Dr. Mike Marshall's Pitching Coach Services

May 31, 2007 Internet Interview

Dr. Mike Marshall Interview, Pt. 1
May 31, 2007
By William Alton

Dr. Mike Marshall, the former bullpen ace for many teams (most notably the Los Angeles Dodgers), was recently featured in a Jeff Passan Yahoo! Exclusive.  The article introduces Marshall, pegged as a sort of self-banished martyr, and his Pitchers Research/Training Center in Zephyrhills, Florida that aims toward injury-prevention while increasing velocity, control and efficiency.

Just as interesting, however, is the reaction of Major League Baseball insiders to Marshall's ideas;  the effect must have been similar to when Galileo tried to tell the Church that the earth was moving.  Hyperbole or not (and it is), baseball is an institution forever steeped, for good and bad, in traditionalism and will regard anything new with initial suspicion.  From Passan's column:

"It's so far afield from the traditional, normal method," Braves GM John Schuerholz said.  "Not many people I've talked to would be comfortable embracing a concept that's so basically diametrically opposed to the teachings of baseball."

Schuerholtz has a point:  As Leo Mazzone might call upon Johnny Sain's approach to help his pitcher, Marshall will employ Sir Isaac Newton.

For all of the scientific jargon that Marshall effortlessly spits out (he earned his Ph. D in kinesiology from Michigan State), he simply applies it to throwing a baseball the way a scientist would apply research to anything else.

Dr. Mike Marshall takes a break from biomechanically fixing pitchers to discuss a little bit of everything.

Question:  You signed on with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1960 as a 17-year-old shortstop?

Dr. Marshall:  In high school and summer baseball, I played shortstop and pitched.  I signed as a shortstop because I preferred playing shortstop.  Unfortunately, after four years of playing professional shortstop, as a result of a car accident when I was eleven years old, back pain forced me to switch to pitching or stop playing professional baseball.

Therefore, when I arrived in spring training in 1965, where I was scheduled to play shortstop for the Phillies triple-A team in San Diego, California, I told the farm director that I was changing to pitching.

Q:  Despite the fact that you threw very well in your rookie season, you were shipped to triple-A Toledo to work on getting lefties out.

Dr. Marshall:  In 1967, I had a 1.98 earned run average for the Detroit Tigers. However, during the off-season, I discovered that I had lost twelve degrees of extension and flexion ranges of motion in my pitching elbow.  To determine why this happened, I borrowed two high-speed sixteen millimeter cameras and filmed myself throwing my fastball and slider.

From that film, I determined that, because I supinated the release of my slider, I lost my extension range of motion in my pitching elbow.  Supination means that I rotated my Radius bone away from my Ulna bone, such that I turned my thumb to point upward.  The Radius bone lies on the thumb side of the forearm and the Ulna bone lies on the little finger side of my forearm.

Q:  What then were you able to conclude from the film studies?

Dr. Marshall:  From this research, I determined that, when baseball pitchers supinate the releases of their curve balls, sliders and cut fastballs, they will decrease their extension and flexion ranges of motion in their pitching elbow.

Therefore, I decided that I had to start pronating the releases of all pitches. Pronation means that I rotated my Radius bone toward my Ulna bone, such that I turned my thumb to point downward.

As a result, I learned how to pronate the release of my slider.  Then, because, to throw screwballs, baseball pitchers pronate their releases, I decided to learn how to throw screwballs.  That decision changed me from a mediocre major league baseball pitcher to a record-setting closer who finished first, second, fourth, fifth and seventh in the Cy Young Award.

Q:  Can you describe the mechanics of throwing a screwball and its movement?

Dr. Marshall:  The Maxline True Screwball that I threw had a twelve to six spin axis.  To achieve this spin axis, baseball pitchers have to drive the index finger side of their middle finger horizontally through the top seam of the baseball.

Q:  Since high school, managers and pitching coaches wanted different approaches from you, as far pitch selection.  You were seemingly happy to oblige.

Dr. Marshall:  If my baseball pitching coaches had some type of system, I never worried about it.  Based on what I knew baseball batters looked for in different counts, I had my own system.  That is, I never threw the pitch that they wanted to hit.

