Hunter Harvey Case Study

By Derek Peterson

Hunter Harvey is one of the most talented prospects in baseball today. The combination of his excellent fastball command and nasty, late breaking curveball has helped the 2013 first-rounder dominate in the Orioles minor leagues. 

Even though his stuff is lights-out, Hunter has spent considerable time on the disabled list since being drafted 5 years ago. Only throwing an average of 35.2 innings per season, Harvey has battled numerous elbow injuries, undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2016, at the young age of 21.

After an outstanding recovery season in 2017 where he sported a 0.96 ERA and an opposing BA of .167, Harvey struggled through the first half of his 2018 season in Bowie, dislocating his shoulder avoiding a foul ball in June and then injuring his elbow while pitching early in his return from the DL in late August.  

How can a "can't-miss" guy be so prone to injury? Can it just be chalked up to bad luck?

Rick Peterson, former Major League pitching coach who has worked with Harvey in the past, broke down his mechanics to find the answer.

If your arm is not in proper position at foot contact you have jumped out of the plane with no parachute.
— Rick Peterson

When evaluating pitching talent, one of the first things coaches look at is arm position at foot contact, Peterson said. If your arm is not in proper position when your foot strikes the ground, you are at major risk of serious arm injury.

As shown in the diagrams below, Hunter Harvey's arm is consistently "late" when his foot strikes the ground. 

Hunter Harvey's arm position at foot contact.

Hunter Harvey's arm position at foot contact.

Proper arm position at this point in the motion is having your arm being at shoulder-level and parallel to the ground. Harvey is late because when his foot hits the ground, his arm is still facing downward.

The kinetic chain of a pitcher is very similar to an upside-down tornado: as the pitcher begins to transfer force upward from the lower half of the body, the torso, elbow, and shoulder become the most prone to injury. Because Harvey is late, extra pressure and arm speed are required to get the ball over the plate at his high average velocities of 92-95mph. The extra strain over time gives way for the constant litany of injuries to the elbow and shoulder that continue to sideline him. 

If your car engine is leaking oil it doesn’t mean you can’t drive fast, it just means that you will inevitably find yourself on the side of the road.
— Rick Peterson

When asked how pitchers like Harvey are still able to reach the highest levels of competition, Peterson said that a pitcher can have improper movement patterns and still be dominant. But, he will undoubtedly have a shortened playing career. Performance and career longevity are mutually exclusive.

Peterson has been studying pitching biomechanics with Dr. Glenn Fleisig of the American Sports Medicine Institute (ASMI) for over 30 years. The science proves that pitching mechanics contribute to injury—just as they have with Hunter Harvey.

So, what can a player do about it?

The difference between career-ending injuries and longevity are small, mechanical adjustments that can be functionally trained through drills.

Biomechanical analysis evaluates your pitching motion piece by piece, quantifying the process. Because the normative ranges of motion a pitcher must follow to reduce the risk of injury are now scientifically known, data from these analyses can be used to design personalized player development programs with lab tested drills.

3P Sports analyzed Hunter Harvey's motion and recommended the PitchRx Balance Drill, which trains timing and rhythm between upper and lower halves of the body. This drill has been proven to provide for consistent arm position and direction at the foot contact phase of a pitcher's delivery.

With a career 3.11 ERA and a career strikeout-to-walk ratio of 3.6:1, Hunter Harvey has the potential to be one of the best pitchers in baseball when he is healthy. By making mechanical adjustments based on hard data, Harvey would continue to be a force to be reckoned with in the game while also reducing his number of injuries and prolonging his career.

The PitchRx app is coming soon!