I interviewed Kyle Boddy, the coach and blogger behind Driveline Mechanics. He breaks down a pitcher's motion frame by frame, analyzing tempo, arm action, ball release, and followthrough. He loves Tommy Hanson's arm action (see question 4). He dislikes Stephen Strasburg's arm action and followthrough (see question 3).
1. Pitching mechanics aren't well understood by most baseball fans. Phrases like "inverted W" and "scap load" are starting to come into popular usage, thanks to writers like you, Yahoo's Jeff Passan, and The Hardball Times's former contributor Carlos Gomez, but it's still hard for me to watch a pitcher and know how to evaluate what they do. How can an average fan like me watch a little smarter?
I hope that the level of discourse on the Internet -- through various writers that you've already named -- brings the concept of pitching mechanics into a greater light. That's always been my goal! Though many will tell you otherwise, I believe that the field of pitching mechanics is not an exact science, and that we have a long, long way to go before we even begin to scratch the surface of it all. As an average fan, it's very tough to do any sort of analysis, because without at least 30 FPS video that you can go through frame-by-frame, it's nearly impossible to tell anything about the pitcher's mechanics. At the MLB level, a pitcher's delivery is almost always repeatable and smooth, so using the naked eye isn't nearly as effective as it would be for amateur pitchers.
2. How did you get into scouting and coaching? Is there a mechanically ideal pitcher that you tell your players and students to emulate? Are there any pitches that are simply unhealthy to throw no matter what a pitcher does?
I got into scouting and coaching after moving to Seattle by way of Cleveland. I've always loved baseball and got into sabermetrics through Moneyball and Baseball Prospectus after college, and I enjoy working with young adults to help them hone a sport-specific skill - so baseball was a natural choice!
There's not a single pitcher that I tell my students to emulate - everyone has "signatures" and personal quirks that make them unique. When you consider that while many things are constant, but no two people have the same anatomy or developmental curve, you can recommend a set of guidelines and ideas, but to force people into a specific pattern is not going to work. I consider any pitch thrown with a supinated grip (typically sliders and curveballs) to be unhealthy, and the traditional split-finger fastball can be tough as well. I preach a pronated release of all the pitchers that I teach, and that includes curveballs, sliders, fastballs, and cutters.
3. Some of your opinions, like on Stephen Strasburg, have been somewhat controversial. What are some of the differences between you and other people analyzing pitcher mechanics? Why would two people watching the same pitching motion come to wildly different conclusions on how good or bad it is -- and how can readers judge which opinion is more reliable?
Let's set the record straight - Stephen Strasburg is a one-in-a-kind talent, like Mark Prior. They were (are) both unbelievably dominant amateur pitchers who deserve to be signed high based on their talent and their ability to pitch - mechanics be damned! However, it is undeniable that Stephen Strasburg emulates the pitching mechanics of many pitchers who have suffered serious injury! That is a fact.
People from all over can come to different conclusions simply because the human anatomy is extremely complex, and even using equipment like they have at ASMI (which I plan to adopt, by building my own biomechanics lab in the Pacific Northwest) can produce different results, as we may not be looking at the same variables at all! Readers can judge which opinion is more reliable by track record that holds up over time with testable hypotheses. Readers should realize that this will take years to accomplish, and it's something that my model (the Pitcher Risk Database) will hopefully shed some light on.
4. You wrote a very complimentary piece on Tommy Hanson's mechanics, particularly praising his arm action. Can you elaborate a bit on Hanson's delivery, and how it may affect his success in the bigs, or likelihood of injury?
Tommy Hanson's arm action is one of the best that I've seen since working on Driveline Mechanics. It is simple, repeatable, and swings up to the high-cocked position early and easily. I've since seen some video that indicates that he may have signs of Hyperabduction (when the pitching arm elbow gets higher than the plane of the shoulder line), so I will have to back off on it a bit, but still, I really like it. A repeatable arm action paired with elite genetics will give Hanson the ability to throw extremely hard and with solid control. I see little reason to be concerned about injury.
5. If you were Commissioner of Baseball, what changes would you make?
There's a ton, but I'll focus on just this one issue: Teams should be allowed to trade draft picks, absolutely. Teams like the Nationals would significantly benefit by trading their #1 for multiple late rounders, since they need depth in their organization. I guess I'll throw in my obligatory "stop blackballing Barry Bonds" note, too.