Honey—I Shrunk Their Stride Angles!

The New York Yankees are something of a mystery. They have the biggest payroll in Major League Baseball ($209 million), but they have been slowly and steadily declining since they last won the World Series in 2000.

Long-time manager Joe Torre was recently let go, but his replacement does not seem to be doing any better, as the team is losing as many games as it is winning.

Last night, for instance, the Yankees got shellacked 8-4 by the Oakland A's—a team with a total payroll of only $48 million—less than a quarter of the Yankee's outlay.

What's going on?

Is it a case of overpaid Prima Donnas who don't care about their performance? Is it lack of good management and coaching? Or, like all empires, are the Yankees just experiencing their inevitable demise?

We decided to investigate. What we found surprised even us.

Stride Angle

The Stride Angle is the maximum opening between the front and trailing upper legs of a pitcher as he strides toward the plate. Historically great pitchers all had Stride Angles well over 100 degrees. The Stride Angle is critical to pitching because it allows the pitcher to accelerate toward the plate, plant his forward foot and abruptly stop his forward motion, which then whips his upper body toward the plate. You see and feel this same type of upper-body acceleration when you slam on the brakes on your car, and you and your passengers are thrown forward. This forward acceleration of the trunk is then transmitted to the ball by the arm.

But the Stride Angle is important for another reason. It indicates the overall flexibility of the hips. The Stride Angle is small when the hips are stiff.

Hip rotation is the other major contribution of force to the pitch. If the hips are stiff, most of the muscle energy used to rotate them will be used to overcome their stiffness. As a result, hip rotation will be slow and restricted, and the pitcher will have to make up for the lack of force from his lower body with his arm. When you overuse the arm like this, it gets tired and you lose control. Ultimately, the arm develops tears and scar tissue, and the pitcher has to leave the mound for good.

This is why pitchers with big Stride Angles not only have great records—they also have long careers. Their lower body is doing most of the work so that their arm can last for decades.

Pitchers with small Stride Angles may have a Cy Young year—but then they quickly decline—as can be seen in the case of Barry Zito, whose Stride Angle is only 78°.

So, here are some all-time greats compared to the present Yankee rotation.

Nolan Ryan, for instance, had a Stride Angle of 120° and the greatest number of career strikeouts at 5,714. Ross Ohlendorf (we couldn't find any Stride Angle photos from the Yankees, so we used his Princeton photo), with a Stride Angle of only 73°, has an ERA of 5.71. Even though he is a big guy (6'4", 235), it is unlikely he will ever throw 5,000 strikeouts with such a small Stride Angle.

Nolan Ryan  Ross Ohlendorf

Satchel Paige, another pitching great, had a Stride Angle of 125°. After 18 years on the mound, Mike Mussina, with a Stride Angle of only 75°, has seen his ERA skyrocket from 2.87 in 1991 to 5.15 in 2007.

Satchel Paige Mike Mussina

Sandy Koufax also had a Stride Angle of 125°. In his 12-year career he had a cumulative WHIP of just 1.106. His Win-Loss stats for his last four years are legendary: 25-5, 19-5, 26-8 and 27-9, all with a WHIP under .986. When pictured next to Koufax, you can see that Andy Pettitte is very restricted in his hips and legs. Andy Pettitte, while pitching brilliantly in the past, has an ERA of only 4.99 this year and a Win-Loss of 5 and 5.

Sandy Koufax Andy Pettitte

Hall-of-Famer Tom Seaver pitched for 20 years to age 42, thanks to a Stride Angle of 135°. Seaver won three Cy Young awards and once struck out ten opposing players in a row. In just one year with the Yankees, Ian Kennedy saw ERA balloon from 1.89 in 2007, to 7.41 in 2008 and he is now on the disabled list with a deceleration injury—something we often see in pitchers with a small Stride Angle.

Tom Seaver Ian Kennedy

Currently, Greg Maddux also has a Stride Angle of 135°. He won more games in the 1990's than any other pitcher, winning the Cy Young in four consecutive years with a combined ERA of only 1.98. His WHIP for his 23-year career so far is 1.141. Joba Chamberlain, with a Stride Angle of only 84° has an ERA of 2.48 in 2008. What could he do with Maddux' s Stride Angle?

Greg Maddux Joba Chamberlain

Pictured next to Juan Marichal, with his Stride Angle of 164°, you begin to see why Darrel Rasner, with a Stride Angle of only 90°, has an ERA of 3.64 this year. Marichal, on the other hand, threw 2,303 strikes in his career, with only 709 walks. His 16-year career WHIP was only 1.10l

Juan Marichal Darrell Rasner

In his 21-year career, Warren Spahn, with his Stride Angle of 165°, had a WHIP of 1.195, pitching a 23-7 year at age 42, and winning a total of 363 games, the most of any pitcher in the modern live ball era. Chien-Ming Wang, on the other hand, has a Stride Angle of 100° and an ERA last year of 3.70.

Warren Spahn Chien-Ming Wang

Shrinking Stride Angles

It should be apparent by now that the Yankee rotation is struggling, not from lack of talent, but from lack of flexibility in their legs and hips. Because their Stride Angles are so restricted (especially when compared to historically great pitchers), they cannot utilize the strength and mass in their legs and hips to power their pitches. Instead, they have to rely on their pitching arm for power. You only have to look at your own shoulders and hips to see that this is a recipe for disaster. Trying to match the power output of the legs with the small muscles of the arm is a no-win strategy. The arm will tire quickly, and then control goes out the window. No speed, no control—not a recipe for defeating today's heavily-muscled batters, live balls and maple bats.

