Robert Stephenson has been outstanding over his most recent two starts as he has thrown 12 innings without a walk or earned run and the right hander has struck out 16 batters. He gave credit to another Dayton Dragons starter for the improvement in his game. Sal Romano reportedly told him to just go back to his mechanics that he used in high school. I had seen Stephenson back on April 20th in Dayton where he threw 4.2 innings with 3 walks and 7 strikeouts. After seeing the comment from Stephenson about his change in mechanics I headed up to Dayton to watch him throw again. The results were outstanding as he struck out 7 in 6 shutout innings without a walk.

Stephenson is a top end pitcher and the results weren’t the reason to make the trip up to Dayton though. The main focus was to take a look at these “old, but new” mechanics that had at least in one start (and two after the game) resulted in the best results of his season and the longest outing of his career (that he matched that night as well). Here is some of the video:

So, what were these mechanical changes that Stephenson made and how did it benefit what he was able to do on the mound?

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After watching video from starts last season, April 2013 and then his most recent start in May it wasn’t very apparent to me.¬† I watched side views and front on views in slow motion and even on a frame-by-frame basis (there are 60 frames in 1 second of video). Arm actions throughout were the same. Lower half actions were the same throughout. One thing however did jump out after repeated viewings of the clips side by side. In 2012 and in May of 2013, Stephenson was not bent over as much in his follow through as he was in April of 2013.

stephensontrioft

In the middle frame, Stephenson is more flat than in either of the other two frames. This was consistent through each start and in the side views from each start. Perhaps it was something in his head a little bit, as he noted at the link above, but it also has led to improved control over his pitches. Maybe it is as simple as it helps¬† a little bit because he isn’t thinking through everything as he is releasing the ball, allowing him to repeat his mechanics and thus his release point a little better in more natural (for him) mechanics leading to stronger control.

While it is still rather early to say if this improved control is going to hold moving forward, so far it has been nothing but successful. He has been able to throw his curveball for strikes in the zone recently, something he struggled with at times earlier in the season. His fastball, which has elite velocity and that alone makes it tough to hit, has also been able to be controlled better and even a commandable pitch at times and when that happens, guys simply aren’t going to have much of a chance at this level or any level moving forward. When he can mix in control as his curveball and change up on top of that, he has all the makings of a future top of the rotation starting pitcher.

In the most recent start, Stephenson was sitting 93-97 MPH and touched 99 MPH on a scout gun in the 6th inning (it is the pitch in the end of the video that is tracked in red). He threw nine change ups in the game (the pitch tracked in blue at the end of the video). The change up was 86-89 MPH and it has more sink/tumble to it than it has extra run on it. The curveball was sitting 78-82 MPH and had a nice 11-5 breaking action to it (the pitch tracked in yellow at the end of the video). There were a few that he didn’t control well, but a majority of them were thrown in the strikezone or just off of the zone.

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9 Responses

  1. The Duke

    Another thing I noticed about that start was that he broke 2 or 3 bats as well. Most guys at that level have no chance to square the ball up when he ia spotting his pitches, they are just too nasty.

  2. G

    The question here, for me anyway, is was Stephenson working on staying tall and upright through his delivery to create downward plane because the Reds had him make this adjustment or was this Robert’s idea? what I see on this video doesn’t look like it needs much adjustment… I guess by staying too tall at release Stephenson arm was late so release point was early making pitches stay high. tell me if I’m wrong here.

    • Doug Gray

      I honestly don’t know who had the idea to change him or why exactly they changed things up. In theory, what you say about his arm could be correct. Earlier this year, when he was struggling with his control, on the vertical plane he was often missing low rather than high.

  3. Kevin

    I love me some slo-mo.

    Nice feature, something you can only get on this site.

    One of the things that tracks with the resurgence (and that’s being generous since there never really was a surge to begin with in the 150 year history of the club) of Reds pitching, has been the involvement of Soto with the youngins.

    I like the idea of having a pitch specialist for every pitch. And there’s probably none more impt to the development of an ML starter than the change. An effective one turns every hitter into a guess hitter.

    How much will it cost to hire Rivera to teach the cutter after he retires this year?

    • Doug Gray

      Tom Brown, at AA, teaches the cutter and he seems to be awfully good with it.

      • The Duke

        We have any coaches who are experts at teaching a slider?

        I’ve also heard the expression that you can’t teach a good curveball. A kid has it in his arm or not. You can refine and improve mechanics, but some guys just can’t throw a curve. Is that true to some extent?

      • Doug Gray

        I honestly don’t know if anyone we have specializes in the slider, but I will say this: Homer Bailey didn’t have a slider when he was coming up, but he picked one up in AAA under Ted Power and now that slider is one of the best sliders in the league. I honestly don’t know how much credit goes where on that one because I can’t think of someone else who has gone from no slider to a good slider like Bailey has, but I think it is at least worth mentioning there.

        As for the curveball, I have heard it too and I can’t say if I am on either side of the argument. With that said, I can’t remember a guy who had no curve then turned out to have a real good one after years of being a pro.

      • Alan Horn

        It scares me when I see a pitcher is throwing a slider. That pitch leads to arm injury more so than any other pitch. I know some organizations in the past wouldn’t allow their pitchers to throw sliders. Most pitchers are going to experience a arm injury at some point in their careers anyway. It is kind of like smoking. I have known some people who have smoked until their death in their 90’s and never had any problems. Most are not so lucky. If you throw a baseball 90+ mph for any long length of time, you usually are going to have a arm injury, but there are exceptions. A split finger is also rough on the arm, but not that many pitchers throw it.

      • Jon Ryker

        What you need to throw a good curveball is excellent arm speed and long fingers help…….this generates more rotational speed and a sharper break….long fingers make it easier to stay on top of the ball and pull down, creating a vertical break rather than the sideways one of a slider….this is why you see big power pitchers with big curveballs and sinkerballers tend to have sliders….So no, you have to teach a curveball, and it can be taught improperly, but it helps to have the physical tools if you want a big yacker….