The answer is YES, but I doubt Jose Fernandez consciously made the change.
I purchased the MLB.TV package this year in an effort to monitor existing mechanical patterns and learn new ones. I’ve made several exciting discoveries thus far, most of which will be used to enhance my scoring system (due out soon). When I first signed up for the package, one of the first games I watched was Jose Fernandez pitching against the Cardinals. After a few pitches, something didn’t look right with Fernandez’s mechanics. I pulled up several videos from last year to compare, and I saw some striking differences! At first I thought it may have been the off-set camera angle, but upon watching him pitch recently against the Mets, a new pattern has taken hold of his delivery.
I haven’t been able to find any literature on him speaking about a mechanical change ( please send my way if you have seen one) but I did find an article that details his workouts over the years. It’s an interesting article by Sports Illustrated, which documents Jose Fernandez’s training regimen and relationship over the years with coach Orlando Chinea. It’s a great read, and I would encourage you to learn more about Fernandez. I found the two excerpts below fascinating.
I don’t like pitchers spending all that time in the gym — I like the natural environment,” says Chinea, so he had Fernandez build up his strength by throwing two-pound medicine balls at 120 feet, running hills, chopping trees, and pushing cars. “We’d go to a parking lot, twice a week, he’d push cars, pickup trucks, 100 feet,” says Chinea.
Chinea describes Fernandez’s pitching style as “a mix of Cuban, and a mix of Japanese.” He compares Fernanez’s delivery to Yu Darvish’s — “fluid, smooth, almost artistic.” The workouts Chinea taught Fernandez were “based on core conditioning, plyometrics, increasing structural rotation,” says Chinea.
You could read the two quotes above and deduce Fernandez’s training routine focuses on building power (chopping trees/pushing cars) while maintaining fluidity (cuban/japanese) in his mechanics. Sounds like a legitimate plan to me aside from the 2lb med ball portion. So, it should be fair to say his workout program helped propel him to the big leagues and should continue to work to keep him there correct? Potentially, but what if Jose Fernandez’s taste of success last year has only fueled his desire to be the best, and he takes his training to new levels? What if his force output training begins to outweigh the looseness and rhythm he had last year? Could this account for the shift in his delivery?
In the Sports Illustrated article, Chinea says, ” In America, the power comes from the gym, from the body frame. In Japan, it’s about maximizing the pitching motion.” He’s absolutely correct. Most Americans view strength training as the quickest and sometimes only means to enhance their career to the next level. Guys will dedicate an entire off-season in the weight room and not touch their delivery until spring training. We want a combination of both facets. The pitching delivery can take on many forms. Just look at the pitching delivery 50 years ago when strength training programs weren’t emphasized. Loose, long, rhythmic. A few adjectives to describe the look. Today we see too many slow, rigid, stiff, and max effort movements. The advent of the radar gun hasn’t helped either but overall, the training program must match proper rotation and exertion of force.
It’s entirely possible Jose Fernandez’s workouts have created an increased urge to exert increase force. But, the extra aggression is putting him into a problematic scenario that will negatively impact his ability to efficiently rotate.
Overview on Fernandez
Overall I’m not a big advocate of Jose Fernandez’s mechanics. I do think he does a nice job moving into his lift by incorporating “The 45 Degree Rule” which sets up a nice timing pattern as he breaks his hands away from his body. I enjoy the initial phase of the delivery which combines the Cuban and Japanese styles mentioned above. The cuban portion of Fernandez’s delivery can be seen in the 45 degree move (the movement of the knee outwards and back into the body) as he lifts his leg. The japanese style starts as he kicks his foot out as his hands follow. He moves his lower body down the mound leading with his hips but sits on his back knee momentarily. But real issues begin to surface in his arm action and posture as he prepares to rotate which negates the positives created in the onset of his movement.
2013 vs. 2014
Many critics will argue my camera angles from which I am drawing conclusions isn’t ideal. I would agree with them. The 2013 clip is slightly more centered compared to the clip of 2014. However, the frame rates are the same and the positions of the body align in the respective frame rate regardless. The graphic above illustrates Jose Fernandez delivery at the moment BEFORE his front foot makes contact with the ground.
#1 Foot prior to contact
I reference the foot as a starting point for comparison. We can work our way up to highlight the differences in the delivery. If you focus in on the left toe, you will see in 2013 the toe is almost completely open whereas the toe is at 45 degree angle in 2014. The earlier rotation of the toe is a product of early hip rotation, directly leading to better hip and shoulder separation. Also, notice the difference in stride alignment. Fernandez is much more closed off in 2014 compared to 2013.
This is really the main difference between last year and this year. Fernandez remains forward with his posture right before foot strike. This forward position directly leads to the body having to rotate more horizontally around the spine.
#3 Forearm Position
The hand below the elbow in 2014 indicates Fernandez undergoing “shoulder hike”. Shoulder hike occurs when the humerus is driven into internal rotation in conjunction with humeral abduction. In a more general sense, this is evident when the hand is being forced back into the body while the elbow is driven upwards towards the shoulder. Not a good position to be in for shoulder health.
#4 Head Position
When a pitcher moves into thoracic extension and makes an effort to get into this position is head position is similar to 2013. When the torso remains forward, and the pitcher is purposely trying to stay closed as along as possible, the head resembles that of Fernandez in 2014. If you revert back to my Nolan Ryan article, this forward position is commonly taught throughout instructors/coaches in America.
Position at Foot Strike
One frame later in each clip, the position below happens. The front foot has firmly made contact with the ground. It’s very apparent Fernandez is one frame behind now compared to his 2013 clip. This frame paints a picture of inevitable negative forces the shoulder/elbow must undergo to compensate for the arm being forced down prior to release. Fernandez is simply late getting his forearm vertical, it remains horizontal at foot strike and will progress to rotating outside of his body.
Positive or Negative Change?
If we are objective, use video analysis, and research, we can ultimately conclude the mechanical pattern Jose Fernandez is now exhibiting is far from ideal, and he now puts himself AT RISK of potential injury. As mentioned prior in the article, this new movement could simply be attributed to more aggressive off-season training. If you watch Fernandez pitch you can see his fire, tenacity, and passion for his skill. Aggression leads to tightness and tightness in the body prior to foot strike leads to injury.
Jose Fernandez is a joy to watch compete and great for the game of baseball. We need to keep him on the field and healthy. If we have learned anything over the last several years, many of the games best young pitching prospects are going down with Tommy John Surgery. Stephen Strasburg in 2010, Matt Harvey in 2013, and already this year we have lost Luke Hochevar and Kris Medlen to elbow injuries.
The warning signs are clear people. Lets make a change.
The positions above are taught on an everyday basis to our youth. It doesn’t end well. I actually know from experience. See below.
-Justin Orenduff, Leader of the Pitching Rebellion