body to help your arm. You need to learn how to use your body better. I have one suggestion, and it is a major adjustment.
Don’t waste time. Move your body quickly. Don’t stay over the rubber as long as you have been. Have your butt/hips lead the rest of your body into an aggressive move forward. Use momentum to your advantage. You have an athletic lower body with the biggest calves known to mankind. Push off if you have to, as it will take pressure off your shoulder and bring your fastball back. Don’t worry about the arm slot and arm action as those will take care of themselves with increased tempo.
Good luck Mr. Prior.
Carlos Gomez, aka ChadBradfordWannabe.

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