The Epidemic > Comments on Jeff Passan's The Arm > A Line by Line Analysis

Jeff Passan devotes six pages of The Arm to trying to ruin my credibility and debunk my work.

If there's any doubt about Jeff Passan's disregard for the truth, his response to David Price's March 2017 elbow problems should settle this issue.

To (try to) make his case against me, Jeff Passan told folks that I pronounced David Price's pitching mechanics to be perfect in 2016 in a Reddit thread by tweeting this screen cap of a question and my reply.

What Jeff Passan didn't tell people is that he cropped out the comment I made in literally the next line in which I expressed concern about changes I was seeing in David Price's mechanics.

I hope it's obvious that my analysis changes when pitchers' mechanics change.

Or, as was the case for Carlos Martinez and seems to have been the case for David Price, were changed.

A Line by Line Analysis of Jeff Passan's The Arm

Here's my line by line analysis of what Jeff Passan writes.

All You Really Need to Know

To understand why Jeff Passan and The Arm are fundamentally dishonest, just read the last thing he writes about me in The Arm.

"People will criticize me for stuff because I'm changing things and making all these exceptions after the fact," O'Leary said. “I’m just trying to be scientific about it."

Do you honestly believe that, were I, as Jeff Passan would have you believe, trying to put something over on people, I'd just come out admit it to Jeff Passan while he was sticking his iPhone in my face and recording our conversation?

I guess it's only logical, given it's the height of the political season, that Jeff Passan would finish off his comments about my by employing one of the oldest tricks in the political playbook.

The out-of-context-quote.

Only a fundamentally dishonest person would act like a quote in which I'm quoting other people, and explaining what they say about me, reflects my true beliefs.

"People will criticize me for stuff (saying) I'm changing things and making all these exceptions after the fact," O'Leary said. “I’m just trying to be scientific about it."

Change one word in that quote, to one that better represents the truth, and Jeff Passan's argument falls apart.

If you're interested in learning about the extensive predictions I have made before the fact, please see my Pitcher Injury Predictions.

Let's go through every one of the six pages Jeff Passan wrote about me and point out the half-truths and out of context quotes.

Frustrated like Mike Marshall, Nyman stepped away from baseball for five years, only to resurface in April 2013 on the website of a pitching coach named Lantz Wheeler. Nyman wanted to set the record straight on a term he coined: "Inverted W."

I put together a piece in which I respond to Paul Nyman's Defense of the Inverted W.

In trying to break down pitchers' deliveries into three distinct categories, Nyman described one group as hanging their pitching arms in an inverted fashion before bringing them up to form a W with its glove-side arm.

It was a benign motion.

What would you expect Paul Nyman, the Johnny Appleseed of the Inverted W, the other inverted arm actions, and elbow lifting in general, to say?

If only for legal reasons.

Accepting that statement as truth is as absurd as accepting Tom House's evaluation of Mark Prior in which House -- Mark Prior's pitching coach -- said, "Objectively speaking, he's a can't miss."

Over the previous six years, Chris O'Leary had taken the phrase "Inverted W," twisted it into a Godzilla-like monster worthy of fright, and built his business on the back of such fear.

First, with respect to the Inverted W, since 2007 and again in 2010 I have been saying, "What the not so durable guys do is they take their elbows back but they also take them up. Now, that's actually painful to do, but it's not that bad in and of itself. The problem is that when you take the elbows back and up, you can end up with a Timing problem."

Notice my (deliberate) use of the qualified word "can," not something more definitive like "does."

Second, as to whether the Inverted W causes Timing problems at a higher rate than other arm actions, that hasn't been determined, due primarily to the fact that the Douoguih study compared the Inverted W to ever other arm action (good and bad) combined.

Third, fear is an entirely appropriate reaction when pitchers keep breaking down, and predictably so...

- Jose Fernandez's pitching mechanics
- Matt Harvey's pitching mechanics
- Jarrod Parker's pitching mechanics
- Johan Santana's pitching mechanics
- Stephen Strasburg's pitching mechanics

The re-branding of the Inverted W was O'Leary's masterstroke. He was just another Marshall adherent, parroting Doc's teachings on his website...

My original plan was to help Dr. Marshall get the word out about his discoveries, in large part by translating his words into plain English. However, the more I dug into Marshall's diagnosis and proposed remedies, the more problems I found. Dr. Marshall has some sense of the root cause of the problem, and some of his solutions make sense, but there are huge holes in his pronouncements. That is why I ultimately decided I needed to move beyond Dr. Marshall, read all of the original research myself, and make up my own mind.

