Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Inverted W Does Not Cause Autism

By The Common Man
"What number does it have to be ... for people just to start listening to what [Dr. Mike Marshall has] been saying for years ... I told my [orthopedist] something happened ... after [he threw that fateful pitch] ?... Boom — the [lightning] was gone from his [arm]." Later, when [Dr. James Andrews] read a comment from the CDC stating that the vast majority of the science to date did not support [this] assertion, [random Mike Marshall supporter] replied, "My science is [Strasburg]. He's at home. That's my science."
-- A reappropriated quote from Jenny McCarthy's profile in Time Magazine.

For years, parents of autistic children clung to a study conducted by Dr. Andrew Wakefield, a British surgeon and researcher who supposedly made a connection between the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine and autism in children. It helped them cope with their children’s illness, and gave them an external body to blame for the disease that altered their lives and inhibited their child’s ability to develop at a “normal” rate. It’s hard to blame these parents for looking for answers, when science simply cannot fully explain what happens in the human brain.

Wakefield, whose research was never replicated successfully, was ultimately discredited, and the journal that published his study retracted its claims. That said, the movement his work spawned still has significant life, through the high-profile support of celebrities like Robert Kennedy Jr., Jenny McCarthy, and Jim Carrey. Their activism has led to articles and profiles in Time and on CNN, Kennedy went on The Daily Show to talk about it, and McCarthy had an entire hour on The Oprah Winfrey Show.

Similarly, whenever a hot young prospect gets hurt, the disciples of Dr. Mike Marshall, former NL Cy Young award winner and PhD in Kinesiology, trot out “the inverted W”, a position a pitcher’s body makes when he raises his pitching elbow above his shoulder.
Dr. Marshall believes that this causes undue strain on the shoulder and elbow because, as the pitcher lands with his front foot, the arm is dragging behind the rest of the body. In the pitcher’s effort to “catch up,” he generates additional torque on those joints which can lead to the kinds of catastrophic injuries that ruined Mark Prior and have shelved Stephen Strasburg. Marshall claims to “know the injurious flaws in the 'traditional' baseball pitching motion that injures baseball pitchers and how to eliminate all pitching injuries. I also know the mechanical flaws in the 'traditional' baseball pitching motion that decrease release velocity, release consistency and the variety and quality of pitches pitchers can throw and how to correct these mechanical flaws.”

Marshall’s apostles jump into the message boards, and consistently call for him and his ideas to “get a fair hearing.” The reality is that Marshall has had 30 years to “get a fair hearing,” and hasn’t caught on. Indeed, there’s hardly a single Major League player who has used Marshall’s tutelage.

Marshall’s proponents will argue that it’s his attitude, arrogance, and rebelliousness that have made him, and the young men he works with, persona non grata in Major and minor league ball. But Major League Baseball has never had trouble adding crackpots who can play the game or teach others better ways to play. Teams don’t mind dealing with crackpots like Ozzie Guillen, Albert Belle, Barry Bonds, and Brett Meyers when they are producing, after all. Tony LaRussa is about as nonconformist as you can get, and is arrogant and obnoxious as anyone in the league has ever been. Milton Bradley, Mike Sweeney, A-Rod, Sammy Sosa, Roger Clemens, Jose Canseco. Their antics tolerated because they produced.

Teams are going to Germany, Australia, China, Italy, and even India in an attempt to find prospects. You’re going to tell The Common Man that they’re not willing to look at a bunch of pitchers training in Florida because they don’t like the guy training them? In a multi-billion dollar industry? Run by smart people like Theo Epstein, Alex A, Jack Z, Jon Daniels, and Andrew Friedman who make their living by exploiting market inefficiencies? It’s ludicrous conspiracy theorizing on the order of “vaccines cause autism” and “Bush and Cheney blew up the World Trade Center.”

