1974 Cy Young Award winner Mike Marshall, who now resides near Tampa, researches the physics of pitching mechanics.
A year ago, I interviewed Dr. Mike Marshall, the 1974 National League Cy Young Award winner who later became a controversial advocate for a radical overhaul of pitching mechanics. You can learn more at his web site, DrMikeMarshall.com.
Since then, Dr. Marshall has contacted me from time to time for advice about video editing. He let me know yesterday that his first newly edited video is now available on YouTube. Click on the arrow below to watch the video.
I found particularly interesting how Mike put stripes or dots on a ball to make it easier for you to see in slow motion the rotation on a pitched ball.
1974 Cy Young Award winner Mike Marshall, who now resides near Tampa, researches the physics of pitching mechanics.
Is he right?
I’ve no idea.
Mike Marshall certainly believes he’s right, though, and he’s amassed a large body of evidence on his web site, DrMikeMarshall.com.
I drove over to Dr. Marshall’s home in Zephyrhills, near Tampa, where we recorded a 70-minute interview. Click here to watch the interview. Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection required.
Marshall first became known to the baseball world thanks to Ball Four by Jim Bouton. Marshall was a cerebral pitcher knowledgeable about players’ union issues, and Bouton’s chess-playing buddy. They were two members of the Seattle Pilots, a 1969 American League expansion team that moved next spring to Milwaukee and became today’s Brewers.
For Marshall, baseball was just a way to pay for his graduate school studies at Michigan State. He earned a Masters of Science in 1967 in physical education, and a Doctorate in 1978 in Exercise Physiology. He used baseball as his research tool, to test how his body performed and apply that to his growing knowledge of biomechanics. According to his web site, his doctorate dissertation was, “A Comparison of an Estimate of Skeletal Age With Chronological Age When Classifying Adolescent Males for Motor Proficiency Norms.”
Mike applied what he was learning to his pitching mechanics. He began his minor league career as a shortstop in 1961 — he hit .304 with 14 HR for Magic Valley in the Pioneer League in 1963 — but switched to the mound in 1965. His career was unremarkable until 1972, when at age 29 he posted a 1.78 ERA in 56 relief appearances (116.0 IP) for the Montreal Expos. In 1973, he posted a 2.66 ERA in 92 games (179.0 IP).
The Expos traded Marshall that winter to the Dodgers for veteran outfielder Willie Davis. Mike appeared in 106 games (208.1 IP), all in relief, helped the Dodgers to the World Series, and was named the National League’s Cy Young Award winner.
Marshall credits a total overhaul of his pitching mechanics, applying what he’d learned at Michigan State. During this time, as he blossomed into perhaps the league’s best reliever, he was an adjunct professor at MSU.
Much has been written over the years about Mike’s theories. The baseball establishment seems to have rejected his proposal to totally change pitching mechanics. Major League Baseball is hidebound on its best days, so it’s unrealistic to expect them to abandon the way pitchers currently throw for a radically different approach.
Mike is fiercely passionate, but also fiercely logical, about the subject. He approaches the issue as a researcher, as a scientist. He argues quite rightly that a lot of money is wasted on creating a major league pitcher only to have him break down. We’ve all seen plenty of free-agent pitchers hit the jackpot only to break down before their contract ends.
The Nationals signed #1 draft pick Stephen Strasburg to a four-year $15.1 million contract. I showed Marshall a clip I filmed last October of Strasburg’s pro debut in fall instructional league. Strasburg hadn’t pitched in game competition for four months, so this wasn’t Stephen at his best, and I told Mike that. In the interview, Mike comments briefly on what he saw, although he acknowledged off-camera he would like to observe Strasburg from multiple angles with a super-slow motion camera to make a more informed judgment.
In any case, Strasburg is an example of a massive investment by a major league organization, which carries with it a massive risk. But I can’t imagine the Nationals sending Strasburg to Zephyrhills to have Marshall overhaul his mechanics. How would GM Mike Rizzo explain to the press that he’d invested $15 million in a guy whose mechanics were so bad he had to be rebuilt from scratch? The end result, of course, is unforeseen. And there are hundreds of pitching coaches and scouts around organized baseball who, trained to teach the traditional mechanics, would strenuously disagree with Marshall’s theories — not because he’s wrong, but it’s all they know.
I’m certainly no expert when it comes to pitching mechanics, much less kinesiology and biomechanics. Marshall is right when he says baseball needs to find a way to reduce pitcher injuries, given the millions and millions of dollars invested in their development. Are Mike’s theories the answer? I can’t tell you. More knowledgeable people than me have tried. But it’s certainly a debate worth having, and if MLB was more visionary they would finance research towards reducing pitcher injuries.
It’s just a lot easier to shovel millions of dollars to an ace pitcher and leave the egghead stuff for someone else.
This article also appears on FutureAngels.com, our affiliated blog.
On November 10, 2009, the Pittsburgh Pirates purchased the Sarasota Reds franchise in the Florida State League and moved it north to Bradenton.
The Reds were no longer interested in Florida because they’ve moved their spring training/minor league complex to Arizona for 2010. The Lynchburg franchise in the Carolina League, which was the Pirates’ Advanced Class-A affiliate, will now be a Reds’ affiliate.
