Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Pictures of pitchers

I am frequently fascinated by still photography of pitchers. Freezing the image in mid-delivery often makes it obvious that the arm is simply not supposed to be doing this. The wonder isn't that pitchers get hurt from throwing high-velocity, high-torque pitches, but that the injuries aren't more common.

This is an AP photo of San Francisco rookie Madison Bumgarner taken during Game 4 on Sunday:

It is almost identical to an AP photo taken eight days earlier (by the same photgrapher, no less) when he was pitching in Philadelphia; the only real difference is that in the NLCS game he had a black brim on his cap. I know what the photographer was thinking: Look at that straight line. I've looked at hundreds of photos of pitchers over the years, and I rarely if ever see something like that.

Contrast that to this:

This is C.J. Wilson of the Texas Rangers, displaying what is known in some biomechanic circles as "the inverted W." (That it's called "the inverted W" rather than "the M" suggests that somebody also knew something about typography, but let's not get diverted.) Note that both elbows are above the shoulders and both hands are below. Go ahead — try to put your arms in that position. Real comfortable, isn't it?

Francisco Liriano did this in 2006 — I remember several photos of him in this position. I haven't seen a photo of him in the inverted W since, and I assume that is the result of the delivery changes the Twins had him make after his ligament replacement surgery.

For this and other reasons, if I were still playing fantasy baseball I'd let somebody else take the risk of having C.J. Wilson next year.

One more photo. This one, I suspect, is more a function of toying with shutter speed than the pitcher —  if Pat Christman is reading this, he can speak to that question — but still ... everything else is moving, but Bumgarner's head is still. (Addendum: I talked with P.C. about this during a lull on election night, and yeah — it's shutter speed. Slow enough to blur movement.)

Bumgarner is a very interesting young (21) pitcher. He rocketed through the Giants' minor league system, putting up ERAs below 2.00 at every level until he hit Triple A this year. But the reports this spring had his fastball velocity in the mid-80s, down from the mid-90s in the minors. He lost out on the fifth starter job in spring training and was a mess at Triple A at the start of the year.

Clearly the velocity is back.

1 comment:

  1. You're right Ed. As I mentioned on Election night, there's a sweet spot shutter speed-wise where Bumgarner's head is moving too slowly to blur, but his arms and chest are.

    The shallow horizontal AP photo of Bumgarner (both of them!) was shot by Matt Slocum, a staffer from Philadelphia, I believe. Often the AP will tap its most skilled photographers at a given sport from around the country to shoot World Series games, Stanley Cup playoffs, Super Bowls, etc. Shooting on the national stage surely motivated him to recreate the Bumgarner photo from the NLCS.