The reality, according to comparison studies done of Marshall’s method and a more traditional motion is, as summarized by Will Carroll, “Marshall's motion as tested simply does not work. …To summarize, Marshall's motion gets less velocity out of more force, meaning it is less efficient.” Indeed, according to the American Sports Medicine Institute, Marshall’s method generates the same torque on arms and shoulders, and also leads to a decrease in accuracy. An analysis by JZZ Technologies Inc. suggests that Marshall’s pitchers are at increased risk for back, anterior shoulder, and neck injuries, similar to the ones that plagued Marshall from 1976-1977.

It’s tempting to try and find reasons why players get injured. To do so helps us to feel powerful, in control of our destinies and those of youngsters like Stephen Strasburg. And acquiring knowledge that others supposedly don’t have is also alluring, in that it allows us to claim a special status. We are on the forefront of a new movement. We saw what others did not. We were his Apostles spreading the word. We saw The Beatles when they were still a garage band in Liverpool.

Like Andrew Wakefield, Mike Marshall is a lone voice in the wilderness who has attracted followers that don’t have the medical training or background in exercise physiology to fully dissect and understand his claims. “We don’t exactly know yet” how the brain works or what combination of factors leads to each injury is not an acceptable answer, even if it’s the best one we’ve got now. What Marshall says sounds plausible and tantalizing, even if he’s not correct. And so he continues to churn out a vocal and devoted following who will beat his drum and toot his horn in the face of evidence to the contrary. In the face of science. Their science is that young men get injured. And dammit, they want answers and solutions, and the simpler the better.


Daniel "Tuffy" Dykstra said...

Why is this called the "inverted W" and not the "M"? Did Marshall get stuck with an inverted W instead of an M in his nameplate when playing and become obsessed with it or something?

Funzo said...

All fair points about Marshall's methods, but I don't see how this disproves the theory that the inverted W leads to pitcher injury. It's certainly possible that Marshall is correct in identifying the problem, but way off base on his proposed solutions.

I'm not saying I'm totally sold, but part of what makes, say, Chris O'Leary's arguments on this topic more convincing is that his exemplars of good mechanics are actual HOF pitchers and not a bunch of random dudes in Florida somewhere.

Anonymous said...

Mike Sweeney was tolerated despite his "antics"? Mike Sweeney is considered one of the best guys in baseball.

The Common Man said...

@Daniel It's TCM's understanding that Marshall didn't invent the term. Why it's called the "inverted W" and not the "M?" I have no idea. Somebody probably decided it sounded cooler.

@Funzo I'll leave the mechanical analysis to the experts, but I'll point out that, on O'Leary's blog he primarily uses photographs to illustrate his point, which can be misleading due to camera angle and pitcher height. Also, it captures a single moment in a pitcher's delivery, not the whole motion.

Sweeney has behaved like a grade A boob all year. He may be popular with some teammates, but I have to guess some were less than thrilled by Operation Freezeout and by threatening to fight a teammate in the locker room.

Will said...

Common Man, I'm surprised that you and only you seem privy to the information that Sweeney froze people out and threatened to fight team mates. Surely this info would've come out at some point,unless you are making Marshall-like assertions with no factual basis.

David said...

Will, The Common Man may be brilliant and all (or maybe not, who knows), but he's hardly privy to anything any of use even-more-common folk didn't hear about in approximately 5,000 media outlets this spring. If it's not too much trouble, why don't you try Googling "Mike Sweeney Fight Griffey" and catch up with the rest of the world of baseball fans...

The Common Man said...


Just me and all the readers of ESPN.com and NBCSports.com. We're an exclusive group.


Thanks for joining the conversation though.

Anonymous said...

Not to mention Mike Sweeney is a conservative Christian who brow beats teammates into hearing his version of the gospel...then has no problem using blasphemy when popping out to 1st base.

The Common Man said...

Well, we're not here to brow-beat Christians, Anonymous. Especially anonymously. TCM has not heard anything about Sweeney's prosteletizing in the clubhouse (if you have a link, feel free to post it), but does know him to be a prominent Catholic, and there's nothing wrong with that. TCM's Catholic too and accidentally taught The Boy to say "dammit" this summer. None of us is beyond reproach.

Anonymous said...

