In the kind of move that is often lost in the sheer volume of transactions that occur during any given season, the St. Louis Cardinals signed pitcher Joe Williams to a minor league contract last week. The left-hander was assigned to the Springfield Cardinals of the Double-A Texas League to try to help shore up their beleaguered bullpen.
Upon a quick look, I wondered why the organization would sign a 28-year-old who had been out of affiliated ball since 2005. Digging a little further, I found the answer as well as the basis of a most interesting story.
In fact, I had seen Joe Williams before - on the MLB Network about six weeks earlier - but failed to make the connection initially. What makes him different is that he is a disciple of Dr. Mike Marshall, the former Cy Young Award-winning pitcher with a doctorate in kinesiology and some strong opinions that traditional pitching training methods contribute to injuries.
On March 25th, Williams appeared on MLB Network with Marshall and host Harold Reynolds in a segment during which Marshall explains his method of teaching pitching with Williams on hand to demonstrate selected techniques and drills. You can see the seven-minute episode here:
”Dr. Marshall talks pitching”
Marshall runs an academy in Zephyrhills, FL where he tutors pitchers daily in a detailed program that is designed to prevent injuries by “making the bones, ligaments, tendons and muscles that are involved in the pitching motion as powerful as possible,” according to a Marshall quote on his website, www.drmikemarshall.com.
While Marshall’s program is documented in detail, one important element is the use of pronation, which protects pitching arms by having hurlers turn their thumb downward at release. This is in contrast to supination, which is the more common method of pitching. When supinating their forearm, pitchers’ thumbs are turned up at release, which Marshall believes increases the likelihood of injury.
This also means the pitchers using Marshall’s teachings have a delivery that is considered unusual. Here is a slow motion clip of Williams throwing a variety of offerings at Marshall’s training center. (There is no sound.)
By his own admission, Marshall has been kept at bay by organized baseball as a result of his unorthodox training methods.
“They just didn’t want me to get in. That’s ridiculous. But that’s the small-mindedness of Major League Baseball. They don’t know what the hell they’re doing. And if I get in, everybody will know that they don’t know what the hell they’re doing,” Marshall told the Los Angeles Times in an article posted on Marshall’s website.
Apparently not every organization is constrained by tradition, which has a direct relation to how Williams became a Cardinal. St. Louis Vice President of Scouting and Player Development Jeff Luhnow recently asked Marshall to come down to Extended Spring Training (EST) in Jupiter, FL to meet with his staff. Williams came along.
Shortly after, Williams was invited to participate in the Cardinals’ camp, where he must have shown enough to the coaches to snag a contract. It happened just in time as Williams had already decided to join the Navy in hopes of training to become a Seal.
This represents Williams’ first stint in affiliated ball since 2005. He had originally been drafted by the New York Mets in the 17th round of the 2004 draft, but was released the next season. Williams had not progressed beyond A-ball.
After his release, Williams chose to continue with Marshall’s program instead of surgery or following up on an opportunity to sign with the Joliet Jackhammers of the Northern League. He worked extensively with Marshall to revamp his motion. When Williams joined Marshall, he had a tear in his labrum and frayed tendons in his rotator cuff as well, but without going under the knife can now not only pitch pain-free, he can throw every day.
There is the question of effectiveness, however. Williams had been looking for a job for some time to no avail before being signed by the Bridgeport Bluefish of the Atlantic League in April, 2008. He went to spring training with Tommy John’s club but did not make the team.
After assisting in another Marshall demonstration in St. Paul, MN late last spring, Williams joined the St. Paul Saints of the independent American Association. Again, he was cut loose before appearing in a regular-season game, reportedly in part due to difficulty throwing strikes.
Undaunted, the Chicago-area native continued to follow Marshall’s program until the MLB Network and then the Cardinals came calling.
Yet this training approach seemingly has its limitations. Williams partially attributes his rocky start at the Double-A level to not having thrown to a live catcher in recent years other than short time he put in during EST. The tight Texas League strike zone is another factor mentioned.
In his first two Springfield outings, of one inning duration each, Williams allowed a pair of runs each time on a total of five hits and three walks. His third outing was much better, as he went two scoreless innings on one hit with no walks on Saturday night. That lowered his ERA to an even 9.00.
Perhaps the organization decided to immediately test Williams, who was born two-and-a-half years before his next-oldest Springfield teammate. His difficulties may also have to do with the reality that he had never pitched above A level, and even that was almost five years ago.
As you will learn in the following audio interview, provided exclusively for Scout.com subscribers, Williams has dealt with adversity and rejection before and found a way to bounce back every time.
He discusses his checkered past, what the Cardinals coaches have or haven’t told him about his delivery, whether or not he feels he is a test case for Marshall’s instruction, what he is doing to improve on his early results with Springfield and much more.
Listen to Audio (12:00)
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch his Cardinals commentary daily at his blog, The Cardinal Nation.
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