Mechanical Analysis: Aaron Crow

Aaron Crow is widely considered one of the top two pitchers available for the 2008 Draft, and a strong contender for college player of the year and #1 overall pick in the Draft. He’s certainly an elite talent that has a lot of momentum built up after a coming-out party at the Cape Cod League this summer and has kept that momentum going with a dominant start for a strong Missouri Tigers team this spring.

I would love to say that Crow has picture perfect mechanics and is a near flawless pitching prospect. However, he has a big red flag in his delivery that makes some pause about his ultimate upside. Find out what’s up with this projected top-5 pick after the jump…
I’ll admit that opening was a bit tabloid of me, but I talked to some scouts and some non-scout sources about Crow’s delivery and the scouts (predictably) saw exactly what I noticed, and the non-scouts were told that he simply had a not-perfect delivery. This would make sense because the scouts agreed that the red flag I noticed is basically that just that, a red flag. It’s more a risky thing than a fatal flaw, ticking-time-bomb thing, which would explain why the non-scouts haven’t heard about it specifically, just some “funk” as Kevin Goldstein noted today in his Draft Notebook (subscriber only). So, I’d like to cover what the “funk” is and what the good stuff is that minimizes the impact of the funk. I’ll also be putting a score from the traditional 20-80 scale (50 being MLB average) on each element of his delivery. Check the Scouting Tutorial for an explanation. Enough tip-toeing, let’s jump right into it.
TEMPO: 55

Here is that first pitch in GIF form from top of the knee kick to release:

Catch the yellow part in there? Good, file that away until the arm action section.

Crow is 28 frames to the plate. Not bad, not great, but, again, this isn’t an all-telling stat. In the vein of the Matt Garza breakdown, since Crow and Garza are both power pitchers, let’s take a look at the side view and see if the arm is lagging and causing him to slow down his tempo.

And, with a cap tip to YouTube user farmsystem (lots of prospect videos there), he offers a side view Crow in the windup, from warm-ups.

So, what do you see there? It appears in the GIF that there is a kink in the back of the arm action that slows him down a few frames, much like Garza slowing down in the back. This is the same thing I put in yellow in the first GIF, and we’ll address that more in the arm action section. So, tempo is good, could be better, but the tempo itself certainly isn’t a problem.

WEIGHT TRANSFER: 75

The weight transfer can be seen in just 7 frames, each with important things happening, so I’ll give you all seven in molasses-slow-motion, with 3 seconds to look at each frame, and tell you what’s happening in each frame as far as the weigh transfer and creating velocity.

Frame 1 -Coming out of the kink in the back and beginning the big torque-build-up for the arm. Front-side is closed, glove is leading, foot is mid-stepover (that last hop in the foot before release, big power-creator) you can tell he’s about to explode to the plate.

Frame 2 – Arm is rising, torque is probably at its greatest, the scapula is fully loaded (shoulder stretched back) and the slingshot is engaged (big velocity coming). The lower-half has opened while the top half is still closed (more torque) the glove begins the lead to pulling the elbow laterally through, the foot is coming down from the stepover.

Frame 3 – The arm is coming out of being fully loaded and still rising, letting the body load up. The lower-half has opened more (use the belt buckle as a guide). The elbow is leading (but not dropping, that’s a no-no), and the upper-half has now opened, the foot is about to hit the ground to stabilize.

Frame 4 -The arm is still moving into position–see why people say velocity comes from the legs? They’re doing all the work in these 7 frames. The lower-half is half-open (45 degrees) and the foot has finished the stepover and hit the ground. The upper-half is mid-explosion and the elbow is leading it nicely.

Frame 5 -The arm is fully up and on it’s way home (and sending a thank you letter to the legs). The lower half (look at the belt buckle) is basically all the way open (90 degrees) and pointed right at the plate, while the upper-half is still about 45 degrees–this is torque, and while this is obviously a little risky, he’s throwing 85-88 without it. The glove is done leading the body, has settled into its spot out front (didn’t over-rotate or cause him to fly open) and the body is now catching up.

Frame 6 – Now the arm is still on the way; it’s sounding borderline lazy so far, every part of the body is leading it. The lower-half is now set and stable because the upper half is now fully-rotated to 90 degrees. And notice how the glove didn’t move from frame 5 to 6. That is how it is done.

Frame 7 – The arm has finally caught up and is releasing the ball, the upper and lower halves are both still at 90 degrees rotated and the glove is stationary after leading the way through. If a GIF could go in a textbook, I’m pretty sure this would be in there.

ARM ACTION:55

Here we will address the elephant in the room, the wrist-wrap I highlighted in the back. Here’s a still-frame of what I’m talking about

That’s your funk, right there. So what does this mean?