You might think that a team would try everything in its power to increase the Stride Angles of their pitchers. Instead, to our amazement, the Yankees have been shrinking them!

Here is what we found.

In the photos below, you can see that Andy Pettitte' s Stride Angle has shrunk 17° during his tenure with the Yankees. In 1997, his ERA was 2.88. In 2007, his ERA was 4.05. Since we find that you reduce your stride length 2% for every degree you reduce your Stride Angle, Pettitte is now covering 34% less ground with each stride toward the plate.

Andy Pettitte 1997 Andy Pettitte 2007

Mussina had a Stride Angle of 83° with the Orioles in 1991, and an ERA of 2.87. In 2007, his Stride Angle was down to 75°, and his ERA was up to 5.15.

Mike Mussina 1991 Mike Mussina 2007

Ian Kennedy has seen his Stride Angle shrink from 95° to 83° in just one year with the Yankees. During that time period, his ERA rose from 1.89 to 7.41. He is now on the disabled list with an injured right latissimus. We often find this injury in pitchers with stiff hips.

Ian Kennedy 2007 Ian Kennedy 2008

From 2005 to 2007, Darrell Rasner saw his Stride Angle shrink from 100° to 90°, while his ERA rose from 3.68 to 4.01.

Darrell Rasner 2005 Darrell Rasner 2007

What can be done?

First of all, the Yankees need to find out how they are shrinking their pitchers' Stride Angles. We suspect its their strength-training program, since we know that using heavy resistance such as weights or machines increases strength by tearing the tens of thousands of individual fibers that make up each muscle (it's strength training's dirty little secret). As these tiny fibers repair, they get bigger and stronger. This is why athletes take steroids. It speeds up their recovery. They can do more damage, recover, and their muscles get bigger and stronger, faster.

Unfortunately, scar tissue also develops in the muscles. It is called 'microfibrosis', and is well known in the scientific research community (search 'Stauber WT' in Pub Med). But you won't hear that either from your local strength trainer. The scar tissue does not go away, even with steroids. This is one reason why athletes get stiffer from lifting weights. The other reason is that microfibers also form in the connective tissue between the muscles, preventing them from sliding past each other so that they can stretch.

So, the first step is to stop damaging their hip and leg muscles. The next step is to reverse the damage already done.

Can the damage be reversed?

It should be clear by now that pitchers perform better and last longer with bigger Stride Angles.

But does increasing the Stride Angle actually improve performance in pitchers?

The answer is that it does.

Here are some photos of Stanford pitcher David Verduzco before and after we increased his Stride Angle.

Verduzco Before Verduzco After

As we increased Dave's Stride Angle from 104° to 112°, his fastball went from 88 to 92 mph.

Because his more flexible legs and hips contributed more power to his pitch, Dave was able to use his arm muscles more for control. As a result, his percentage of strikes thrown rose from 50% to 64%. He also reported that he had less arm fatigue and was able to pitch longer into each game.

How do we increase Stride Angle?

Pitchers have small Stride Angles because microfibers (a mild form of scar tissue) have developed in the connective tissue between the muscles of the legs and hips, binding them together. Because they are scar tissue, microfibers cannot be released by stretching. Pitchers who have microfibers in the connective tissue surrounding the muscles of their legs and hips think that they are 'naturally' stiff, while pitchers who have not developed many microfibers think they are 'naturally' loose. The pitchers with few microfibers in their hips find that stretching helps maintain their flexibility. Pitchers with microfibers find that it does not, because you cannot release scar tissue with stretching, and the microfibers in their hips accumulate over time, making them stiffer each season.

Normally, the connective tissue membranes (white) between the muscles (red) are smooth. They allow the muscles to slide past each other, which they have to do in order to stretch.

But when you have even a mild injury (falls on court), overuse (lifting weights, running) or stress , microfibers form as part of the healing process to immobilize the area. Microfibers are nature's internal cast.

Unfortunately, once the area has healed, the microfibers not only do not go away, they tend to accumulate over time, making athletes stiffer with age.

We release these microfibers with Microfiber Reduction, our special, proprietary form of connective tissue massage. As you can see below, Microfiber Reduction improves flexibilityfar beyond what stretching alone can do. The photos show how far 33 year-old Tony Rigas, who lost his flexibility after he started an intensive strength-training program with heavy weights and machines, could lift his right leg before we started working with him. After we released the microfibers in his hips, he was amazed to find that he had recovered all the flexibility he had lost to weight lifting. You can see other examples of Microfiber Reduction at Clients and Testimonials on this website. You can also order a demonstration video.


Before Microfiber Reduction


After Microfiber Reduction

Conclusion

Baseball teams that want to improve the performance of their pitching staff should make sure that every pitcher in their rotation and farm system has at least a 120° Stride Angle.

This will allow them to pitch with both speed and control over many years.

Baseball teams should never sign a pitcher with a Stride Angle less than 120°, regardless of their past performance, unless they have the means to increase their Stride Angle.