Q:  How do you ultimately decide what pitch you should throw?

Dr. Marshall:  I decide which of my baseball pitches baseball batters are guessing that I will throw and I do not throw that pitch.  In the few times that managers forced me to throw pitches I did not want to throw, the results were not favorable.  While it could be that because I did not want to throw that pitch, I subconsciously sabotaged the pitch, but, whatever the reason, I did not throw that pitch as well as I would have thrown the pitch that I wanted to throw.

Q:  You have always been a researcher, even while you played, and kept extremely detailed situational data sheets.

Dr. Marshall:  I kept pitch-by-pitch records of every baseball pitch that I threw to every major league baseball batter to whom I pitched.  I studied these at-bats before every game where I would pitch to these batters and determined the pitch sequence that I would use.  I felt that the more I understood what baseball batters wanted to do, the easier it was for me to not let them do it.

Q:  In 1971 you documented every pitch you threw and came to the conclusion that you had to throw your screwball more efficiently by adjusting your mechanics.

Dr. Marshall:  In 1971, I determined that of the 485 screwballs that I threw that season, I threw 261 for strikes for 53.8% screwball strike percentage.  While I threw a slightly higher percentage for strikes against left-handed batters, 55.4% than for right-handed batters, 52.0%.  Because of this low strike percentage, I either would not throw my screwball when I was behind in the count or I ended up walking too many batters.

I decided that I needed to determine what I had to do to increase my screwball strike percentage.  Therefore, I secured three high-speed cameras and took rear, side and overhead views.  The overhead view proved to be especially valuable.

I learned that I had way too much side-to-side movement with all my pitches and, as a result, at release, my pitching forearm was way too horizontal.  That is when I determined that, to increase their release consistency, baseball pitchers had to drive their pitches in straight lines toward home plate.

In 1971, I determined that of the 807 screwballs that I threw that season, I threw 508 for strikes for 62.9% screwball strike percentage.  I threw 60.3% screwball strikes to left-handed batter and 65.6% screwball strikes to right-handed batters.  This improvement in my screwball strike percentage enabled me to lower my ERA from 4.38 to 1.78 and finished fourth in the National League Cy Young Award, the highest that a closer had ever finished.

Q:  After six games in your 1974 Cy Young season you never held an ERA above 2.79.  You set the record for pitching appearances (106) and innings in relief (208 1/3).  However, you talk about having to speak with Walter Alston about some early problems.

Dr. Marshall:  Early in the season, in a game in Philadelphia, my manager, Walter Alston, ordered me to intentionally walk two batters to load the bases with one out.  As a result, I threw four strikes to the next batters, but because he did not swing the bat, I walked in the winning run.

A couple of days later, I explained to Mr. Alston, that it would be better in tied extra inning games on the road with a base runner on third base and one out if, instead of intentionally walking them, in the hope that they would swing the bat, he let me pitch tough to the next two batters.  We agreed and I never intentionally walked another batter that season.

Q:  What is the best story you can tell us about Walter Alston?

Dr. Marshall:  Walter Alston was a great manager.  Because Gene Mauch gave me a chance to do what I wanted to do, I will always consider him first, but Walter Alston was a close second.

Walter Alston understood what his players could do and he put them in positions where they could succeed.  When I arrived in spring training with the Los Angeles Dodgers, he took me aside and said, "I know that you can pitch almost every day.  Therefore, rather than trying to figure out when you are not able to pitch, I will wait for you to tell me when you are not able to pitch.  Otherwise, when the situation is right, I will pitch you."  I said, "Great, that will make things much easier."  I never told him that I was not able to pitch.

Q:  1974.  You won the Cy Young. Don Sutton and Andy Messersmith also finished in the top five.  Steve Garvey was MVP.  Alston won the Manager of the Year.  Jimmy Wynn, The Toy Cannon.  Ron Cey.  How did you guys not win it all?

Dr. Marshall:  The 1974 season was difficult.  First, we lost Tommy John and he was pitching extremely well.  Second, Andy Messersmith battled arm problems throughout the year.  Third, Don Sutton got off to a terrible start.  But, the pitching staff stuck together and got the most out of what we had.

