Chris Sale just went on the DL with a forearm strain. The MRI did not show any UCL damage which is a good sign for the lefty sidearm pitcher but is this the beginning of more arm problems for Chris Sale?
When I look at the pitching mechanics of the 6’6 Chris Sale I have always cringed. Not sure if it is the crazy inverted W or the low elbow during external rotation or the sidearm slot. Not that I want to see guys get hurt but I have to say I have been waiting for his arm problems to come. I think what has kept him healthy for this long is his dynamic lower half but unfortunately his dynamic lower half has been breaking down over the years which could be the link to his recent arm problems.
In this article, we will look more into the pitching mechanics of Chris Sale and what science shows as the markers which are causing his arm problems. We will then look at how his lower half has changed and finally we will look at the pros and cons of sidearm pitching and if it is the best arm slot to build a professional career on.
Chris Sale’s Sidearm Pitching Mechanics
Before I go into how Chris Sale’s lower half has changed over the years, we need to look at the problems with his arm path. Healthier arm slots are of pitchers who tend to cock the arm first into a low elbow position and then abduct the arm into a high elbow position before pitch release. They will use a contralateral tilt to create this abduction. This is a tilt to the glove side.
Chris Sale is the opposite. He uses an ipsilateral tilt to start his delivery, this is tilting towards the throwing arm side. He will then throw the elbows high into an inverted W before cocking the arm at about 90 degrees of shoulder abduction and then he drops below 90 degrees of shoulder abduction during external rotation and pitch release.
Chris Sale’s low elbow position will create more of what is called a valgus load. Valgus torque is the measurement of stress on the elbow. More valgus torque leads to elbow damage like a forearm strain in the case of Chris Sale or UCL damage which has already hit over 14 MLB pitchers this season.
A study called, Correlation of Throwing Mechanics With Elbow Valgus Load in Adult Baseball Pitchers, found valgus torque at the elbow during baseball pitching is associated with 6 biomechanical variables of sequential body motion. Here are the results from the study:
The results of this study indicate that elbow valgus torque is most influenced by peak shoulder external rotation, elbow flexion at peak valgus load, elbow flexion at ball release, timing of maximum elbow flexion, onset of trunk rotation before ball release, and elbow valgus loading rate (1).
If we look at the delivery of Chris Sale he has over 180 degrees of external rotation, he has a good amount of elbow flexion at external rotation, he has elbow flexion at ball release and he also has a high rate of elbow valgus loading with his excessive horizontal adduction. The only variable that he doesn’t have which is linked to the valgus torque is early trunk rotation.
On top of all of these science based red flags for more elbow stress he uses a sidearm slot.
Pitchers who threw with a 3/4, or overhand, slot position exhibited significantly less elbow valgus torque (46 ± 29 N?m, P = .02) than did those with a sidearm delivery (66 ± 24 N?m) (1).
Chris Sales Lower Half Dynamics
I have put together a comparison analysis of Chris Sale in the summer Cape Cod League and him pitching in July of 2012 in the Big Leagues. You can see a significant difference in his lower half dynamics from his college yeas until now. This kind of loss in lower half energy will not only slow down ball speed which has also occurred over the years (Checkout his average pitching velocity here) but will exaggerate the loads on the upper body which could be the reason for his current arm problems.
Is Sidearm Pitching Smart?
With all of these issues Chris Sale has coming from his ipsilateral tilt and sidearm slot why would anyone want to build a major league career from this arm slot? To answer this question lets look at the pro’s and con’s of sidearm pitching.
Sidearm Pitching Pro’s
- “Natural” Ball movement
- Unconventional release point for the hitter
Sidearm Pitching Con’s
- More valgus torque
- More challenging ball control
I totally understand the deception of pitching from this arm slot but when you look at the risk of injury associated with it and the fact that there are others ways to be deceiving in the healthier 3/4 to over the top arm slots, it makes no sense why you would want to be in the sidearm position.
The issue Chris Sale’s has is as he ages it is typical of pitchers to loss the lower half power which is evident already in his career (see video analysis above). This lower half power is not only needed for ball speed but to help him reduce the excessive amounts of stress his sidearm slot can easily put on his aging arm. This means he will have a quicker road out of this game than most pitchers.
Just look at the history of the game. You do not see a lot of sidearm high velocity pitchers having long Major League careers. The only one I can think of is Randy Johnson and when you look at his delivery he doesn’t have an inverted W or a low elbow position during external rotation. He almost looks more 3/4 to Chris Sale’s sidearm slot.
If I was a sidearm pitcher, I would want to quickly move my arm path into the above the shoulder position with a contralateral tilt as quickly as possible. This would be extremely challenging for someone like Chris Sale late into a career but it could give him many more years in this game. He at least should work in the off-season to change his arm path to that more like Randy Johnson in hopes he could have as long of a Major League career.
- Aguinaldo AL, Chambers H. – Correlation of throwing mechanics with elbow valgus load in adult baseball pitchers. – Am J Sports Med. 2009;37(10):2043–2048.