Restoring the Balance of Tim Hudson
A quick stats check confirms that 2006 was not the best year for Tim Hudson. What is interesting, of course, is to ask why. Random variation? Or was there something else going on?
I am always interested to read or hear what a player has to say about his performance, and luckily, a few different articles cite Hudson as he mentions working on subtle adjustments to his mechanics. The questions are: are these the best adjustments, and are they working?
Here are a couple of excerpts from articles referring to Hudson's mechanics:
From Access North Georgia:
The bullpen's problems aside, Hudson returned the next day to working with pitching coach Roger McDowell on a drill that's attempting to restore his balance on the mound.
McDowell recognized a flaw in Hudson's delivery that begins any time his right foot leaves the rubber too soon. The balancing drill helps Hudson keep his shoulders horizontal and corrects the poor mechanics that caused him to give the ball an uneven release.
From the USA Today on 5/2/06:
"I'm getting a lot more downward movement instead of side to side. That side-to-side stuff gets hit a long way," said Hudson, who is throwing with more of an overhand motion. "It's not rocket science. It was just a little bitty adjustment, but that's all it took."
The quotes are ordered this way because the first one refers to a cause (balance and shoulder angle) that leads to an effect (movement on the ball). The presumed effect that Hudson and McDowell are looking for is more downward movement (sink), which is perhaps one of the reasons for Hudson's success in Oakland. So let's look at video of Hudson when he pitched in Oakland compared to his 2006 season in Atlanta.
The video I have for comparison comes from July 2002 and September 2006. I ended up using pitches from both the windup and the stretch (each taken from the same game), combining the four pitches into one comparison. In an effort to avoid speculation as much as possible, the main topics I will address are balance and arm angle, because these are the things specifically mentioned by Hudson.
For those of you playing at home, here is the full version (in slo-mo) of the comparison:
Which one has better balance? Which is in better position to create the desired downward movement on the ball? Let's see.
Starting from the top, the following picture shows Hudson as he prepares to begin his movement towards home plate:
The yellow vertical line just shows where the head is positioned relative to the foot. What I thought to be more interesting is the angle of the shin on the post (rear) leg. The measurement of the angle is not exact (different camera angles in different stadiums, etc., which is beyond my control), but there is a noticeable difference. The smaller angle on the left may indicate more muscle activation in the upper leg and lower torso region that play a role in balance and stabilization. In other words, the large muscles on the middle of the body may be utilized more on the left, which would help stabilize Hudson as he moves toward home plate.
The picture above is a few frames later where the 2006 Hudson appears to be "reaching" (extending) more with his front leg, perhaps in order to create static balance over the rubber. This deemphasizes the need for active muscle stabilization which seems more apparent in 2002. This difference between static and dynamic balance ("staying back") is rather similar to the difference I noted in Alex Rodriguez's rotation this year compared to years past. In short, weight back and reaching with the stride opens the door for problems with subsequent rotation. We'll touch on that again momentarily.
Now here is a look at the resulting shoulder angle:
Hudson had said he was trying to achieve a more horizontal shoulder angle - mission accomplished. But will this really create more sink? Think of a sidearm pitcher throwing a 'frisbee slider,' nicknamed because the horizontal arm angle creates more horizontal plane for the pitch. This compared to a more vertically arm angled pitcher, whose slider may be referred to as having more 'tilt.'
Hudson also credits the downward motion to throwing with a more overhand motion, but we have to look at how he gets there.
Here is the shot of release point:
The release point for these pitches does appear to be remarkably different, so let me know if you can measure any differences in that picture.
Earlier, I mentioned some potential rotation problems that might result from trying to literally 'stay back' on the rubber, and I was mainly referring to the dreaded opening up too soon. I will not spend much time addressing it, primarily because a good side view would make for better analysis. I have, however, been made aware of a conversation between two individuals who are personally familiar with Hudson in which notice was made of Hudson's rotation causing him to open up too soon (aka pull off, or any other baseball speak you have for it). One indicator from this center-field camera angle is this:
Of course the camera angles are different, but it is interesting that the glove of 2006 Hudson basically disappears. You can decide how much you want to make of that.
I will leave you with a final picture:
This was a bit of an accident in that I dropped a line from the head of each side and just let the clip play through. By the end of the clip, I noticed that 2002 Hudson's head was ending up on the original line that had been drawn. 2006 Hudson was very obviously off to the left. The significance is that it is one more indicator that 2006 Hudson does not have the same balance of 2002. Decide for yourself which one is better, but they are clearly not the same.
Back to those of you playing along at home - do all these pieces match up to what you saw in the initial full version of the clip?
Here is a quick summary:
2002: Earlier muscle activation allows improved dynamic balance in order to set up a better foundation for rotation. Slightly more vertical shoulder angle creates more opportunity direct the rotational momentum towards home plate via forwards flexion of the spine, and improves ability to 'get on top' of the ball for more downwards movement (sink).
2006: Weight back and reaching front foot leaves static balance over the rubber, possibly leads to opening up during rotation. This combined with the horizontal shoulder angle decreases opportunity to transfer rotational momentum into delivery towards home plate. Arm comes across the ball in a more horizontal plane, creating more lateral movement.
There is no way for me to know for certain which drills Hudson is actually doing, why he may choose the particular drills, or if they are producing the results he desires. But now that you have an idea of the general adjustments he is trying to make, what is your answer to the original questions: are these the best adjustments and are they working?
Lastly, it is only fair that I offer my suggestions. Hudson, just like any other player, tries to keep his mechanics simple, and there is no need to get elaborate with drills and solutions. A little more 'sit' as he begins towards the plate rather than trying to 'stay back,' and allow the front arm to work up a little more. That's it from me. If you were pitching coach what would you do?