Brett Cecil's 2013 season came to a premature end on Monday, shut down wisely by the Jays organization with elbow soreness. It's a disappointing end to a great campaign for Cecil; his 5-1 record with a 2.82 ERA and an appearance at the All-Star Game merely scratch the surface of the value he provided in the Toronto bullpen.
The injury setback will no doubt raise questions about the validity of Cecil's unique pitching regimen endorsed by Jamie Evans, especially considering two other members of the fraternity-- Steve Delabar and Dustin McGowan-- have also suffered injuries over the course of the season. (Casey Janssen has remained injury-free but he has pitched through shoulder soreness as well, stemming from off-season surgery.)
As long as there have been pitchers taking the mound, there have been a number of ideas and concepts on ways to keep them healthy and improve their effectiveness. A relatively new strategy that's come to fruition is the principle of using various weighted-baseballs in training from anywhere to 3-12 oz., which contrasts to the standard baseball weight of 5-5 1/4 ounces. The National Pitching Association does endorse the plan, which does give it more credibility than some of the other theories that abound.
The advocates for the use of weighted-baseballs claim that a pitcher will gain velocity on their fastball and strengthen their shoulder when using them in training. There is no disputing the increase in speed on Cecil's fastball-- in fact, all of his pitches were quicker this season than in 2012, as seen below:
|BRETT CECIL'S AVERAGE VELOCITY (MPH), 2012 & 2013|
And the results bear the success on the field as well. Cecil appeared to be out of the Jays plans altogether after washing out as a starter, until he revitalized his career through the programme.
So what could possibly go wrong?
Steve Delabar is another example cited for his improved velocity on the fastball, made even more remarkable by the fact his recovery from a elbow injury that can only be described as cataclysmic. That said, his shoulder gave out shortly after earning an trip to this year's All-Star Game. There is nothing to suggest that the programme was the cause. It could just as easily been from overwork, or that it was 'bound' to happen.
It should be noted that Delabar does have what is called an 'inverted W' in his delivery, which is cause of concern with a number of so-called experts. This was covered in a posting on this site back in October 2012:
If this is indeed the case, no training regimen can fully train the shoulder muscles to prevent an eventual injury.
Further to this, the use of weighted-baseballs won't improve poor pitching technique, which will probably be the root cause of Cecil's elbow inflammation (better known as 'Tennis Elbow') in the coming days. (I don't have clear proof that Cecil also throws with an 'inverted W' in his delivery, but pictures taken a few frames later indicate the possibility.) Throwing harder (and using heavier baseballs in training) may have only sped up the process that would have led to an eventual breakdown.
It's too early to rush to judgement on the ideas presented by Jamie Evans in such a short span of time. Any and all information should be gathered on what went right and wrong with the Jays pitchers who used the programme extensively this season, and modify the training regimen where possible. Making a hasty decision may undo the potential benefit a pitcher can have with weighted-baseballs as part of their routine. It's not as though Evans is a latter-day version of Harold Hill from 'The Music Man', seeking fame and fortune at the expense of young pitchers arms everywhere.
One last thought-- velocity isn't always a ticket for success in the major leagues. No one knows this better than another pitcher in the Jays clubhouse, Mark Buehrle.