Basically, Crow is firing the muscles from his elbow to his wrist when he’s not supposed to be, to create this cocking of the wrist. That might not sound like a big deal, but using more muscles than you need to not only outputs less power (relaxed muscles more powerful than firing ones, hence preferred effortless mechanics) but is stressing that area of the arm. It stresses the arm because you want as little wasted motion and muscle use as possible, and this makes an unnatural motion have more effort in it—like pitchers aren’t injured enough.

So what are the side effects of this type of move? Elbow soreness and eventually, most likely, Tommy John surgery. This is by no means a death sentence (as mentioned above) because TJ has a a great track record of full recovery and many young pitchers get it and come back throwing harder, like the elbow joint was tightened up like a rubber band (granted the full process takes at least 2 years). Given the rest of his mechanics and stuff, this basically makes him A.J. Burnett, and if A.J. Burnett was available in the draft, he’d go top 5 easily. And there’s always a chance that Crow is Lincecum-like in his ability to not get injured when most people think he should, and won’t have any real problems.

Can he correct it? He can, but like most pitchers that have come this far, to the verge of the major leagues, with a certain arm motion, it might cause more problems to change his arm stroke than to just leave it how it is and hope he doesn’t run into injury problems. Plus, in general it isn’t very smart to alter pitching motions that are “working.” So this is, like I said before, a red flag, some funk, whatever you want to call it, and not much more.

As for the rest of the arm action:

Well, it’s just great. Aggressive, no pauses (just slows down a bit with the wrap), elbow picks up the ball, high torque, good scap load, all the elements are there.

So, the conventional wisdom is that Crow has an okay delivery, clean arm action. I would say great delivery, okay arm action. It’s more a semantic difference, but I wanted to clarify. What that means 20-80 scale with is that he’s great arm action with a red flag, still a little better than a totally clean arm with no aggression, as he may never get hurt and it works for him. Call it 55.

FRONT-SIDE & FOLLOW-THROUGH: 75

Here’s a GIF focused just on these two elements:

As discussed above in the 7 frame weight shift breakdown, the front side mechanics are exactly what I’m looking for. They’re actually so good that they are exactly what people that disagree with me on front-side mechanics (Carlos Gomez, Tom House, etc.) are looking for (static glove the body flows into, usually without a leading elbow)—Crow molds the two seemingly different styles together.

As for the follow-through, you can see that he follows through so completely that his arm bumps his left hip as it’s finishing and he minimizes the recoil. Outstanding.

STUFF

Not only have I not seen Crow in person, but you can’t really tell the quality of his stuff from the video. If you’re a BP subscriber, you can get a quick rundown from Goldstein’s Draft Notebook he posted today, but for a more comprehensive look, Frankie has a full report on Crow from the Cape that will be up on Monday, so stay tuned for that companion piece.

STATS

We could just skip the sabermetric part here and just say he’s really good.

‘07 Cape Stats (6 starts, 2 in relief): 0.67 ERA, 40.1 IP, 19 H, 3 ER, 2 HR, 9 BB, 36 K

‘08 Missouri Stats (5 starts): 1.03 ERA, 35 IP, 26 H, 4 ER, 7 BB, 51 K (HR stat not reported by MU)

Not a whole lot to analyze there. I took a quick 2 start sample against solid competition (Cal, Baylor) and his GO/FO ratio was 11/2 v Baylor (dominating CG), and 2/2 v Cal (5 IP, 8 H, 3 R). Looks like he’s a GB machine when on and struggles when he elevates, but that still averages out to an 3.25 ratio, borderline inhuman for the college game.

SUMMARY

If we’re taking an OFP approach (see Scouting Tutorial for explanation) to the summary, the unadjusted OFP number would be 65. But the only reason I gave two 75s and not 80s is because I don’t like saying “that’s the best that’s possible,” although Crow very well may be doing as well as he possibly could, or as well as anyone could; I just don’t like the precedent that creates. So, if you want to say Crow has plus-plus mechanics (70), be my guest.

As far as projecting Mr. Crow and tying this marathon together, I’d say given what I’m told his stuff is like, and what his mechanics are like, A.J. Burnett isn’t a bad comparison at all, and if possible arm problems (or team preference) lead him to the bullpen, J.J. Putz is the kind of pitcher he could be at the back-end of a game. So, unless teams are convinced (and it sure sounds like they aren’t, neither am I) that he’s going to have chronic elbow problems or multiple TJ surgeries, it’ll be pretty hard to put another pitcher ahead of him in this draft, and I can’t see him out of the top 3 overall unless there is a serious injury, serious drop in performance, or serious makeup revelations, none of which anyone sees happening.

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