Slip Slid(er)ing Away - Gavin Floyd's Flexor Mass Injury

With the encouraging news today that Chicago White Sox SP Gavin Floyd's recent MRI revealed only a flexor muscle strain, Pale Hose fans can now breathe a sigh of relief that Floyd's injury wasn't more devastating. While Floyd's start to the 2013 season has been inauspicious at best (0-4 record, 1.603 WHIP, 84 ERA+), his departure from the starting rotation for the 15-day disabled list does put a damper on the White Sox' hopes of making up ground in the AL Central standings, which currently finds them four games back of the division-leading Kansas City Royals. For now, the back end of the Sox rotation will rely heavily on young up and comers like Dylan Axelrod and Jose Quintana to pick up the slack that Floyd's most recent elbow injury has created in the rotation.


Prior to Saturday's injury suffered against the Tampa Bay Rays, Floyd has only had one other DL stint in his career - last year for flexor muscle tendinitis in his pitching elbow. For all intents and purposes a durable starter – averaging 30 games started and 189.1 innings pitched over the last five years – do Floyd's recent elbow issues portend a more injury prone pitcher moving forward?

First, let's briefly review the injury at elbow hand. Anatomically, the area of the elbow Floyd injured is a collection of muscles of the anterior forearm, called the flexor/pronator group; you might also see them labeled as the flexor mass. However they're labeled, these muscles share a common tendon, at the medial epicondyle of the humerus bone.

Illustration of the flexor-pronator muscles and biceps courtesy of bestpractices.bmj.com

These muscles (as you might have figured out by the name) are responsible for flexion of the wrist and fingers, as well as pronation; they also serve as forearm stabilizers against valgus forces, which pull the forearm away from the body's mid line. All-in-all, this muscle group is a very important component of throwing a baseball, playing a large role in how well a pitcher finishes his pitches, be it the follow through on his fastball, the ability to 'turn over' a change up, or get a good 'snap' on his breaking pitch.

With the anatomy in mind, let's go back to Floyd's outing on Saturday and his own recollection that this injury felt different than last year's, saying that it had more of an effect on his fastballs, whereas last season, his breaking pitches were primarily affected by the injury. For this, I will recruit the help of some PITCHf/x data, courtesy of Brooks Baseball:

First, a graph of Floyd's first inning, looking at pitch selection and location:


In the first inning, Floyd threw 15 pitches, 60% strikes; overall, we see that Floyd is his usual self - mixing in his low-to-mid 90's fastball (FA) and sinker (SI) with a couple of sliders (SL) and curve balls (CU). When Floyd was out of the zone, he was low, burying his pitches down and away from righthanders, which is a great approach, since missing up in the zone puts you at increased risk of giving up the long ball.

So far, so good. On to the second inning:



Here, we begin to see the proverbial wheels start to fall off for Floyd. This was a 19-pitch, 58% strike inning, but Floyd's pitches aren't as sharp as in the first, and we start to see him missing up in the zone and miss well off the plate with his slider.

...and finally, the third and final inning for Floyd:


Here, it becomes obvious something's wrong with Floyd; he is leaving everything up, in particular, his slider, and has completely ditched his curve ball. Thinking back to our anatomy, what PITCHf/x shows us makes complete sense; with a strain of the flexor-pronator compartment, the ability to flex the wrist and fingers and pronate the forearm pain free and with complete freedom is gone. With the strain, Floyd is unable to completely follow through and finish his pitches, preventing him from consistently throwing his pitches in the strike zone, or at least missing low and in the dirt.

We now have a good understanding of the mechanisms at play on Saturday and how they affected Floyd's pitching mechanics and results - what does the future look like for him once he comes off of the DL?

Floyd's pitch selection in 2013 seems to have changed for the better of his long-term health - for the first time in his career, he is throwing more curve balls (21% of pitches thrown) than sliders (19%); since 2007, Floyd has thrown his slider 26% of the time, versus 18% of the time with the curve ball. This possibly could be a result the elbow injury sustained in 2012 and an effort being made in re-hauling his pitch selection so as to minimize the effects of throwing so many sliders on the elbow, and go to a less injurious pitch in the form of the his curve ball to keep hitters off of his fastball and sinker offerings. Speaking of the sinker, it will be interesting to see if Floyd changes how often he throws the pitch - for his career since 2007, he has used it 14% of the time, while in 2013, he has gone to it 17% of the time in his outings. Sinkers are typically thrown with the pitching hand offset to the side of the ball and with a pronounced pronation of the wrist at release, so the effects of its mechanics might play a role in Floyd's most recent elbow injury; it could lead to an increased utilization of his four seam fastball as well as his curve ball in order to relieve his elbow of the stresses induced by throwing the sinker and slider.

Overall, the injury Floyd sustained is not one of great concern just yet; with continued adjustments to his pitch selection and frequencies, Floyd is assured of bouncing back without further issue. While possessing a devastating pitch in the form of his slider, it might behoove Floyd to resort to other pitches in his impressive arsenal if he is to continue to get batters out this year and beyond, free of worry and injury.

 

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3 Responses to Slip Slid(er)ing Away - Gavin Floyd's Flexor Mass Injury

  1. Tommy John Surgery
    https://twitter.com/BNightengale/status/330366696688852993

    ReplyDelete
  2. That's unfortunate for him and the Sox.

    ReplyDelete
  3. No one wants to see anyone injured, but maybe it's time Floyd made way for someone else anyway. Notwithstanding the innings he purportedly provides, he's been a mediocre disappointment -- a right-handed John Danks.

    ReplyDelete

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