As more baseball organizations relocate from Florida to Arizona, it’s led some to question the continued viability of the Grapefruit League, the spring training circuit for teams based here in the Sunshine State. The Dodgers and Indians preceded the Reds in recent years, leaving fifteen clubs in Florida. Arizona’s advantage is that its fifteen clubs are all located around Phoenix, while Florida’s clubs are scattered about the state.
One rumor persists that the Chicago Cubs might relocate from Mesa, Arizona to Naples, Florida. This probably has more to do with the Cubs’ lease on Hohokam Stadium, which allows them to opt out in 2010. Major league organizations often seek “opt out” clauses in long-term leases as a means of squeezing their municipal landlords for improvements, financed (of course) by the taxpayers. Hohokam is rather antiquated by modern major league baseball complex standards. It has only two practice fields, limited parking and little room for expansion. The minor league complex is about three blocks south at Fitch Park. These days, clubs prefer an integrated complex to seamlessly move players from one facility to another. Naples, presumably, would be a clean slate.
Most Florida State League clubs operate out of their parent club’s spring training complex. The twelve FSL teams and their parent clubs are (those in the parent club’s park are in bold):
|Bradenton Marauders||Pittsburgh Pirates|
|Brevard County Manatees||Milwaukee Brewers|
|Charlotte Stone Crabs||Tampa Bay Rays|
|Clearwater Threshers||Philadelphia Phillies|
|Daytona Cubs||Chicago Cubs|
|Dunedin Blue Jays||Toronto Blue Jays|
|Ft. Myers Miracle||Minnesota Twins|
|Jupiter Hammerheads||Florida Marlins|
|Lakeland Flying Tigers||Detroit Tigers|
|Palm Beach Cardinals||St. Louis Cardinals|
|St. Lucie Mets||New York Mets|
|Tampa Yankees||New York Yankees|
If the Chicago Cubs move to Naples, it creates a scenario where they might want to move their FSL affiliation to Naples too. To do that, they’d have to acquire an FSL franchise. The Pirates bought Sarasota from the Reds and moved it to Bradenton, but none of the other organizations based in their own complex seem inclined any time soon to leave as Cincinnati did.
That would leave the two teams not playing in their parent club’s park — the Daytona Cubs and the Brevard County Manatees.
The straightforward solution is to move the Daytona franchise to Naples, but Daytona is one of the historic franchises in the league. Daytona has been in and out of the FSL since 1920. Since 1993, it’s been a Cubs affiliate. Jackie Robinson Ballpark is historic because of its namesake; according to their web site, “The park was renamed Jackie Robinson Ballpark in 1989 as the stadium served as host to the first racially integrated game in baseball history,” although that’s not quite true as their were many semi-pro, independent and barnstorming games in the early 20th Century that were more or less integrated. Daytona Beach was the first Florida town to permit Robinson to play with his white Dodgers teammates, during 1946 spring training.
In any case, should the Daytona franchise’s owner choose not to sell, that leaves only the Manatees. The Brevard franchise could relocate to Naples, then switch affiliations to the Cubs. An affiliation switch couldn’t happen, though, until the Manatees’ Player Development Contract (PDC) with Milwaukee expires after the 2010 season.
Daytona drew an average 2,425 fans per game in 2009, while Brevard drew only 1,183. That’s a slight improvement from 1,035 in 2008, but it’s still down significantly from 2,151, the last year the Marlins were in town before swapping with Montreal in Jupiter. The best average attendance since then was 1,822 in 2004, the year before the Expos left and the Brewers replaced them.
The Manatees sublease Space Coast Stadium from the Washington Nationals, formerly the Expos. They changed their Advanced Class-A affiliation to Potomac in the Carolina League in 2005 when the Expos moved to D.C., so there’s no chance the Nats would put an FSL team in Brevard if the Manatees leave.
Just speculating, but another scenario might be the transfer of two franchises to the FSL from the California League. Minor League Baseball considered transferring two Cal League franchises, Bakersfield and High Desert, to the Carolina League after the 2008 season. That idea fell through, apparently because new ballparks weren’t available.
If Daytona or Brevard moved to Naples, that franchise could be replaced by one from the Cal League, although to keep schedules balanced in both leagues two franchises would have to move to Florida. East Coast teams such as the Rays and Red Sox had to play in the Cal League in recent years because no Florida or Carolina option was available.
Should the Cubs move to Naples, it could trigger a cascade of events in the Florida State League perhaps unanticipated so far by the public. But it would reverse the slow migration west of major league clubs heading for Arizona.
UPDATE January 10, 2010 — Click here to read an article on MLB.com about the history and movement between the Grapefruit League and Cactus League.
The article describes the Reds’ new start-of-the-art complex in Goodyear:
The Reds’ $23 million complex features six full practice fields plus two half-fields for infield work, and space for agility drills. There are multiple bullpens and covered batting cages. The facility also features a 43,000 square foot, two-story building for offices, clubhouses and rehabilitation.
Contrast that with what I wrote above about the Cubs’ limited facility in Mesa, and you can understand why they’re looking around.