Hi Common Man,

You are wrong about O'leary's site. He has tons of full pitch delivery vids on there, like 30 major leaguers past and present with comments. His analysis of Strasburg is worth a read and does include some video. Strasburg exibits O'leary peevs in ways that are obvious even to ignoramouses like me. Example, the lack of "opposite-equal" is pretty extreme at the point he has his glove arm fully folded in at his waist when his throwing arm is just coming vertical.

Even if you don't agree with him it is really fun to look at the slow motion deliveries from all those past and present pitchers.

The Common Man said...

Thanks, Anonymous. I'll go back and explore in more depth.

Brad said...

The edges of an M go straight down. The edges of a W are at a diagonal. Granted, this isn't always true, but for the most part, that is how they are drawn.

Anonymous said...

@Funzo: Well said on your first point. Just because Marshall's method sucks doesn't prove that the inverted W isn't still harmful.

I am no expert on the subject -- I am a former HS pitcher who ran into shoulder problems both before and after converting to the inverted W -- but why doesn't everyone just copy the mechanics of people like Nolan Ryan, who clearly got a ton of velocity from his mechanics and who was virtually injury free for over 20 years?! There was nothing resembling an inverted W in Ryan's delivery.

Anonymous said...

From what I've read about the Inverted W, it's in reference to a W that appears in good pitching mechanics, albeit at a different point in the delivery.

Chris O'Leary said...

Couple of points regarding the OP.

First, the term Inverted W was coined by Paul Nyman. You could call it an M, but technically an M is a different position. In the Inverted W, the forearms do not hang down vertically from the elbows as they do in the Inverted M.

Second, I'm not sure why you are associating me with Marshall. As I explain in my Inverted W FAQ, my understanding of the Inverted W grew out of the realization that Marshall's prescriptions on scap loading were wrong. Marshall thinks that scap loading is universally bad, but I figured out that the greats scap load one way (Horizontal W) while the trainwrecks scap load in a different way (Inverted W).

Third, I illustrate all of my points -- including my key points about Mark Prior's Inverted W -- with video where possible. I correlate all of my stills with video as much as possible.

Chris O'Leary

Chris said...

I had a feeling the Strasbug injury would re-spark the Pro-Marshall vs. Anti-Marshall vs. Everyone else who has interest in this topic debate... Let's remember to have some fun here.

Here's 2 cents: Strasburg does exhibit an inverted W or an inverted V arm action. Congratulations. Nyman believes this arm action lends itself to being highly productive ("whippy, whip cracking") in the transfer of energy and in generating velocity. And he's right. Let it be noted that Nyman also avidly states that "Slingers" or pitchers with Long Levered arm action who swing up to a 90 or slightly outside 90 degree bend (i.e. Mariano Rivera, Roy Oswalt, Ryan Madson, David Price) represent a large portion of high velocity pitchers/throwers in the MLB.

Coincidentally, Marshall's arm action and description of Force Application more closely resemble the one that Nyman describes as Slinging. The point here is that, it's not that the healthy and hard throwing guys don't have what Marshall sees as flaws, they do. It's that the flaws are not as profound or apparent as they are in those who exhibit inverted W,V,M where there's a severe bounce, a severe loop or a severe flyout.

The challenge I deal with and (maybe others deal with) in my pitching instruction, is striking a balance between what we know produces velocity and Minimizing, NOT ELIMINATING, risk of injury.

To ignore Dr. Mike Marshall's research and write it off as a Crack-Pot theory seems irresponsible, because nobody else has bothered to do the work he's done to examine what causes injury. Reverse forearm bounce, late turnover, looping, flaring and forearm flyout are present in the majority of pitchers we see on TV. So we know these movements are productive. They just might not be necessary to produce high velocities.

So Strasburg had TJ surgery, Marshall desciples will likely say "If he would just penulum swing his arm with palm up etc..." Look, that's not gonna happen. he's going to rehab, keep throwing with the motion that got him to the bigs, and if he needs another TJ in 5 years, he'll do it again. (Think: Billy Wagner)

If we're working with youngsters, let's work to take some basic knowledge off a common ground page in Nyman's / Marshall's books and work to strike that balance.

Chris Holt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.