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For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: July 23, 2024 5:48 pm PDT

BY KEVIN KERNAN

Jim Curnal knows a thing or two about pitching.

He’s convinced he knows why so many pitchers are getting hurt and thinks he has a solution to their woes. The problem is he can’t get anyone in Major League Baseball to listen to him even though he has reached out to numerous organizations with detailed information.

Way back when, Curnal (pronounced Colonel) was a top pitching prospect in the Yankees organization.

You might have guessed he is not part of The Club now. He prefers mechanics over metrics and probably for that reason alone is shunned by MLB, where the Nerd Revolution has been welcomed with open arms … and checkbooks. Heck, it’s even hard for player development people not to have their hands tied by certain members of the analytics department. Some good instructors have left the MLB game because of that.

Here at BallNine and at Baseball or Bust though, we have an open mind. We allowed Curnal to state his case. Most of our readers have open minds too and are not wedded to one way or the highway.

We’re giving the floor to Curnal.

And why not, with 111 pitchers currently on the IL – and it’s only April.

Read carefully and maybe someone from MLB or a pitcher on the rebound or an agent looking to help his injury-plagued client or just a young pitcher trying to make his way in the pro world who is trying his best to stay healthy may listen to what Curnal has to say. It’s fascinating and it can’t hurt, since so many pitchers are hurt these days – even in the “best’’ organizations.

“I’ve been working on this for about four years,’’ Curnal told BallNine. “I created a video series for youth pitchers and that’s how this started. It’s called: ‘The Athletic Pitcher.’ How to throw, how to teach, how to condition, the mental part of the game. And then Covid hit and that blew up. When I was working with high school kids, and I also coached football and basketball, girls and boys, I was always teaching them the need to move athletically, the power from the ground up; and I was doing that with pitchers as well, so that’s a philosophical thing.’’

Curnal coached high school baseball in Connecticut for 12 years.

“What I began to see on the high school level with kids who were getting hurt, I saw a common denominator with how they threw: their elbow, their shoulder; so I started playing around with Major League teams and I began by writing the Yankees about Luis Severino. This was about six years ago.’’

 “Out of the 227 minor league pitchers that we’ve researched who were the top prospects in 2021, 85 percent were injured as of last September. Their throwing motions are horrendous, and I’m being kind.’’

He noticed problems with mechanics with many major league pitchers and said they were headed for Tommy John surgery or other problems.

“I wrote they were going to get hurt unless they made adjustments in their throwing motion,’’ he said.

And you can guess what happened next. Many of them got hurt. His information, though, most likely went into the circular file.

When Covid came, Curnal left Connecticut and went out to Steamboat Springs, Colorado and really enhanced his research.

“Over the last three years,’’ he told me, “I probably evaluated over 500 pitchers who have been injured, Tommy John, shoulder, looking for common denominators, which I knew I would find because I’ve also studied the biomechanics and what kinetic timing needs to be. I also play golf and understand the golf swing, I was a quarterback and knew how to throw a football, so I’m going, ‘These guys are throwing the ball against the precepts of kinetic timing.’

“They are not using their lower halves,’’ Curnal said. “Their timing is off. There are two things that are really glaring. They are still hanging onto velocity; when I pitched, they clocked across the plate. Now they clock out of the hand, and like anything else, MLB wants to sell the sizzle. So (Jacob) deGrom is not 100, deGrom is Ferguson Jenkins. So let’s throw out velocity. Two, they are only throwing five innings and they are in the shower, so we can’t talk about how much they are throwing. So what’s left?

“It’s how they throw the baseball. I’ve been told by some people in the game, they don’t want to change, which I can understand.”

Jim Curnal

Getting pitchers to change is difficult. They have had great success in younger years and they don’t want to change, and teams don’t like to mess with success as you can tell by the flood of injuries.

“I narrowed this down, it’s the same as any other issue in our country,’’ Curnal said. “MLB is the same as any other issue and how people deal with it. They stay in their wheelhouse, there’s a lot of hubris. Nobody wants to put their job in jeopardy, which I understand and they go along to get along.

“But here is the answer I’m trying to get at,’’ Curnal said. “I understand why Chris Sale wouldn’t want to change when he is 32 and just got a $145 million contract. But out of the 227 minor league pitchers that we’ve researched who were the top prospects in 2021, 85 percent were injured as of last September. Their throwing motions are horrendous, and I’m being kind.

“I get it that at the Major League level they don’t want to change; (yet) even though sustainability is important, I don’t understand how teams let their young pitchers progress through the minor league system throwing the baseball like that,’’ Curnal said. “I wouldn’t let the pitchers I work with throw a ping pong ball with those motions.’’

In general, Curnal believes most teams are off track.

“As one pitcher said to me, it’s only about spin rate, they are not concerned about sustainability,’’ he explained. “Sustainability is the return on investment. Spin rate does you no good when you are on the IL.’’

The Yankees didn’t have much luck with the trade for Frankie Montas and so far with the signing of Carlos Rodon, who just had another setback.

But again, Curnal insisted this is not about the Yankees. It’s pretty much everywhere and as he noted, “I just don’t get it. Forty years ago they were spending $70,000 on a pitcher, now it’s $100 million. Last year look at what happened to the Dodgers.’’

