The Ballad of Jesse Crain: Is he injured?

Jesse Crain has probably been the most disappointing pitcher in the Twins' bullpen. After an excellent performance in Spring Training, both with the Twins and Team Canada, armed with a new hard breaking curve ball, the expectations were extremely high for Jesse. However, he has been very inconsistent, to say the least, and his newest feat was to lose last aftenoon's game in Wrigley Field on the bottom of the night.

Is there anything obviously wrong with Jesse Crain, which might result in his lack-luster performance?

Ron Gardenhire, after yesterday's game said that "Crain got too many pitches up in the strike zone"

Let's examine that statement, because it might be as good a clue as everything about Jesse Crain. The following images are created using pitchF/X data at Brooksbaseball.net.

Here is how Jesse attacked the strike zone yesterday:

Let's compare that to how Joe Nathan attacked the strike zone the previous day:

So it seems that Gardenhire was correct up to a point, but not entirely accurate. If we compare Nathan's attack with Crain's, we see that the accurately described difference is that Crain left too many balls in (not up) the strike zone. So it seems that if Crain wants to be successful he should pitch outside the zone appropriately.

Let's look at an earlier successful outing by Jesse and the way he was attacking the strike zone. This image is from the 4/14 game this season against Toronto where he pitched 2 innings of ho hit ball, did not walk anyone and struck out 2 batters:

Much better. Several balls close but out of the strike zone, balls up and down the strike zone. This indicates more movement and life in his stuff.

So, what's the difference? To make long things sort, it is his release point, which at a critical time for him this year, moved. Let's look at Jesse's release point evolution from last last season to now.

This is from the last game of the 2008 season against Kansas City. Jesse pitched an inning, gave up one single and struck out two. (There is a line drawn at the 0 horizontal mark for reference in all these figures) :

as you see his arm comes dead center at the zero width release point.

Fast forward to his successful April 14 game against Toronto:

not much difference. In this game, Jesse got the win by pitching 2 hitless innings, striking out 2 batters. He threw 28 pitches in total.

The next game he was used, was two days later on April 16th, to finish a blow out the Twins lost to Toronto 2-9. He threw 11 pitches and had an 1-2-3 inning with one strikeout. Here is his release point from that game:

As you can see something happened between the 28 pitch effort 2 days previously and this game. His release point moves significantly to the left (from the batter's perspective.)

His next game was the first real disappointing game this season for Jesse and the one that ultimately drove him to the 15-day DL. It happened the next day (April 17th) against Anaheim. In this game Crain threw 30 pitches, getting only one out, had three walks, two hits and was credited with 4 earned runs. Here is his release point:

As you can see it is getting worse by the game. After the game, Crain was placed in the 15-day DL with a sore shoulder. Just by looking at the release point changes (and it is harder to throw overhead with shoulder issues) I would argue that the injury occurred sometime before (or during) the second Toronto game.

Crain came of the DL and his next game was a May 5th game at Detroit. Here is his release point from that game:

Not good.

Fast-forwarding to yesterday's game; here is his release point:

Wow. Huge difference between this game and the pre-DL Crain this season. He favors his shoulder even more than when he was placed in the DL earlier this season. I wonder whether his shoulder has issues, based on those release point differences. Remember, this is his surgically repaired shoulder. I hope that Jesse is ok, but it would be worth while for the Twins to have a look at his shoulder. I would not be surprised if he lands in the DL some time soon...


Juanie said...

Interesting... I had high hopes for Crain this year, and actually thought he might have closer potential in his career. Like many others, he can be nasty when he has command of all pitches, but something just isn't right. With release point out a whack, it is due to mechanics and (although I'm not a pitching expert) I would venture a guess he could be overcompensating for an injury. I noticed he threw all fastballs on Sunday which is not a good sign considering his fastball has very little movement. Velocity doesn't matter in the big leagues without movement or command. He needs to have his other pitches to be effective.

toby said...

REALLY good stuff. I certainly hope what you've hit upon is a very fixable, definite, "merely" mechanical problem and not compensation for pain.

thrylos98 said...

I am not sure what it is, but I am sure that it is there. And also happened at or before that game that Gardy got him to finish the 9th in the blow out early in the season. Given that he went to the DL with shoulder issues a couple days after that, it would have to be a heck of a coincidence to not be related to the shoulder. Maybe back then he did it because there was an issue and now he is just stuck into a bad habit. I hope that this is the case, because he does have tons of potential. On the other hand, if I were the Twins and got a sniff of this, I would have him visit a doc asap