Friday, May 11, 2007

Mike Marshall, MLB's Rick Barry?

Possibly. We're all familiar with NBA great Rick Barry's repeated offers to teach his under-handed free-throw shooting technique to atrocious brickers like Shaquille O'Neal, and they've all been shot down, partially because Barry doesn't exactly have the most personable of reputations (yet the man shot 90% at the line with that odd technique for his career). Now, Jeff Passan has stumbled upon his baseball equivalent.

Mike Marshall is a former Cy Young winner as a Dodger reliever, having done so with an unusual delivery, developed from his own study of exercise physiology. This is what the motion looks like:

With a wrist weight ranging from 15 to 30 pounds tethered to their pitching arm, they swing their pitching arm straight down like a pendulum, lift it over their ear and follow through with a hard pronation, turning the wrist outward with the thumb pointing down.

Marshall is convinced these actions can help save baseball from one of its great scourges. The rest of the motion is simple. No leg kick. No rotating the hips back toward second base. Facing the hitter, the pitcher steps with his glove-side foot and rotates his other leg with such fury his back almost ends up parallel to home plate.

One of Marshall's students, for lack of a better description, said "we kind of throw like a girl."
Sounds familiar. That's the same critique given to Barry's under-handed technique, and the video provided with the article gives me the sense that half of that motion is like a softball pitcher's, only with overhand motion. But the stubbornness that people saw in Barry's ways are also there in Marshall, despite his profession of results, most of his students are indie league players, some who were cut from major league organizations:
Any suggestion that Marshall adapt his program – mix his motion with the traditional motion to make the transition easier, or cut out the terminology to focus on the end rather than the means, or perhaps collaborate with others in the growing field of biomechanics – is met with a stern no.

"I called him a few years ago and said, 'Tell me about your stuff,' " said Dr. Glenn Fleisig, the biomedical engineer who works alongside top baseball surgeon Dr. James Andrews at the Alabama Sports Medicine Institute. "He said no. I said, 'Can I tell you?' And he said he didn't want to hear what any other researcher is doing, that he never read or listened to anything because he didn't want to be accused of stealing. The concept of a researcher who's speaking up but won't listen is a big turn-off."

Noble, but futile, in a sense. However, one of his success stories is Dodgers reliever Rudy Seanez, and if he's still pitching at his advanced age, then why isn't a GM at least giving Marshall an ear?

Major league sports are by nature conservative, slow to adapt changes in gameplay -- look at the reluctance of most NFL coaches to even apporach the idea of using the option or any other method of offense common in the college ranks. This despite the theory that if you have an option being run to compensate for less athletically talented players, serious pro talent would make the option look revolutionary.

Barry's below the waist method, which looks like you're throwing a giant skee-ball, was so successful that he never shot less than 86% in his seasons in the NBA and the ABA. It wasn't graceful looking, and doesn't claim to tackle anything in basketball as serious as arm injuries in baseball, but it was outside the norm enough and looked so, well, unmanly, that no one, not even his own ball-playing sons, would go for it.

Major league pitching mechanics are just as sacrosanct, but with yet another pitcher in Toronto's B.J. Ryan headed under the knife for Tommy John surgery, front office folk might want to look into any method they can to protect multi-million dollar investments.

Outside Pitch [Yahoo Sports]
Dr. Mike Marshall's Pitching Coach Services []
Rick Barry Bio []
Rick Barry Statistics []

(Photo: Getty Images)

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