Over at Driveline Mechanics, I did an analysis of Rich Harden's pitching mechanics....
Rich Harden brings serious heat and combines it with an outstanding changeup and quality breaking balls. The Pitch f/x tool says he throws a fastball (94 MPH), slider (85 MPH), and changeup (86 MPH). I am inclined to believe that, however, I have seen him mix in a split-finger fastball as well that comes in around 81-82.
(I’d like to apologize for the poor quality of the animated images in this post. However, I am constrained by the quality of the video I can find online, which isn’t great.)
Let’s break down his mechanics - first up is Arm Action and Tempo:
I paused the animation for 1 second in three frames, accompanied by highlights. Watch the video closely - you can see he breaks his hands with his arms (not with bent elbows, in other words), and takes the ball straight down, back, and up with the palm facing down. I prefer the palm facing up, however, the pendulum swing arm action is good. However, Harden could be a bit quicker into footplant, which I think would help take the strain off his shoulder.
Much ado about nothing is made of his wrist positioning. Yes, he bends his wrist upwards, but Harden’s injuries are most frequent and dangerous in his shoulder. He does have a UCL sprain in his closet, which makes him a higher risk for Tommy John surgery, but there is no evidence that shows a flexed upwards wrist will increase load on his elbow or shoulder. Regardless, Harden gets the ball up and does not show it to center field, instead showing it to third base, which is great. Showing the ball to center field / second base causes extra stress on the elbow during the throwing phase. Here’s a still image of what many healthy and long-lasting pitchers look like at footstrike:
Harden’s arm is at the ready position at footstrike, showing no signs of a delayed arm. His elbow is also below the level of his shoulders, avoiding possible impingement/hyperabduction problems:
Ball Release / Followthrough
More good stuff. Harden finishes aggressively, his pitching arm side (PAS) leg moves towards home plate and around his body, and he points his acromial line towards home plate and doesn’t stop the rotation of his shoulders. I prefer that pitchers “sprint” off the mound, using that tempo to keep the weight going foward at the plate, and a good cue to help in this is to tell pitchers to point their PAS shoulder at the plate through release.
Improvements and Final Thoughts
Harden could do a bit better job throwing against a firm front side by “slapping” his chest with his glove and tucking his elbow into his ribcage, which would be a more efficient use of his decelerator muscles, but that’s not really a huge issue. I’d prefer to see faster tempo, but I doubt that is the root cause of his shoulder problems. Like other analysts, I can’t point out the reason why he lands on the disabled list so often. Pitching is a violent act, and many people theorize that the harder you throw, it becomes exponentially more likely you are to end up with injuries no matter how strong or physically fit you are. I agree to a point, but it’s also possible that some people are not genetically wired to handle the unbelievable stresses of throwing a baseball 90+ MPH. I hate to question Harden’s conditioning, but if you forced me to make a guess, I’d say that he has a strong genetic profile in determining his white/red fibrous muscle tissue, giving him extremely powerful anaerobic abilities, but he may not be properly strengthening the endurance muscles, leading to quicker fatigue and possible injury problems.
I wish the best for Rich Harden, as he is simply dominant when he takes the mound. Time will tell.