We did not win the World Series against the Oakland Athletics.  I thought that our pitchers did what they could.  I felt that our hitters did what they could.  In the end, their pitchers and hitters did what they could do and they won.  They did not dominate us, but they did just a little more than we did.  It happens.

For myself, I closed all five World Series games.  I pitched nine innings, gave up six hits, struck out 10 batters and gave up one run for a 1.00 era.  Unfortunately, that one run lost the final game.  I felt as though I pitched as well as I could, but, in hindsight, because game circumstances changed the pre-game pitch sequence I chose, I threw the wrong pitch.  It was a good pitch, but the wrong pitch.  It happens.

However, as a result of that situation, to get the effect that I wanted to get with the pitch that I chose, I developed my Maxline Pronation Curve.  Therefore, if I ever encountered that situation again, I would have a better pitch to throw.

Q:  A lot is said about a catcher who calls a good game.  Who was your favorite catcher to pitch to and why?

Dr. Marshall:  Before I stepped onto the pitching rubber, I decided what pitch I would throw.  Therefore, I never paid any attention to what pitch my catchers thought that I should throw.  I waited until he put down the fingers for the pitch I was going to throw.

John Boccabella was the best catcher to whom I pitched.  First, he was a great guy.  Second, he did everything he could to help me succeed.  We were and, will always remain, great friends.

Q:  You cite Sir Isaac Newton and Daniel Bernoulli as the two greatest pitching coaches. Two questions:  (1) why? and (2) why?

Dr. Marshall:  Sir Isaac Newton wrote the three laws of motion from which I wrote the three laws of force application for baseball pitchers.  If I had listened to him more closely, then I would not have separated the seventh rib on my glove side from my sternum.

Daniel Bernoulli explained fluid flow, such that I was able to determine the Marshall Effect, which explains why two-seam pitches change direction in flight.  Without my two-seam Maxline Fastball, two-seam Maxline Fastball Sinker and two-seam Torque Fastball Slider, I would never have had the pitching career that I had.

Q:  Biomechanics in sports is probably at its highest level of interest and application right now, but you were working on this stuff in the early 70s with high-speed filming.

Dr. Marshall:  In 1967, I high-speed filmed myself baseball pitching.  From my mechanical analysis of that film, I determined the importance of the Pronator Teres muscle in the baseball pitching motion.

In 1971, I again high-speed filmed myself baseball pitching.  From my mechanical analysis of that film, I determined that, from their first forward movement through release, baseball pitchers needed to drive their pitches in straight lines over as great a distance as possible with as much oppositely-directed force toward second base as possible.

This was years before Professor Richard Nelson coined the term, biomechanics.  Because Dr. Nelson also graduated from Michigan State University, he was aware of the preceding mechanical analyses that I had done.

However, mechanical analysis is worthless without knowledge of the bones, ligaments, tendons and muscles required to perform specific movements.  Therefore, it is Applied Anatomists that determine the best way for athletes to apply force for maximum efficiency and effectiveness.

Q:  What are some of the most important findings within the arm that allowed you to further your expertise on motion and delivery?

Dr. Marshall:  By dissecting a cadaver, I learned my anatomy with the medical students at Michigan State University.  I am an Applied Anatomist.  I know what bones, ligaments, tendons and muscles most efficiently and effectively apply force to baseball pitches.  The most-important of which is the Pronator Teres muscle.

Q:  Can I conclude from your work that pitchers are oft-injured due to terrible mechanics rather than from being overworked at a young age?  Or is it a combinational result?

Dr. Marshall:  Except for immature growth plates and inadequate preparation, baseball pitchers injure their pitching arms because they use the 'traditional' baseball pitching motion.  By teaching my baseball pitching motion, controlling how often youth baseball pitchers pitch competitively and making certain that adult baseball pitchers are properly trained, we can eliminate all pitching injuries.

All major league baseball pitchers would benefit from learning my baseball pitching motion and using my baseball pitching interval-training programs.  They have no idea how much better they would become.

Happy Pitching Everybody
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