Well, all good things come to an end. The Marlin's where hoping this end wouldn't have come so soon but it seems to definitely be a big problem for the Marlin's because Jose Fernandez was a dominate force on the mound for them. Yes, the young Jose Fernandez has injured his elbow and is on the DL. The question once again is what caused this elbow injury in this top level MLB pitcher?
Jose Fernandez did make a mechanical change this off-season, if it was conscious of it or not, I don't know. Brooks Baseball shows his arm slot dropped this season to a level he has never pitched from in the MLB. I do not believe this was dramatic enough to cause the injury but it was definitely a part of the equation.
There is a simple equation here to his elbow injury. What I have learned from studying pitching injuries like the case here of Jose Fernandez, is that it is rarely just one thing. Even though some pitchers have obvious red flags linked to their arm injury's (Matt Moore, Chris Sale, Kris Medlen), there is also other factors that are responsible for their injuries. In the case of Jose Fernandez, I believe the entire equation needs to be defined to truly understand his injury and why his slider was the straw that broke the camel's back.
In this article, I will define the equation that lead to Jose Fernandez's forearm strain and possible UCL tear. I will also go over his Slider and why he should never throw it again. Finally, I will talk about how the MLB can help reduce the amount of arm injuries in the years to come. It is an epidemic now but it can be fixed!
Jose Fernandez's Injury Equation
High Ball Speed + High Pitch Counts + Low Arm Slot + Hooking Slider = Elbow Damage
Here is the equation that shows the exact cause of Jose Fernandez's current elbow injury. Let's look at it in detail to truly understand the equation.
- High Ball Speed - Jose Fernandez's fourseam fastball velocity has averaged in the mid to upper 90's. This is one of the best in the MLB. View Data >>>
- High Pitch Counts - Jose Fernandez, as of today, has the 38 highest pitch count in the league. View 5.13.2014 data >>>
- Low Arm Slot - Jose Fernandez has lowed his arm slot this season to a level that he has never pitched from in his MLB career. View data >>>
- Hooking Slider - Jose Fernandez throws a little league slider. From a sidearm slot he puts his hand on the side of the baseball and contracts the flexor mass against the centrifugal force of his body to create the spin on the ball. As hard has he throws, this contraction of his flexor mass against the excessive forces he puts on his arm, would strain Hercules's forearm. I really believe this junk slider was the nail in the coffin.
Jose Fernandez's Junk Slider
As much as I used this same slider as Jose Fernandez in college, I knew post surgery that this slider would destroy my elbow as I gained ball speed into the 90's. I was 25 when I realized this. I didn't need another arm surgery to teach me this lesson. Jose Fernandez is 21 and I am sure he has no clue of the damage he is doing or no experience like mine post surgery to convince him that this pitch is junk because he would have done something about it before the injury occurred.
I also had an experience with one of my pitchers who went from 82-93 on the 3X Pitching Velocity Program who used this junk slider. His name is Eric Mozieka and when he got into the 90's he started complaining about his throwing elbow swelling on the medial side after he would pitch. I about tore my program apart looking for the link to his arm problem but I couldn't find the source. Not until one day, when I actually coached him on one of my summer travel teams to Europe, did I see him throwing his slider in the pen and I about fell over when I saw it. He was hooking his slider like Jose Fernandez in a more sidearm slot. I immediately walked up to Eric and told him he could never throw that pitch again and once he stopped he said the swelling and elbow pain went away later that summer.
The reason this hooking slider is junk is because the pitcher will try to pull down and across the ball harder than with their fastball to put more spin on the ball to create the dramatic break it gets. This horizontal adduction before pitch release coupled with placing the hand on the side of the ball which will delay early forearm pronation is the perfect receipt for disaster on the throwing elbow.
The lesson here is young pitchers who develop junk breaking balls at a young age, should scrap them when they start to throw hard enough to do serious damage to the arm. If a pitcher is going to throw with a ball speed in the upper 80's or 90's then the forces on the elbow are already enough to destroy it. Making it worse by trying to move the ball 2 feet across the strike zone by hooking the baseball and pulling it across your body is completely ignorant of the forces being applied to the forearm or self destructive. Basically learn to throw hard or learn to throw junk. Unfortunately, the lessons we are learning with all of the pitchers dropping in the MLB is that you really can not do both at this level.
How the MLB Can Reduce These Injuries in the Future
Jeff Passan of Yahoo tweeted that Fernandez would be the 34th known pitcher between the majors and minors to undergo TJ surgery since Feb. 18. This must be concerning for Major League Baseball. If this injury rate continues they will have to make some changes just like the NFL applying stricter tackling rules to protect players from these dangerous concussions. I truly believe the new rules that will help reduce the loads and forces on these MLB rocket arms is lowering the mound and reducing the amount of games played. Individual teams should also apply more pitch count restrictions and also educate these high velocity pitchers on what pitches are applying more forces to their arms.
Let's face it, better mechanics are important to reduce joint forces but studies show we have already reached the amount of forces the UCL can handle with a 90mph fastball. We can continue to be perfect with our pitching mechanics but this is a slippery slop. Wouldn't it be smarter to lower the pitching mound which studies show increase the forces put on the body and to also reduce the amount of games played because studies show the amount of reps coupled with the joint forces is ultimately what tears ligaments and tendons?
The problem here is the MLB would more quickly lower the mound than reduce the amount of games due to the money factor but if that is all we can do for these young, high powered, high velocity pitching superstars like Stephen Strasburg, Matt Harvey and Jose Fernandez then it needs to be done soon.