...until he one day noticed a common point in the delivery of some pitchers. Both their elbows came above the top of their shoulders mid-delivery. Their arms formed an M shape-or, as O'Leary started calling it, an Inverted W.

As I explain in my Inverted W FAQ, I first called what I was seeing "The M." Then, when I learned that Paul Nyman was selling it as the Inverted W, I adopted his term.

The problem: no evidence existed that the motion itself blew out elbows or injured shoulders.

Nothing except my correct predictions of the injury problems of Mark Prior, Anthony Reyes, and Stephen Strasburg.

In fact, Tom Verducci liked the way I explained the problem with the Inverted W so much that, as I explain in my analysis of Stephen Strasburg's pitching mechanics Verducci decided to "borrow" my words for one of his Sports Illustrated pieces. Where I say...

(T)he Inverted W is not (that) bad in and of itself. The Inverted W doesn't directly lead to injuries. Instead, the problem with the Inverted W is that it can create a Timing problem...

...and...

The problem with the Inverted W is that it can (and I mean can and not always does) create a timing problem (aka rushing) and cause the arm to be late.

...and...

This position isn't damaging in and of itself. However, by coming to this position, Mark Prior is ensuring that his pitching arm will not be in the proper position at the moment his shoulders start to turn. As with pitchers with other timing problems like rushing, because his pitching arm is so late, he will dramatically increase the stress on both his elbow and shoulder.

Verducci says...

Here is the key to managing the torque levels in the late cocking phase: timing. The ball should be loaded in the late cocking phase precisely when the pitcher’s stride foot lands on the ground...The problem is the timing associated with that move, not the move itself.

Passan then goes on...

O'Leary argued that the findings didn't invalidate his theories. He said the Inverted W in and of itself wasn't troublesome but caused a timing problem in which pitchers' arms lagged behind when their torsos started to rotate.

Which is a completely accurate description of what the Douoguih study, which supposedly debunks my ideas, shows.

Which is why Dr. Douoguih invited me to D.C. to present at his conference.

I first said that in 2007 and again on a 3rd party podcast in 2010 when I said the following.

"What the not so durable guys do is they take their elbows back but they also take them up. Now, that's actually painful to do, but it's not that bad in and of itself. The problem is that when you take the elbows back and up, you can end up with a Timing problem."

As with my prediction about the fate of Matt Harvey, Jeff Passan's narrative only holds up if you ignore the evolution of my thinking.

That's how science works. You build a model, test it by using it to make predictions, work to understand why some predictions missed, and iterate.

Indeed, Douoguih's study showed a statistically significant difference in surgery rates among those with early rotation.

Here's the thing. The Douoguih study is the most important one out there and deserves to be covered in a chapter if not an entire book, not just a sentence in a hit piece.

Why doesn't he take any time to discuss this critically important finding? 

Does Jeff Passan actually care about solving The Epidemic or is this just about personal destruction?

Well, if Jeff Passan isn't interested in solving the problem, I am, and here's an essay about Timing as it applies to pitchers.

It did not show that Inverted W pitchers were any likelier to exhibit the tendency than the other group.

I'll let Dr. Douoguih rebut this.

"I told him that our data showed an increased injury rate requiring surgery in pitchers who exhibited the inverted W, it just didn't reach statistical significance. Because it did not reach statistical significance I can't make the claim that the inverted W increases injury risk.

"My hunch is that it does.

"I appreciate your pioneering efforts and would never try to discredit your work in a malicious fashion like that. I know we don't really know each other that well but I do hope that you don't get too down on yourself because people want to shoot down your effort to shed light on a complex subject.

"It usually means that you're on to something."

The greatest obstacle in the guru business is science; besides Glenn Fleisig, few in the biomechanical community bother with it. Research -- real research -- is difficult, expensive, and time-consuming, and it doesn't make money, which ultimately drives so much of what happens in biomechanics.

Classic red herring.

I don't do my own research because, as I explain in The Science Behind The Epidemic, the research has already been done by others with MDs and PhDs.

Which makes Lloyd Lee's humility so refreshing. Lee is the CPA. Next to nobody knows who he is. He believes he understands the pitching arm as well as anybody, even if his elocution could use some work. "I don't have a PhD in kinesiology," he said. "A lot of times when I'm talking, people want to correct my pronunciation of words. And all I've done is read the word. And I don't look it up and see the phonetics in the dictionary."
Lee can't say whether he'll change the game. Just that he wants to. For nearly a decade, he has honed his theories in a ten-pace abstract with the intention of expanding it into a book that Paul Davis and the Cardinals can use as a research primer. "Everything I've got just about contradicts everyone else," Lee said. His grand theory would indeed turn everything baseball knows upside down. Lee believes pitchers who extend their elbows and delay the internal rotation of the shoulder until after releasing the ball not only generate more power but stay healthier.

