Rick Peterson brings biomechanical analysis to the Orioles

Rick Peterson has 12 years of experience as a major league pitching coach, most recently with Milwaukee in 2010. Yesterday, he officially joined the Orioles as the club’s director of pitching development. Peterson will oversee the organization’s pitching development program.

With Peterson now on board, Orioles pitchers, at both the major and minor league levels, are going to become familiar with something called biomechanical analysis. It’s a little more involved than “work fast and throw strikes.”

Peterson co-founded a company with noted Birmingham, Ala., orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews that features the analysis and he has used it throughout his career as a pitching coach. His Oakland A’s pitchers finished in the top three in ERA in the American League every year from 1999-2003, including league-leading ERAs in 2002 and 2003.

So, in a nutshell, what the heck is biomechanical analysis?

“It’s based on Dr. Andrews research at ASMI (American Sports Medicine Institute) to get an MRI of the pitching delivery to make sure that the measurements in that delivery are falling into normative range to optimize performance and reduce the risk of injury,” Peterson said.

If those measurements are not in the normal range, than adjustments can be made.

“Then you take a look at it,” he said. “Is this a mechanical issue, is it a medical issue or is it a conditioning issue? It’s one of those three and now you are able to pinpoint that specifically and then you can address it.

“Just because you are pitching really good does not mean you are not a risk of injury. Mark Prior was one of the top guys in the game, but he obviously had a flaw that led to injury that really impacted his career.”

More than 20 years ago, Dr. Andrews started biomechanical analysis in Birmingham and that year, Peterson just happened to be the pitching coach for the Chicago White Sox’s Double-A team in town. The Sox wanted Peterson to take some pitchers to see Andrews and his new method of analyzing pitchers.

“I was the first person to ever walk into his lab when they opened the doors back in 1989. He had just worked on Roger Clemens’ shoulder and he wondered if there was a way to prevent some of these injuries and optimize performance,” Peterson said. “We built this system around his research to train pitchers at the highest level. We looked at a whole series of drills to build a system to find what drills could train the delivery to stay at the normative range at the highest level. We did this in Oakland and took (Tim) Hudson and (Barry) Zito to the lab early on in their careers. 3Psports is the amateur version of this program.

“In Major League Baseball over the last decade, just over $1.2 billion has been spent on pitching salaries. Just over $330 million of that has been spent on injured pitchers. It’s epidemic. In the amateur market, Tommy John surgeries are up over 700 percent in the last decade. Obviously, something is off track here. Look at what these injuries are costing organizations.

“We went back and looked at pitchers like Jim Palmer, Don Sutton, Steve Carlton and Bob Gibson - how did they stay healthy and pitch so well? - and there were some common threads. Based on all this, with the collaboration of Dr. Andrews, we built a pitching philosophy and program.”

Peterson said there will be a lab at spring training in Sarasota where he can provide analysis for some Orioles’ pitchers. The analysis will provide measurements to be studied.

“At 3Psports, there are 14 measurements and that is relevant for the amateur market. But a more comprehensive analysis is the lab with ASMI, American Sports Medicine Institute. And that is where you bring guys in and it’s like where you see sports science on ESPN. They have the athletes in there and they put markers on them. Based on those, they create images,” Peterson said.

“So when we have a lab in spring training, we get a guy in the bullpen at game speed and you have markers on him so the equipment will pick up angular measurements, linear measurements and rotational measurement. It’s not video analysis, but you are getting true measurements of things like stride length, of external rotation, hip rotation velocities, the bend of knee at ball release.

“There are 40-some measurements in this testing. When you get the results back, you literally have the MRI of the pitching delivery. Then you can pinpoint very specifically, is there a flaw, No. 1, and if there is a flaw or flaws, is it mechanical, medical or conditioning? It’s literally like ESPN’s sports science for pitching.”

I told you it would be a little complicated.

Peterson will spend some time in spring training explaining this analysis and his programs and system to Orioles minor league coaches. He will also spend some time during the season traveling throughout the O’s minors. But the analysis can and likely will also be used at the big league level.

“I met with (pitching coach) Rick (Adair) and Buck and everybody seems to be all on board with this. I came back and interviewed with Buck and Rick after I interviewed with Dan. We all thought that was important. The interview went great and I’m an Oriole,” Peterson said.

Don’t get the thought that Peterson is looking to overhaul the mechanics of every pitcher on the staff. But he sounds like he’s not afraid to recommend changes if the analysis indicates they should be made. I asked him if big league pitchers he has worked with before have been hesitant to put some of those adjustments into practice.

“Everybody asks that question and I have to honestly tell you, I haven’t experienced that over my career. First of all, the one common thread just about every pitcher has is they want to be their best. Some guys adjust and why did they adjust? They were shown a better way,” Peterson explained.

“Every pitcher that has ever had an arm problem wants to know, how can I avoid this? If there is something I can do to avoid that and possibly also increase my velocity? And the track record of this system increasing velocity and keeping guys healthy, it’s right there. What will happen is guys will call some people that have been through the program and ask about this. With Twitter, they have probably done it already.

“When I went to Milwaukee, some people asked me ‘Rick, how are you going to sell this to big league guys?’ We are not selling anything. I did a presentation to show them what this is about and how they can benefit. I’ve studied this my whole life and there is nothing I know that is better.”

You can watch this: Click on this page and the video at the bottom of the page for an explanation of biomechanical analysis.

John Axford was a pitcher on Peterson’s Milwaukee staff that used biomechanical analysis to improve. When Peterson was the Brewers’ pitching coach in 2010, Axford went 8-2 with a 2.48 ERA and 24 saves. Last year he went 2-2 with a 1.95 ERA and 46 saves.

Click here to see a video of Peterson at a seminar talking about Axford.

Here is another story about Peterson and his career.

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