Matt Harvey: Mental, Mechanics, Muscle and Mystery …”The Butterfly Effect” Part 1

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“The butterfly effect is the concept that small causes can have large effects. Initially, it was used with weather prediction but later the term became a metaphor used in and out of science.” Wikipedia.

For those interested in how the body throws the baseball Matt Harvey’s recent struggles to get batters out offers an opportunity to test your knowledge and investigative skills. The main focus has been on Harvey’s fastball velocity and lack of and there is no lack of speculation as to the cause of his problems.

 

Matt Harvey in 2013 throwing 98 mph

Matt Harvey in 2016 throwing 93 mph

 

 

We know his velocity is off: Harvey’s fastball has averaged 94 mph this season, down nearly two full ticks from the 95.9 he averaged in 2015. We don’t know — and it sure sounds like even Harvey doesn’t know — what’s behind the dip, or whether it is necessarily responsible for Harvey’s struggles to date in 2016. But experts from every corner offer up opinions with baffling certainty.

By: Ted Berg  | May 20, 2016 2:19 pm   USA Today Sports http://ftw.usatoday.com/2016/05/matt-harvey-new-york-mets-struggling-boos-confidence-mechanics-velocity-oh-my-mlb

The Mental
His first foray into the world of problem-solving for pitchers could also be taking a mental toll. At times, Harvey acknowledged, he is thinking too much about what he is doing when he delivers the baseball. For a dominant pitcher like Harvey, it tends to work better when he just rears back and fires away.
“You start overthinking pretty much everything,” he said. “That’s the way it kind of feels every pitch. So, hopefully, we can get past that.”
Matt Harvey Struggles, and Can’t Explain Why By DAVID WALDSTEINMAY 14, 2016 http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/15/sports/baseball/matt-harvey-struggles-and-cant-explain-why.html?_r=0

The Mechanical
During SNY’s broadcast, Ron Darling explained a mechanical flaw seen in Harvey’s throwing motion.  In 2015, after Harvey broke his pitching hand from his glove to begin his windup, Harvey had his forearm, wrist and hand all in a straight line toward the ground and eventually point back at second base as his pitching arm continued the windup.  In 2016, as Harvey breaks his throwing hand from his glove and begins his arm swing/arm motion, Harvey cup’s or curls his throwing wrist back toward first base.

This wrist curl is an excess or unnecessary movement.  The more unnecessary movements in Harvey’s throwing arm and hand, the higher level of difficulty for Harvey to repeat or gain a consistent release point.  Release point is the main dictator of pitch command, velocity and movement.

As Darling noted in the broadcast, this is a bad habit Harvey gained at some point during the off-season or spring training.  Generally, pitchers mechanical bad habits tend to get worse during the course of a game as a pitchers focus diverts further into the game and their body tires making it difficult to adjustment a bad habit in the middle of a game.

The Z Files: Matt Harvey’s Subtle Pitching Flaw An article by Christopher Zaccherio posted on May 25, 2016  http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/05/the-z-files-matt-harveys-subtle-pitching-flaw.html/

"Warthen thinks Harvey’s problems are mechanical. He told reporters that Harvey is collapsing on his back leg rather than standing taller, which is causing Harvey to muscle the ball rather than throw it in a fluid motion. Warthen also said that Harvey is tensing up and trying to throw too hard."

Matt Harvey’s velocity and stuff haven’t looked right in his first three starts By Timothy Finnegan Apr 18, 2016 http://www.amazinavenue.com/2016/4/18/11446098/mets-matt-harvey-velocity-stuff-new-york/

The Muscle

And it’s not due to injury. Both the Mets and Harvey insist he’s completely healthy. He’s not worried about an innings limit as he has been in the past. He’s not worried about preserving his arm in 2016 — or at least he shouldn’t be. All he’s focused on is going out there and pitching, and it’s not working. He and the Mets are searching for answers that can’t necessarily be found in four or five days before he takes the mound next.

The New York Mets need to sit Matt Harvey down By Cameron DaSilva Fox Sports May 20, 2016 at 1:40p ET http://www.foxsports.com/mlb/story/new-york-mets-matt-harvey-sit-down-struggle-stats-052016

The Mystery

The world is full of mysteries. From Stonehenge, to Area 51, to the success of Donald Trump’s political career, there are some things in life that just cannot be explained.

The struggles of New York Mets starter Matt Harvey is quickly moving up the ranks as one of baseball’s biggest mysteries. The former ace is having a heck of a time here in 2016. After Tuesday night’s loss to the Washington Nationals in which he lasted just 5 innings and gave up 5 earned runs on 8 hits with 2 walks, 1 strikeout and 3 home runs allowed, his season totals have gone from troubling to ghastly.

His mechanics need adjustment. He lacks confidence. His sequencing is off, and he’s not fooling anybody anymore. He’s getting unlucky, and too many batted balls are finding holes in the Mets’ defense. He’s too focused on modeling and dating models and generally being Matt Harvey off the field to continue being Matt Harvey on it. He threw too many innings last season. He’s out of shape.

Any one of those issues could be hampering Harvey this season. Or maybe it’s none of them. Or maybe — and perhaps most likely — it’s some combination of many of them. But here’s the main thing to keep in mind: It’s nine lousy starts. Nine.

What in the World Is Going on With Matt Harvey? John Stolnis on May 25th, 2016 https://www.numberfire.com/mlb/news/9068/what-in-the-world-is-going-on-with-matt-harvey#

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” George Santayana

Since 1995 I have worked on breaking the code of how the body optimally throws a baseball. Previous articles in the hardball Times have dealt this problem (please see “A Bridge Too Far” http://www.hardballtimes.com/a-bridge-too-far/ ).

