When I was the play-by-play broadcaster several years ago for the Aberdeen IronBirds, I can remember watching a young right-hander from the Dominican Republic join our team in 2005 and start dominating New York-Penn League hitters.
I can still remember a warm, July night in Burlington, Vt.,when he struck out 15 without a walk in six brilliant, dominant, shutout innings.
That year with the IronBirds, he went 5-4, 1.77 in 11 starts and over 56 innings allowed just 36 hits while recording 82 strikeouts.
The 21-year-old kid’s name was Radhames Liz.
He looked then like someone that could make the majors one day and certainly was a prospect to watch. Liz, of course, made the bigs, but a lack of command and quality secondary pitches kept him from doing much.
A few days ago, he was released by the Padres and has since signed with the Korean League.
One big reason that Liz never put up solid big league numbers could be that he had very poor mechanics, which caused him to fly toward the first-base dugout and not home plate upon releasing the ball.
I once had a conversation with ex-Orioles manager Dave Trembley about the right-hander and told him the theory I had about Liz. When I was finished,Trembley told me he totally agreed with me.
I felt there must have been several minor league coaches that could clearly see Liz’s poor mechanics, but didn’t try to change them for one big reason - they didn’t want to be known as the coach who messed him up.
With poor mechanics, Liz was throwing an easy 95 mph and blowing the ball by minor league hitters. No one wanted to become the coach that fixed his mechanics only to have him throw 89 mph with an ERA of 6.00.
I wonder if, while Liz was making his way through the O’s minors, some didn’t see him and think, “He is having success now, but with those mechanics, he won’t make it in the majors.”
While that may well have happened, we also have to remember that just because someone has poor mechanics doesn’t mean his motion can be fixed.
Some pitchers are resistant to change and others just can’t change how they have thrown for years. Still others try to change, it impacts their arm slot and they wind up either losing velocity or possibly getting hurt.
By the time a pitcher has made the pros, changing or altering his pitching mechanics is not as easy as some fans may think. I asked a baseball executive recently why teams don’t just draft more pitchers who already have solid mechanics.
“There are plenty of young kids pitching with decent mechanics,” he said. “Most of them throw 82 (mph) and have almost no chance.”
There are also plenty of pitchers succeeding in the majors with mechanics that no good coach would teach. Pitching and pitching mechanics are complicated.
No high school coach would want any of his left-handers to throw like Mike Gonzalez. But what if that lefty kept cranking out shutouts while pitching your team toward the playoffs? Who would tinker with that?
There is no right or wrong way here. Some pitchers throw with poor mechanics and succeed for years. Others look very smooth out there, have picture-perfect form and, it seems, get hurt every year.
In the end, for a hitter or pitcher, it’s almost totally about the results they produce and not how they get there.
Coming soon to this blog: An update with O’s minor league pitcher Cameron Coffey.