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  • Though Strasburg had not yet had even a year in the Nationals system, key muscles could have been either weakened or fatigued because of the longer professional season.If fatigue was indeed the culprit, and had the Nationals realized it, they could have given Strasburg an extra day off between each start or periodically skipped him in the rotation in order to give him extra time to recuperate.However, that does not mean that the preexisting damage would not have required surgery anyway.The Nationals might have considered changing Strasburg’s mechanics, but had they done so they would have risked curtailing those traits that had made him special in the first place.Part of what makes Strasburg so dominant is his ability to rotate his shoulder as externally as is humanly possible, and thus achieve the velocity that makes his pitches so hard to hit.The movement on his pitches, too, is related to his elbow position at ball release.If either of these were changed, especially if done quickly, not only would Strasburg potentially lose effectiveness, but other structures in his arm and shoulder would be at risk for injury as well.Changes would have had to have been made over a long period of time, something the Nationals did not have in 2010 because of public interest.It’s clear that the incidence of injuries has risen in the last decade and could remain at an elevated level for the foreseeable future.This is not to say that things can’t be done to decrease the risk of injury.Players need to perform strength and conditioning exercises as prescribed both during the season and in the offseason.Pitchers need to focus on proper mechanics of the entire body, not just the arm slot.They need to be honest with the coaching and medical staff regarding their soreness or fatigue on days that they pitch and also on off days.Full disclosure on the part of the players at risk would allow teams to design individualized programs more effectively.Pitchers should avoid gutting it out and reaching back when they feel tired or sore.Common reports of difficulties getting loose, tightness in the back of the shoulder, or soreness that lasts longer than usual can be indications of an internal injury to the labrum.By pushing through discomfort, pitchers risk further weakening and, eventually, significant injury.Coaches and organizations also share responsibility.In addition to their roles in looking for signs of fatigue, they are crucial to the development of a throwing program.The best results occur when the coaching and medical staffs work together to individualize the programs.Many discussions on long tossing have taken place, since it has been shown to be an effective strengthening technique.The concern over long toss is that it does not replicate game conditions and employs different mechanics than throwing off the mound.Studies have proven that strength can safely be improved despite the different mechanics because forces on the shoulder are decreased when pitchers throw with less intensity.It is not until the pitcher is using maximum effort in his long toss that the forces and torques in the arm become greater than they do when he is pitching off a mound, increasing the risk of injury.Coaches and teams should not force every pitcher to conform to set methods, especially if they come from teams with wildly different methods and throwing programs.Wolff’s law states that bone will adapt its structure to be able to withstand the forces applied to it, and Davis’s law applies similar reasoning to soft tissues.As a result, any changes must be made slowly.This would help to monitor relief pitcher workloads objectively.Organizationally, more emphasis can be placed on pitching to contact in proper situations, which can keep inning pitch counts lower, a style of energy conservation on the mound that goes back to the days of Christy Mathewson.As new medical research is released, it is up to teams and their medical staffs to evaluate how to integrate it into their systems.This needs to be done from the top of an organization all the way down to rookie ball, as well as in high school and college programs, because that is where the foundation is laid for major injuries such as Stephen Strasburg’s Tommy John surgery.Generations of players and families have handed down a love for baseball for at least a century and a half.For almost as long, people have been recording and counting information about the game, going back to men like Henry Chadwick and Al Spalding.Information gatherers, organizers, and distributors have played a prominent role in how fans have understood the game throughout its history.If you are the type of fan who wants to know why things happen and how baseball works, there is no better time to be alive than now.This is the age when we are progressively figuring out how to track everything that happens in a baseball game.In October 2006, it unveiled a technology that was to transform the baseball information world.As Jason Kendall led off for the Minnesota Twins against Esteban Loaiza of the Oakland Athletics in Game Two of the American League Division Series, two Sportvision cameras were poised to track the trajectory of each pitch.For the first time, baseball fans had precise knowledge of the trajectories of the pitches thrown by major league pitchers in game action.Few of us recognized it at the time, and those who did may not have fully understood the event as the revelatory development it was.Baseball players, coaches, and fans at every level of the game have observed pitchers and their pitches for decades.What it did was to digitize this information, making it widely and cheaply available, precisely quantified, and no longer subject to privileged access of the observer.This gold mine of information has greatly increased our understanding in such diverse areas as the physics of baseball, pitch types and pitcher repertoires, and the strike zone.Baseball is a game