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On Matzek, Marshall, and Misjudgment

The Rockies’ twittersphere was abuzz this evening after Jake Etkin posted this article at Inside the Rockies on Matzek and his return to the Asheville rotation Wednesday evening. The crux of the Matzek story over the last month has not been the unconventional approach of sending a player outside the system to get help, but to send a prized (and expensive) prospect home to work with an instructor steeped in teachings that counter baseball conventional wisdom. While Etkin’s article was heavy in Marshall verbiage and technique, it’s important to try and scale this back and see just what you need to take out of it as it relates to Matzek and his new mechanics.

I’m not going to get into a big discussion on Marshall mechanics and the pros and cons of using them, as I myself am no expert on the subject. If you want a background into the antithema of the approach, here’s this excellent article from Yahoo’s Jeff Passan. To see these mechanics in their purest form, you can also watch this video on Jeff Sparks with Marshall’s annotations. What must you know about Marshall mechanics as it relates to Matzek? Probably just two points: pronation/arm slot and hip rotation/path to the plate. You’ll see the term pronation quite often with Marshall mechanics, and what they’re talking about is the rotation inward of the forearm, wrist, and hand, to where the elbow is pointing toward the sky and the thumb is pointing down at and immediately after release of the pitch. This is not uncommon for pitchers outside the Marshall teachings, and you see it quite often in circle change throwers. As you can see in this video from Mike Newman at Scouting the Sally, Matzek still featured some pronation in his Rockies-given mechanics, though in throwing across his body, the motion is less pronounced. If you watch this video from Matzek’s high school days, you can see the arm slot his instructor is looking that achieves the desired pronation. Getting Matzek’s arm slot higher will also help get Matzek more direct to the plate, which, obviously, should correct some of the command issues he has had over his professional career.

Getting more direct to the plate is also something address by hip/body rotation in Marshal mechanics. Obviously, Matzek is not pure Marshall, as he does have a leg kick in his delivery, but even in his high school video, Matzek showed less hip rotation than you’ll see in the average mechanics. This was seen as a bit of an issue mechanically because his hips open early compared to the desired conventional delivery. Matzek did appear to keep them closed better in the ’10 video, but obviously, Matzek’s instructor feels like over-rotation has led to some control issues. Once he returns, you can expect to see Matzek get his arm-slot back up to overhead-high three-quarters with less hip rotation early in the delivery. Obviously, these won’t be the only adjusted features of his delivery, but are probably the two easiest to notice differences.

The unanswered question remaining is just how much the Rockies knew about Matzek’s unconventional training regimen and whether it was wise to attempt to adjust this. While it’s hard to debate this without more insider knowledge (how many kids are drafted with unique training regimens that have to be changed? Was anyone aware of his Marshall ties?), I still believe it’s fair to question the judgment of taking a teenager early, making him a multi-millionaire, and then instantly work to overhaul a system that’s obviously worked in the past. Like the Bundy/Bauer long-toss debate of this draft, I tend to side with the players; if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. If you don’t like pitcher’s throwing foul pole to foul pole, don’t draft one that feels that activity is essential to his success. Likewise, don’t draft a pitcher, make him the largest bonus recipient in club history, and then attempt to change the mechanics that made him the top high school left hander in his class. Should we have known about Matzek’s Marshall leanings? Probably so. I know I had questions about this after finding the above Matzek video shortly after the draft, but largely dismissed the notion due to Matzek not displaying the extreme characteristics of a true Marshall adoptee. Lastly, is it even a problem? We can’t answer this now, and if he cannot return to high school form, we may never be able to answer this. We can say that there are successful pitchers in MLB today that pronate their forearm from an over the top motion, and those that succeed without significant hip rotation. Nothing about Matzek’s high school delivery should suggest to us that he’s paving a unique trail with his motion.

So now we’ll see what Wednesday brings with the new Matzek. Odds are that he’s still early in his journey back, and I wouldn’t expect a 180 degree turnaround this season. We’re looking for baby steps right now; less walks, more consistent velocity, and more confidence to use all of his pitches in all situations. It’s still important to remember that Matzek is young; had he gone to Oregon he’d just have completed his sophomore year and would be prepping to be re-drafted as a junior in 2012. Should he work himself back into form enough to start next season back in Modesto, he’d still be on track to reach the bigs ahead of the average aged prospect. However, we cannot get ahead of ourselves until we see the results of a few starts in Asheville. Still, this start Wednesday night in Asheville marks the biggest outing of Matzek’s young career, one that will have the entire organization’s attention. Here’s hoping that progress begins tonight.