In the third inning of last night’s win over the Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays starter Henderson Alvarez was visited on the mound by manager John Farrell and trainer George Poulis to check on the pitcher’s back. The 22 year old had been rubbing his side after extending his body in an attempt to reach a high bouncer. After a few practice pitches, he was deemed fit to remain in the game.

As we all know, Alvarez later left the game in the sixth inning with stiffness on the inside of his right elbow. In post game interviews, Farrell claimed that the two injuries weren’t related, and while that may be true, we can see a definite difference in Alvarez’s release point on his pitches for the first three innings and immediately after.

Here’s where his release point was from the start of the game to the end of the third inning:

And here’s where his release points were for the remainder of his outing:

It’s worth noting that Alvarez threw only four sliders/cutters after the third inning, but had tossed 23 prior to injuring his back. Over the course of the season, the slider/cutter has accounted for 15% of his repertoire, but during last night’s game he went to the pitch 35% of the time over the first three innings.

So, while there’s a definite change in both his release point and repertoire after he was checked out for his back injury, we see that the most dramatic changes happened in the fifth inning:

While we can certainly identify a change, it’s impossible to know if his elbow injury was the cause or result of that change. It certainly would be possible for a pitcher to change his mechanics to compensate for a hurt back, but it would be just as likely to see a pitcher over use a pitch that’s notoriously hard on an arm and feel the effects of doing so.

One thing out of all this is clear: Alvarez was showing signs that he wasn’t quite right on the mound long before he was actually shut down.

Comments (20)

  1. He doesn’t have the easiest throwing motion to begin with. This could not have helped the situation either.

  2. I’m just not seeing a significant difference in release points before and after other than the 2 points not in the cluster.

  3. Nice work Parkes.
    Tip of the hat for the quick post last night .

    It should be noted that it was JPA who called to the dugout,he obviously knew something was bad.

  4. “In post game interviews, Farrell claimed that the two injuries weren’t related,”

    As opposed to Farrell saying “Ya, me and Poulis fucked up large, we probably shouldn’t have sent a 21 year old kid with back pain back out to the mound, especially when 3/5ths of our rotation has gone down with serious injuries in the last week.”

  5. About 3 or 4 starts ago, I noticed Alvarez shaking out his hand. A lot. Noticed it then , worried about it until last night.

    Hope it’s nothing long-term.

    • Obviously I’m not a doctor and am not claiming to be one.

      I have a vivid memory of Jesse Litsch shaking out his hand in Minnesota right before he called the trainer out, hit the DL and got his Tommy John surgery so I cringe every time I see a pitcher do that even though most of the time it’s nothing. Hopefully the only thing in common between Jesse and Alvarez in these two situations is discomfort in the elbow region and Henderson really is, as he suggests, good to go.

    • Some pitchers just seem to do this.

      A lot of pitchers are always battling with sore arms, its pretty standard for pitchers to have sore arms and the like when doing things the body was not designed to do.

  6. I don’t like the open-ended thoughts in this piece. For all of the statistical reliance used at GB & DJF, you then use 2 sliders and 1 change as your evidence – sample sizes can’t get any smaller. And with all the use of ‘certainly’ and ‘definitely’ it seems like a not-so-subtle nudging for the reader to make inferences that Farrell and Poulis fucked up (“if it’s obvious to me, how can they not see it?!?”).

    If you think they fucked up, come out and say so. However I imagine that you realize how ridiculous that would sound based on your lack of medical qualifications, knowledge of the situation, and hard evidence.

  7. great job Parkes. i love these deductive pieces you and Drew have been doing. reminds me of the best stuff on Crashburn Alley.

    i agree with ian1432 that it’s a SSS so id be curious to know how the release points compare to Alvarez’s previously big league innings. (i’ll try and look it up)

    do clubs have real time access to release point charts like this? you’d think that repeated out of whack or strained mechanics (like the one’s that plagued Drabek and Klaw commented on) would setoff alarm bells in the GM’s box or the dugout. especially given that lots of folks seem to be saying that fitness / injury prevention could be the next market inefficiency to be exploited.

    that said, i suppose all a coach or manager can do is tell a pitcher to correct his mechanics, if he won’t or can’t, then it’s out of the team’s hands… literally. and it must be incredibly difficult for a young big league pitcher to correct your mechanics in a game when you’re under pressure and getting berated or prodded by a coach.

  8. As easy and fairly logical it is to make the injury correlation, I’m not seeing anything too definitive here. Im thinking that if you chart games of pitchers who throw ineffectively, you will find variances in release points. Alvarez was also beyond 90 pitches in the fifth. Tiring?

  9. Does anyone else think teams should just start sending these young pitchers to Birmingham for Tommy John about 15 minutes after signing or drafting them? I mean half the league has had it done by now, I’m no doctor but it would just make sense to get it out of the way.

  10. there is zero difference between those release points… aside from the two higher released sliders, which actually relieves stress on your elbow…

    Shit Post.

  11. As soon as I saw him hurt his back and then saw him hurt his elbow I thought he must have been compensating for his hurt back by pitching a way that was more comfortable. Unfortunately temporary comfort from back pain may have screwed up his delivery which may have caused him to throw out his elbow (or whatever happen).

    The trainers and coaches need to be far more cautious with our arms, as our demand is far too high compared to our supply.

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