How do you throw the ball while keeping your palm up through the release point?

That's a serious question.

Either Lee's theory is fundamentally flawed or he's discovered something that I learned years ago; that the majority of the internal rotation of the arm doesn't occur until after the pitcher's elbow has extended (which calls into question some of the degrees per second on internal rotation numbers that people throw around).

The Douoguih study on the Inverted W had its flaws. The survivorship bias of examining just major league pitchers and the use of the naked eye to categorize them instead of kinematic data were two obvious ones. Considering what little data on the Inverted W existed before, it was a myth-busting start...

Again, here's Dr. Douoguih on this topic.

"I told him that our data showed an increased injury rate requiring surgery in pitchers who exhibited the inverted W, it just didn't reach statistical significance. Because it did not reach statistical significance I can't make the claim that the inverted W increases injury risk.

"My hunch is that it does.

"I appreciate your pioneering efforts and would never try to discredit your work in a malicious fashion like that. I know we don't really know each other that well but I do hope that you don't get too down on yourself because people want to shoot down your effort to shed light on a complex subject.

"It usually means that you're on to something."

(O'Leary's) analysis of Matt Harvey, the almost-perfect pitcher, missed badly. The New York Mets drafted Harvey with the seventh overall pick in the 2010 draft. By 2013, he was one of the best pitchers in the major leagues. Then his UCL blew.

Everything Jeff Passan says above is true.

If you ignore everything I've said about Matt Harvey since 2008.

Which is a lot.

As I explain in my analysis of Matt Harvey's pitching mechanics, I did like his high school mechanics. A lot. While his glove side was a bit hyperactive, his arm action was smooth and he was free of the Timing problem that is the chief concern with pitchers and the most reliable predictor of injuries.

"The way he throws, I never thought he'd get hurt," Ed Harvey told me. "He's got about the cleanest delivery going, in my opinion. The ball comes out of his hand really freely. He's usually on time."

I don't know what Ed Harvey is basing this statement on, but I assume the problem is he's just eyeballing Matt's arm action. The problem is the human eye is too slow for the job.

O'Leary blamed the miss on a new theory: premature pronation.

If, unlike Jeff Passan, you actually read my analysis of Matt Harvey's pitching mechanics, you'll find that I attribute Harvey's problems to something called the Power T.

He said Harvey changed his delivery since high school and was pointing the ball to center field upon foot strike. This, O'Leary claimed, was unnatural. Nolan Ryan's and Tom Seaver's and Mariano Rivera's and other pitchers' palms pointed toward third base. He didn't offer as examples all the pitchers --and there were plenty -- who pointed the ball toward second base and stayed healthy.

Here's the problem; Jeff Passan can't tell the difference between pronation and scapular retraction, which is why he uses the imprecise term "point the ball at center field."

"This is admittedly a theory," O'Leary said, and I suggested it wasn't a very good one. One of the great mysteries of the arm is how the forearm muscles work when a pitch is thrown, and for O'Leary to suggest he had any clue what was happening to them because a pitcher held a ball in a particular position was a leap Evel Knievel wouldn't dare make.

What's funny about this is all I'm doing is asking people if -- as Dr. Mike Marshall, Driveline, and Dr. James Buffi say -- the activation of the muscles of the forearm can help protect the elbow, then why can't the de-activation of those same muscles of the forearm put the elbow at risk?

It was a mistake in the same vein as with the Inverted W. O'Leary liked to say that he had changed, that his understanding of pitching had grown and he focused more on the timing than the brand name. The phrase Inverted W still screams out from every corner of his website, though, and O'Leary never divorced himself from it...

Three points. First, since 2007 I've been focused on Timing. Second, the Inverted W is still claiming victims. Third, the Inverted W is what people are still searching for.

If you search for "Inverted W" and click on any of my pieces that discuss the topic, you will notice that they all very quickly make the point that Timing is the underlying concern and direct you to my discussion of Timing. 

"People will criticize me for stuff because I'm changing things and making all these exceptions after the fact," O'Leary said. “I’m just trying to be scientific about it."

I guess it's only logical, given it's the height of the political season, that Jeff Passan would finish off his comments about my by employing one of the oldest tricks in the political playbook.

The out-of-context-quote.

Only an idiot, or a fundamentally dishonest person, would act like a quote in which I'm clearly talking about what other people say about me reflects my true beliefs.