My interest in Matt Harvey and his throwing issues were result of another pitcher that I was more interested in at the time, David Price. Price was of interest because of his issues very similar to Harvey’s i.e. this year his velocity was down from previous years. Also his career/contract paralleled Barry Zito’s in terms of performance and age. The article (in progress) is tentatively entitled David Price The Next Barry Zito?

David Price appears to have found some relief from his pitching problems and I do not agree they are solved as a result of Dustin Pedroia’s mechanical observations/suggestions. Meanwhile Harvey’s issues have escalated and therefore becomes more interesting in terms of trying to "decode".

The critical factors in effectively throwing a baseball

  1. Momentum transfer
  2. Power
  3. Development, storage and release of connective tissue elastic energy
  4. Muscle potentiation stretch shortening cycle
  5. Dynamic Systems and Constraits

Momentum Transfer

The ability of the body to create momentum and then convert momentum is critical to throwing a baseball. Contrary to popular belief throwing 98 mph is not about having a strong arm in the sense that it’s the muscular actions (muscle contraction) of the arm that throws the baseball.

Throwing and related skills may similarly exploit the whip like characteristics of the extremities. The fact that the elbow can be extended much more quickly in a normal throwing motion then in the isolated act of extending the elbow as quickly as possible accords with the view that the arm is passably swung like a whip during throwing.

Handbook of Perception and Action: Motor Skills, Volume 2 Edited by Herbert Heuer, Steven W. Keele

The physics of throwing a baseball is primarily governed by Newton’s second law of motion:

F=MA

Which can be rewritten F=M*dV/dt which says that force is the will to the change in momentum with respect to changing time.

What occurs in throwing is the transfer of kinetic energy and momentum from proximal to distal body segments and finally to the ball. This is the same action (physics) that describes what happens a whip is cracked i.e. the slow movement of the hand moving the handle the whip transfers momentum along the decreasing mass of the whip culminating in the tip of the whip moving faster than speed of sound.

Power

From Wikipedia: Power pitcher is a term in baseball for a pitcher who relies on the velocity of his pitches, sometimes at the expense of accuracy. Power pitchers usually record a high number of strikeouts, and statistics such as strikeouts per 9 innings pitched are common measures of power.

Power is the measure of the amount of work per unit time. Work is done when a force that is applied to an object moves that object such as the body applying force to the baseball. Work is calculated by multiplying the force by the amount of movement of an object (W = F * d). The unit of measurement for work is the Joule. Joules/second is the measure of power.

There are two important points here.

  1. To create power you must do work i.e. apply force to move a mass.
  2. The magnitude of the power produced is a function of time i.e. the faster you move the mass the more power you create.

Development, storage and release of connective tissue elastic energy

Although some primates, including chimpanzees, throw objects occasionally1,2, only humans regularly throw projectiles with high speed and great accuracy. Darwin noted that humans’ unique throwing abilities, made possible when bipedalism emancipated the arms, enabled foragers to effectively hunt using projectiles3. However, there has been little consideration of the evolution of throwing in the years since Darwin made his observations, in part because of a lack of evidence on when, how, and why hominins evolved the ability to generate high-speed throws4-8. Here, we show using experimental studies of throwers that human throwing capabilities largely result from several derived anatomical features that enable elastic energy storage and release at the shoulder. These features first appear together approximately two million years ago in the species Homo erectus. Given archaeological evidence that suggests hunting activity intensified around this time9, we conclude that selection for throwing in order to hunt likely played an important role in the evolution of the human genus.

Elastic energy storage in the shoulder and the evolution of high-speed throwing in Homo Neil T. Roach,1,2 Madhusudhan Venkadesan,3 Michael J. Rainbow,4 and Daniel E. Lieberman1

Muscle potentiation stretch shortening cycle

The mechanical characteristics of skeletal muscle have such a major effect on the force and speed of muscle actions that the central nervous system has a preferred muscle activation strategy to maximize performance in most fast movements. This strategy is most beneficial in high-effort events but is also usually selected in submaximal movements. Most normal movements unconsciously begin a stretch shortening cycle (SSC): a counter movement away from the intended direction of motion that is slowed down (break) with the centric muscle action that is immediately followed by concentric action in the direction of interest. This bounce out of the centric results in potentiation (increase) of force in the following concentric action if there is minimal delay between the two muscle actions.

Fundamentals of Biomechanics By Duane V. Knudson

Dynamic systems and constraints

 

What influences change in dynamical movement systems? To answer this question, a model of the emergence of expertise under interacting constraints is useful. The concept of constraints has a rich tradition in theoretical physics and evolutionary and theoretical biology. Roughly speaking, constraints are factors that shape or guide the organization of multi-component natural systems including, for example, weather systems, termite colonies, and movement systems. Newell (1986) has provided the best account of how constraints influence coordination and control in human movement systems. His model categorizes constraints as “organismic” (exemplified in the current debate by the genetic profile and amount of task-specific practice of each individual athlete), “task” (related to the specific characteristics of each sport or physical activity; examples include rules, boundaries, and equipment), and “environmental” (exemplified by social and cultural influences on behavior). Newell’s model shows how these constraints interact together to influence expertise in sport.  A radical implication of this approach is that the acquisition of expertise emerges under the interaction of organismic, task, and environmental constraints.

Genes, Training, and other Constraints on Individual Performance: A Role for Dynamical Systems Theory? Keith Davids Department of Exercise and Sport Science, Manchester Metropolitan University, Alsager, Cheshire ST7 2HL, UK. Email: k.davids@mmu.ac.uk

What does all this have to do with my Harvey and his recent problems? In Part 2 will explore how these factors may explain Matt Harvey’s throwing issues.

Matt Harvey Part 2

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