Stephen Strasburg Update in 2013 by Zig Ziegler, the Sports Kinesiologist

In 2011, I wrote a post about Washington Nationals Pitcher Stephen Strasburg.  In the post I made some prediction about his health. As a result of an enormous amount of media exposure about his technique, comparisons to other phenomenal pitchers who’s careers were cut short by injury and a genuine concern for he health, the Washington Nationals opted to keep a close eye on Strasburg and monitor his pitch counts. The move was helpful to the short term health of Strasburg but only delays the inevitable.

The Nationals ended Strasburg’s season just prior to the playoffs last season amid a tremendous amount of criticism from baseball veterans, hall of famers, and tv analysts. All of these experts second guessed the decision and said the nationals had to be crazy to shut him down when he wasn’t complaining of pain or injury. Today, the move looks like a smart one as Strasburg has begun to struggle this season and complains of forearm tightness.  In my 2011 article, I gave some very pointed advice to Strasburg to help him avoid the surgery. I renew that advice and hope that a some point, athletes like Strasburg, Robert Griffith III (RGIII), and even Adrian Peterson heed the warning signs of their body rather than ignoring them to prove how manly they can be. It’s time to take care of our athletes, even if the athletes don’t take care of themselves.  Here are some excerpts from the article and a link to the entire 2011 article.

Excerpt #1

In 2008, I had the chance to see a young pitcher dominate on the field for San Diego State University.  His velocity was tremendous and intimidating as he struck out batter after batter.  I said to myself, “I wonder how many innings this guy will have in the major leagues before he is injured?” In 2010, the Washington Nationals drafted Stephen Strasburg with the top pick in the professional baseball draft.  Yes. Strasburg was number one on everyone’s board, except mine.

Well it didn’t last long. Strasburg had surgery after less than 10 starts in professional baseball.

Excerpt #2

In 2005, I developed a numerical scoring system to measure the efficiency of a pitcher after completing a biomechanics assessment, Biomechanics Assessment Rating™ (also known as B.A.R®).  In the numerical scoring system, a pitcher with throwing mechanics similar to Stephen Strasburg would score less than 44% out of 100%. The B.A.R® compares ideal body postures, joint angles, pitch accuracy, angular velocities, and torques generated by the pitcher.  In comparison, a starting pitcher like Greg Maddox would score closer to a B.A.R® of 82% rather than a B.A.R® of approximately to 43.5%, which is where we find Mr. Strasburg after my assessment of his mechanics in games over the last two weeks.

Strasburg’s biomechanical deficiencies contribute to his low score and increase his risk for repetitive throwing injuries.

Excerpt #3

Stephen’s Feet: For starters, Stephen Strasburg significantly “over-strides” during his delivery of the ball to home plate. The ideal stride length for a baseball pitcher is equal to no more and no less than 87.5% of his height. At 6 feet 4 inches tall (76 inches). This means an ideal place for Stephen’s lead foot in his throwing motion is 66.5 inches away from the position of his back foot at foot plant (the point at which his front foot lands on the ground).

To date I can see no attempts to shorten Stephen’s stride length.  In fact, the more he struggles, the longer his stride seems to get as he begins to aim the ball.  This causes even more stress on the arm.

Excerpt #4

Essentially, Stephen is not in control of his throwing arm or the ball. Our good friend “Mo”-mentum is in control. And Stephen’s upper arm and forearm muscles have to work 7-10 times as hard to ensure that he releases he ball at the proper point to ensure delivery of the pitch to the catcher.  As he fatigues when facing each and every batter, this delivery becomes more difficult.

Excerpt #5

Simply put, Stephen didn’t fix the reason why he needed to have surgery.

So it’s pretty clear to me what lies ahead in his career. Stephen Strasburg might make it through 2-3 starts for the major league ball club, but if he continues to throw with the same mechanics, one of two things will happen, Stephen Strasburg will re-injure the same elbow, or he will shift the stress to his shoulder and rotator cuff surgery is next.  He might first experience stiffness in the forearm muscles or biceps area.  If he continues to pitch after feeling this often called minor “discomfort”, a major injury will occur in the elbow.  Typically, the pitcher experiencing this discomfort makes a subconscious adjust to move the stress away from the area and continue pitching. This moves it to the shoulder or lower back.

So let me leave you with this as we watch Stephen closely between now and the all-star break next season.  Let’s pay attention to what is said about his accuracy (command), velocity, and arm health.  Other than what I have stated here as fact-based opinion, I dare not guess at what exercises Stephen should do prevent injury. Muscular strengths and weakness typically cause deficiencies we see in biomechanics.  However, in Stephen’s case, the way he was taught to throw the ball is now a part of his biomechanical deficiencies. As a result, destiny may have him set for duty in the bullpen (as was the case with Joba Chamberlain-who should never have been a starter (with a biomechanical efficiency score of under 50%). If the Nationals send him to the bullpen, Strasburg will be an incredible, nearly untouchable reliever.

In closing, don’t get me wrong. The Nationals can get another 10-20 starts out of Stephen before his next surgery (unless two of the first 10 are complete games where he throws over 120 pitches and takes the typical 5 days of rest).  The more balls he throws, the closer he gets to being tabbed just another pitcher who failed recover from early injuries. But let’s hope for the best! Personally, I’m a fan and want to see Stephen Strasburg dominate pitching at the major league level.  But the game may have other plans for him.

So far the nationals have gotten just over 30% more games than I originally assessed, which based upon his pitch counts, would be about accurate. (Strasburg threw about 30% less pitches than the average starting pitcher since the start of his career).  As a fan, I hope they get it figured out. I would hate to see Strasburg end up in the announcer’s booth way too early in his career like Brandon Webb (whose career the Diamondbacks had a chance to save or other pitchers who are out of the game).  Here is the entire article. Follow on Twitter @zig_ziegler

Zig Ziegler is a Sports Kinesiologist who consults with athletes and teams on improving player’s health and preventing injuries.