Brandon League may well have found the treatment for what has ailed him with the help of the Dodgers coaching staff, as there has been a stark change in his mechanics in the month or so since he has arrived.
Acquired in a trade with the Mariners, League’s career with the Dodgers got off to a putrid start, as his ERA stood at 16.88 in his first five appearances with the team.
At that point, on August 11th, it was revealed by the team that League had a mechanical issue that needed to be fixed.
The Dodgers feel, and League said he agrees, that his problems are mechanical. League was conspicuously absent from the late innings of Friday night’s close win, and manager Don Mattingly said he wants League’s mechanics smoothed out before he throws him back into that kind of fire.
“He has a tendency to pull hard to the side and his arm drags behind him,” said bullpen coach Ken Howell. “We’re trying to get him to stay back on his right leg longer, stride the front leg out farther, and he’ll stay in line with the target. It should be an easy fix.”
League said he “absolutely agrees” that he has a tendency to pull off as he throws.
“It’s been a battle all year,” he said. “I had keys in Seattle, and we’re using different keys here. I tend to get my front leg moving too fast and that causes my problems.”
Since then, in his next 10 appearances, he has performed demonstratively better, holding a 0.79 ERA over that time span.
Despite the improvement, my inclination was to chalk it up to simple regression, but I was reminded on Twitter of the mechanical fix and decided to see if there was anything to it.
@chadmoriyama Maybe Honey really did fix him
— T.F. (@EephusBlue) September 4, 2012
Sure enough, there was a stark difference in his mechanics, as I’ll show here in pictures from an August 5th delivery (top) and an August 31st delivery (bottom).
In the before picture, we can see that he’s upright, whereas he’s crouched in the after picture. A product of that is extra bend in his back leg in the August 31st appearance, which helps to keep his weight back.
When he doesn’t get compact (after), he has a tendency to get a bit loose and quick with his mechanics, leading to arm slot and release point issues.
This is just to reinforce the difference in weight distribution and body posture between August 5th and August 31st.
It’s a bit difficult to see the difference I want to point out here, but if we look closely, we can see he’s pulling with his left shoulder a lot harder in the before picture than the after picture.
A different pitch illustrates this difference perfectly.
With these mechanics, we can see how he’s letting his front shoulder dictate everything, which usually leads to the elbow dropping and missing down and/or in to a right-handed batter.
League has always been a rotation dominant pitcher, so it’s especially important that he drives off his back foot to keep everything going towards the plate and force hip separation. If not, he ends up compensating by pulling with his lead shoulder to make up for the lack of drive, thus the slot and release get altered.
A consequence of pulling with the lead shoulder is that his body and head follows that shoulder and dips with it.
Besides what’s illustrated in the pictures, League’s tempo is now two to three tenths slower than it was previously.
Overall, Rick Honeycutt and Ken Howell deserve credit for recognizing the problem and diagnosing the fixes correctly. Similarly, Brandon League deserves credit for being open to coaching and implementing the adjustments quickly.
With that said, this obviously doesn’t guarantee anything going forward. With only a month left in the season, anything could happen. However, in my opinion, there’s been a clear mechanical correction and the numbers match that conclusion. As such, fans should expect the control disaster he was at the start of his Dodgers stint to be gone and that he should now resemble the 2011-2012 League the rest of the way (~3.25 ERA).