The Epidemic > Comments on Jeff Passan's The Arm > Thinking Critically

If you follow my work, you know I spend a lot of time talking -- and testing my followers -- about critical thinking. That's because, when it comes to baseball, critical thinking is sorely absent.

Jeff Passan would have you believe that he's thinking critically about my work, and questioning it and me at every turn..

I can only assume that will continue to do so at Lantz Wheeler's Pitch-A-Palooza and at MLB's Baseball Sports Medicine: Game-Changing Concepts seminar.

If you hear Jeff Passan speak, I can only hope you keep a number of things in mind.

Thinking Critically About The Arm

If you listen to Dissecting The Arm, which is the interview Jeff Passan did with Youth Baseball Edge, you can hear him discuss me and my work at length.

Inverted W and Paul Nyman

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.

Still Photographs

The best way to judge Jeff Passan's criticism of my work is to listen to what he says about my methods.

Does he mention my (extensive) use of high speed video?

Or does he just talk about my use of still photographs?

...basing this on still photographs...

I ask because Jeff Passan loves to talk about my use of still photos.

I also don't think that looking at still photographs -- that don't tell the whole picture about somebody -- you can really make judgements about a player's mechanics.

And just still photos.

...that's what they are, guesses based on still photographs...

Now, let me be totally upfront and clear about something.

I do use still photos.

Why? Because they remain the best way of seeing, pointing out, and judging Pronation, among other things.

Henderson Alvarez - My Guess

However, still photos aren't the only thing I use.

For example, my analysis of Matt Harvey's pitching mechanics contains a number of high-speed clips that date back to 2012.

Matt Harvey in 2012 at 120fps

Clips that I showed Jeff Passan on August 26, 2013 when I was trying to explain to him why Matt Harvey needed Tommy John surgery.

Jeff Passan's reluctance to inform people about the full scope of my tools and work should raise questions about his true level of objectivity.

And credibility.

It's the Timing...

Since 2007, I have been trying to get people to understand that, while positions like the Inverted W are problematic, what people really need to pay attention to is Timing, by which I mean...

  • The position of the pitcher's arm, specifically the amount of external, or in the worst case internal, rotation...
  • When the pitcher's shoulders start rotating.
  • Which is usually at front foot plant.

At 24:49, Jeff Passan uses my definition of Timing to explain the pitching motion...

When your front foot strikes and your arm is, hopefully, up at around 90 degrees, your elbow starts going forward and your forearm starts laying back, that is your shoulder externally rotating.

At 29:41 Passan then reiterates his belief that my definition of Timing is valuable...

I don't disagree with him that Timing is very important to pitchers and that, if your Timing is off, you can get hurt.

But Passan then goes off the rails.

Ignoring for the moment Passan's repeated and consistent refrain about how I use -- and, it would seem, only use -- still photos in my analyses of pitchers and pitching mechanics...

But I also don't think that looking at still photographs -- that don't tell the whole picture about somebody -- you can really make judgements about a player's mechanics.

The problem is that what he says next directly contradicts what he said in the first sentence...

And I don't think that where a player's arm is at a particular point in the delivery is something -- it can be a red flag -- but it's not something necessarily that's going to indicate a guy will get hurt.

What is Timing?

Again, Timing is the position of the pitcher's pitching arm -- the degree of external or internal rotation -- when the shoulders start rotating, which is usually at front foot plant.

How do you judge Timing?

You judge a pitcher's Timing by looking at the position of the pitching arm when their front foot plants.

Which is what Jeff Passan (literally) encourages the listener to do at 24:49.

How else are you supposed to look at a pitcher's Timing except in the form of a video clip or the critical frame of a video clip?

I guess you could use an x-ray, but that would be expensive and complicated. Motion Capture systems can also be used, but they are also overkill when all you need is a single frame from a video clip; the frame when the pitcher's front foot plants.  

Which, when extracted from a video clip, becomes what?

A still photo.

A few moments later on in the interview Jeff Passan, while trying to make the point that I don't talk about anything other than Timing, admits that I DO look at and talk about multiple factors...

(Chris O'Leary) spends a lot of time talking about how kids are throwing too much...

Passan then goes on to reiterate his point that I (only) use still photographs...

...but then he bases his injury guesses -- and, look, that's all they are, guesses based on still photographs...

He then criticizes me for doing what he told the listener to do at 24:49...

...he bases these guesses on where a guy's arm is when his front foot is landing. Could that be a factor? Unquestionably so. I have not denied that at all but -- I'm sorry -- a rigorous, science-based approach looks at multiple factors when you're talking about something as complicated as the pitching delivery. And he doesn't do that.

In sum, Jeff Passan's criticisms of my work are a jumble of lies and contradictions, and I have a hard time believing why anybody takes him seriously.

What Does the Science Say?

In the Youth Baseball Edge interview, Jeff Passan says the following...

The science just does not support it.
The science simply doesn't back him up. It just doesn't.

That's a strange thing to say, given that, as I discuss in The Science Behind The Epidemic, my work is based on a number of studies.

Studies that, for whatever reason, Jeff Passan disregards. 


If you want to get to the truth, when you see and/or listen to Jeff Passan speak, I'd suggest you keep a number of things in mind and ask yourself a number of questions.

Does Jeff Passan ever mention my use of high speed video?

In the YBE podcast he repeatedly mentions my use of still photographs, which I do use because they are the best way of judging pronation, but I have never heard him mention my use of high speed video. And that's weird because, when we met at a game on August 26, 2013, I had both my high speed camera and my iPad with me. If fact, I was showing them to him when a foul ball passed between our heads and hit the seat above and behind us.

Does Jeff Passan Talk About Timing? Does He Use My Definition?

As I point out above, Jeff Passan uses, and encourages listeners to use, my definition of and approach for judging pitchers' Timing. However, he then criticizes me and my work that produced that definition and approach.