Drabek & Hutchison: Doomed by the Inverted W?
It would be a gross understatement to say lady luck has not been very kind to the Blue Jays starters this season. Three mainstays in the starting rotation went down in a matter of just four days; what kind of a freak occurrence was that?
Despite no real warning signs, could it be that Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison were destined for injury all along?
A few years back, I delved into the injury bug that was plaguing the Blue Jays starting rotation. Back in 2009 just as they are now, it seemed like the starters were dropping like flies. It turns put part of it had something to do with the “Inverted W”.
If you’ve never heard of the “Inverted W” before, then I highly recommend checking out this piece by Chris O’Leary titled “Death to the Inverted W”. That’s essentially the shape the pitcher’s arms make as they cock the baseball: an upside down W.
The Inverted W isn’t necessarily a death sentence for pitchers, but the list of players who displayed the symptoms and gone on to have Tommy John surgery is staggering. There’s Stephen Strasburg, Mark Prior, Shaun Marcum, and B.J. Ryan just to name a few.
And now the Blue Jays could possibly be adding two more names to that list: Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison. Drabek underwent Tommy John surgery on Tuesday, and it looks like he is one of the “Inverted W” offenders (or is actually in an “Inverted L“?)
It hasn’t been confirmed that Drew Hutchison will need Tommy John for his sprained UCL, but the Blue Jays are getting a second opinion in Florida. Which coincidentally, is also where Dr. James Andrews resides … unofficially known as the grim reaper for pitchers.
Again, we see that Hutchison is lifting his elbows above his shoulders to create that Inverted W.
Beachy displays the textbook case of the Inverted W, so it should come as no surprise that he’ll also likely need Tommy John surgery as well.
So what’s the big deal about the Inverted W? ESPN did a feature piece on Tommy John surgery earlier this year focused mostly on Stephen Strasburg, but broke down the side affects of the Inverted W quite thoroughly.
“To throw a baseball properly, a pitcher must get into the right position at the right time with the right succession of movements, like dominoes falling. Disruptions in this kinetic chain, as experts call it, cause problems at the weakest link, most often the elbow or shoulder.
If a pitcher’s elbows come higher than his wrists and shoulders, with the ball pointing down, he’s demonstrating an “inverted W” — a sign that his sequence is off and he’s fighting his own body. Such poor timing leads to arm lag, evident when the throwing elbow trails the shoulder once the shoulders square to home plate.
Strasburg exhibits both problems, forcing him and others like him to rely more on the arm’s relatively small muscles instead of the more massive ones in the legs and torso. Throw after throw, the shoulder and elbow are under extra stress.
The higher the pitch’s velocity and the worse the flaw, the more the arm suffers. And the more a pitcher throws, the worse it gets.”
The whole kinesiology and biomechanics involved in a pitcher’s windup and delivery is something that’s rather complicated, but one wonders that if the Blue Jays coaching staff have noticed the Inverted W in Drabek, Hutchison or any other pitcher’s delivery. if it’s in fact something that can be fixed.
It seems like the Inverted W is the side affect of a timing issue with a pitcher’s delivery. The elbows are being elevated, therefore there’s more stress on those joints. And the reason for that seems to be because the pitcher is lagging in their delivery and has to overcompensate by getting more power from his arms rather than his legs.
I don’t know if it’s something that’s an easy fix, especially for someone like Kyle Drabek who has spent years on end with the same delivery. The much more deep-rooted problem seems to be Drabek’s timing, and his tendency to fall off the mound towards first base.
The strange thing about Kyle Drabek is there are some photos where he’s clearly displaying the Inverted W or Inverted L, and then there are others where his delivery looks nothing of the sort.
Correcting the Inverted W might be more successful with Drew Hutchison because he’s still relatively in the infancy of his pitching career compared to Kyle Drabek. Really though, these guys are just going to pitch they way they’ve always pitched.
The Blue Jays don’t necessarily need to go back to the drawing board and completely overhaul Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison’s delivery, but the Inverted W is definitely something that should be on their radar.
Images courtesy of Daylife via Getty Images and Reuters Pictures