By Kiley McDaniel
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 couple red flags in his deliver; find out what’s up with this projected top-5 pick after the jump…
The scouts I talked to agreed that the red flag I noticed is basically just that, a red flag. It’s more a risky thing than a fatal flaw, ticking-time-bomb thing. Kevin Goldstein noted today in his Draft Notebook (subscriber only) that there’s some “funk”. 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.
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 form top of the knee kick to release. 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.
Here’s the GIF from the stretch
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.
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 around 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 during a unnatural motion of throwing a baseball.
So what are the side effects? Possible future shoulder soreness, possibly surgery, or possibly nothing. This is by no means a death sentence because Tommy John surgery has a a great track record of full recovery (although the full process takes at least 2 years). And there’s still a decent chance Crow has that uncanny ability, like Tim Lincecum, to simply not get hurt. It’s just that his odds are probably higher for arm soreness with the wrist cock than without it.
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:
It’s aggressive, only a slight pause (with the wrap), high torque, good shoulder load, all the elements are there. The wrist wrap worries me slightly for injury’s sake, but moreso for command’s sake as the wrap causes his arm to lag and put another slower moving part in relatively quick motion.
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.
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.
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, top-of-the-line in the college game.
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. It’ll be pretty hard to put another pitcher ahead of him in this draft (though Matusz is in the conversation), and short of some outrageous bonus demands or an injury, he looks destined to be a top 10 pick.