that has always fascinated physicists.It has moving objects, collisions, and invisible forces at play.Does a curveball really curve, and if so, why?He condensed in one small volume a wealth of knowledge about how the ball, bat, and players moved and interacted.In some cases, he based his explanations upon the results of laboratory experiments conducted by scientists on baseballs and baseball bats.These scientists were often fans who had found a spare moment to investigate the physical principles of the game they loved.In other cases when experimental data were unavailable, Adair drew conclusions from careful observations of the game or from mental exercises through which he determined the most likely sequence of the constituent parts of the baseball event in question.Does a curveball curve?We have now been able to measure the curvature of several hundred thousand curveballs within an accuracy of a couple of inches.How does air resistance affect the movement of the baseball?Nathan has led the effort to learn about the aerodynamics of a baseball from the resulting data.The improved understanding of the physical forces involved has provided a foundation for a great deal of the subsequent analysis done with the data.One of the most interesting areas of study is learning how pitchers make the ball move by the forces they apply to the ball in their grip and during release.The pitcher’s arm, wrist, and fingers send the ball on its way to the batter with a particular velocity and set it spinning at some rate and orientation.Gravity pulls the pitch down toward the ground, and the forces of air resistance slow the ball and deflect it one direction or another based upon the spin on the ball.There are also hybrids and variations of these basic types and a few rarer types like the screwball and forkball.Much of what was speculation, lore, and snippets of observation is now scientifically established from evidence, physics, and mountains of data.That combination has greatly improved the precision and accuracy of our understanding of how pitches work, moving us away from a fog of imprecise descriptions, where it was one person’s word against another, and toward a unified scientific theory based upon common evidence available to the public.They also were thrown at roughly curveball speed and had fairly low spin rates.The combination of evidence about spin direction and video evidence of forkball grip and release allowed us to determine how the forkball pitchers were producing their unique speed and movement on the pitch.The forkball is gripped similarly to the splitter, although wedged deeper between the fingers.A true forkball is gripped with the index and middle fingertips below the center of the ball and released with a flip over the fingers to induce topspin.This is a unique way to produce topspin without turning the wrist, either around the outside of the ball as with a curveball or around the inside of the ball as with a screwball.Neyer and James also discussed the question of whether a pitcher must turn his wrist to throw a slider.Remember, if you twist the ball, it is not only tough on your elbow but the break will never be the same from pitch to pitch. Who is correct, Cluck or Candiotti?Do you have to turn your wrist to throw a slider, or is that a bad idea that will kill the consistency of the pitch and injure your elbow?The classic slider is gripped as Candiotti described, in a manner very similar to a curveball, and the pitcher’s hand turns around the side of the ball on release.This motion produces bullet spin around the direction of travel and leads to the typical slider break and a speed differential from the fastball of about eight miles per hour.In addition, some pitchers use variations that produce results somewhere in between that of a cut fastball and a slider.Some pitches have particularly controversial or confusing names.It turns out that the pitch isn’t really a fastball at all.Rather, it belongs squarely in the family of changeups.Like any other pitch type, various pitchers have their own variations on the splitter, but in general, the movement is also similar to a changeup.Confusion also surrounds the shuuto.Several of these pitchers have thrown a pitch described as a shuuto.Another pitch with Japanese origins that has generated controversy and contradictory descriptions is the gyroball, allegedly thrown by several pitchers.However, a pitch with bullet spin is not particularly unusual in the majors.For example, Hideki Okajima’s rainbow curve and Francisco Liriano’s slider meet this description, though these pitchers do not call their pitches gyroballs.In fact, many pitchers have sliders with bullet spin and only a small amount of sidespin.Each point on the plot shows the deflection of that pitch from its initial trajectory out of Lee’s hand to the point where it reached home plate, as viewed from the catcher’s perspective.This type of detailed pitch tracking data has also taught us a lot about how pitchers use their pitches.Fastballs are the easiest pitches for pitchers to throw for a strike.Changeups and splitters tend to be thrown down and away where they are likely to miss the zone if the batter lays off the pitch, but batters are often fooled and swing and miss, more than for any other pitch type.Pitchers are willing to use sliders in the zone a little more often, but they are also good at generating whiffs.Sinkers and curveballs are the best pitch types for avoiding the home run.Pitch Types and Their ResultsPitchers tend to throw pitches toward the side of the plate where the break of the pitch will carry it off the plate and away from the sweet spot of the bat.Because curveballs are the hardest pitch to control, pitchers often aim them toward the middle of the plate.When we split the data this way, we can also get an idea of how consistent the pitcher’s mechanics are by how tightly grouped his pitches are near the edges of the plate.

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