The Dodgers have been battling multiple pitching injuries to the likes of Walker Buehler, Dustin May, Tony Gonsolin, and Ryan Pepiot.

“I do this with video off my iPhone and YouTube, I know exactly what I’m looking for, it’s three different positions, I only need one to know, they got motion-captured films,’’ Curnal said.

An injured Walker Buehler (21) throws out the first pitch prior to the NLDS Game 2 between the San Diego Padres and the Los Angeles Dodgers on October 12, 2022 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Brandon Sloter/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Curnal studies the mechanics and believes even though some pitchers say they changed their mechanics after an injury, from what he has seen, it’s the same mechanics.

“What are they telling pitchers that makes them think they made changes in their mechanics?’’ he wondered.

And it’s not just pitchers. Hitters too. Curnal mentioned lat injuries to hitters.

As for pitchers, he said, many of them just have to make an adjustment where they are a little more closed and use their lower half more than they currently do.

Here is the basis of what Curnal teaches: Read carefully and cut and paste if you want.

“The issue with the motions of the 500+ injured pitchers I have evaluated is kinetic timing, or in laymen’s terms lower half/ball timing. The goal of any athlete who throws a ball/object or hits a ball is to create and transfer maximum energy from the ground up,’’ Curnal explained.

“Golfers, tennis players, quarterbacks, hitters, javelin and discus throwers all create and transfer maximum energy from the ground up to maximize their performance and minimize their risk of injury. The outliers are pitchers. When evaluating a throwing motion for optimal timing, one can condense and simplify the science of motion capture film down to three simple photos:

“1. Where is the baseball at front foot contact?

“2. In early cocking how open/weak is the upper front side and what is the degree of premature hip rotation?

“3. Hips rotated to the target, how collapsed is the arm behind the head?  To the degree that each of these positions fail to create optional timing, they will adversely impact arm health – singularly and more problematically in total.’’

There’s more:

“The common refrain which I have heard from MLB pundits is that pitchers will not sacrifice velocity for arm health,’’ Curnal said. “This statement defies all scientific, and I dare say, common, sense. The more energy one can create with their lower half – the big muscles – the more energy one can transfer to the baseball. Regardless of one’s leg mass, if a pitcher is not creating the proper phase movement with their lower half to create optional timing, it is bio-mechanically impossible to maximize the use of the lower half; and thus the arm becomes the engine, instead of the steering wheel.’’

I love that comment: The arm becomes the engine, instead of the steering wheel.

Frankie Montas #47 of the New York Yankees in action against the Tampa Bay Rays at Yankee Stadium on September 09, 2022 in the Bronx, NY. The Rays defeated the Yankees 4-2. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

“The result,’’ Curnal added, “increases stress on the arm. Optimally a pitcher needs to understand and learn that they are not throwing a baseball, but releasing the baseball. The final act of an athletic, fluid, and balanced throwing motion, to create optimal timing. That is if their goal is to stay off the IL and throw strikes.’’

Curnal wonders when ownership will wake up to the rash of pitching injuries and question the current methods.

“At some point in time, if I’m the owner investing all this money, I’m going, ‘I don’t believe what they are telling me because everybody is getting hurt,’’’ Curnal said.

Curnal, 68, lived the pitching life and started out 14-3 in the Yankees’ minor league system in 1976-77; but eventually he was injured because, he realizes now, of his throwing motion.

“I had a funky delivery and they didn’t want to mess with me,’’ he said. “I knew how to throw the football correctly, I had really good mechanics, but throwing the baseball, I was flying open; but no one was able to tell me why my shoulder was flying open and what I needed to do to prevent it from flying open. If someone had told me back then just 10 percent of what I teach now, I would have stayed on the mound somewhere.

Jim Curnal

“My real motivating factor is in working with kids; and I’ve seen all this stuff about velocity and weighted balls, for all these kids it is monkey see, monkey do. This change has to start at the grass roots,’’ he said. “If the instructors are selling money off velocity, which doesn’t exist, and these kids are seeing the way Major League pitchers are throwing, that’s the problem.

“I worked with a college kid last summer and whenever I work with a kid I ask, ‘what don’t you understand, what have you heard before, what do you disagree with, what have people told you differently?’ This college kid at a prominent program said, ‘Nobody has ever said a word to me.’

“It’s not rocket science, you just look at the motion and say, ‘You’re putting a lot of stress on your arm that way.’ These guys are not creating energy from the ground up. There is a need for athleticism.’’

Regarding Montas, he said, “I have two pictures here that show why he’s had shoulder injuries and will continue to have shoulder injuries. He has to change or he will continue to get hurt just by the timing he has in his motion. I have been doing motion studies over the last 2 1/2 years where I take 10 to 15 pitchers, I work with them, I video them and they have no arm pain. They use their lower half. I don’t use a radar gun. I tell parents I am not concerned about velocity, I am concerned about health, command and movement.

“I’m concerned with youth pitchers and what they are being sold and taught and what they see, chasing the Holy Grail of velocity.”

All vital concerns.

If you are a pitcher who has health, command, and movement, you are definitely doing something right.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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