A couple years after the book release, Paul was starting to develop “bone on bone” pain in his right hip while pitching. He was managing to perform relying on pain medicine, but it was becoming clear that something was going to have to change going forward. After a couple unsuccessful partial hip repair attempts in the 2003 and 2004 time frame it started to be obvious that Paul wasn’t going to be able to pitch any more with the kind of constant discomfort he was enduring. In 2005, Paul retired after a painful early season rehab outing at AA Canton.
Paul was out of baseball in 2005 and 2006, but the pain associated with normal life was preventing him from just doing day to day activities. After consulting with his prior orthopedic surgeon and with his wife Julie, Paul finally decided he would go to Canada to undergo a relatively new procedure called “hip resurfacing” in mid-2006. The surgery was done in Canada because the materials used were not yet approved in the US. After surgery, Paul did the rehab at home in North Carolina and began to feel pain free again. At this time, there wasn’t any real intention of playing baseball again.
Interestingly, after a couple months of rehab Paul was feeling so good that he started to consider the possibility of baseball and decided he would start to throw some and see how it went. After beginning his throwing and having no pain in his hip, Paul was very encouraged that he might actually be able to make a return to competitive baseball. Paul’s throwing program went very well for several weeks with only minor setbacks of normal body soreness. In approximately September of 2006 with a backlog of a several weeks of throwing, Paul asked if I could put the radar gun on him to see where his velocity was.
Paul’s Surprising Velocity
Throwing off a mound in my modified barn/pitching tunnel, Paul and I were amazed to find that his velocity was about 78 miles per hour (MPH) at maximum effort. At the peak of his professional career Paul was consistently 96-98 MPH and occasionally touched 100 MPH. His split finger fastball was 91-94; one of the fastest in MLB. With no pain in his hip and with his arm feeling great, the 78 MPH reading was a real shock to Paul and to me as well. However, the knowledge that he had consistently thrown 20 MPH harder when he was healthy led us to start a detailed analysis of what major differences were present now and how or if Paul could make the necessary changes to regain the missing velocity.
While we had always known that throwing a baseball required the use of the legs and torso, these results proved the point in spades. Paul had lost 20 miles per hour; not because his arm was less powerful, but because he couldn’t use the large muscles of the body nearly as efficiently as he had previously. This was the clear evidence of how important the legs and torso are in generating velocity so we started breaking the pieces apart to analyze what needed fixing.
In the barn we have a portable mound that Paul had used for several years as he would get ready for spring training. That mound had wear marks on the carpet showing his old landing position and that old evidence was the first thing we noticed about his new delivery. With his repaired hip, his stride length to the landing position had been shortened by nearly a foot. A shortened stride is not by itself a determination of velocity, but for Paul, it showed a couple problems.
First, the shortened stride showed there was restriction in the right hip that was limiting the range of motion and second, it showed that the strength in that right hip area was insufficient to allow him to keep his weight back as he moved down the mound in his delivery. This shortened delivery was the first clue that said just eliminating the pain wasn’t sufficient to regain the power that was previously present.
Changing The Rehab
Paul went back to the rehab guys he had been working with and explained that more range of motion was required as well as more hip strength. Scar tissue was present after the major surgery and that scar tissue was limiting the stride length. But, the surgery for the hip resurfacing had also cut through muscle that was important in keeping his weight from drifting forward during the stride.
With a goal of something like mid-November to try to schedule professional tryouts, Paul was on a fast track to try to regain his old form. What we found was that with more focused hip rehab his velocity started increasing, but slowly. After a couple additional weeks of rehab work his stride length and hip strength had increased some but he still topped out about 80-81 MPH. At this point I could tell Paul was starting to question whether he was actually going to get the majority of his velocity back.
Hip To Shoulder Separation
Since he was increasing his stride length and leg strength with just a little increase in velocity, we began to discuss what else could have been compromised by the surgery and the presence of a metal hip. After studying a lot of old major league film and talking about how differently things felt now, we concluded that his hip was also limiting a couple other aspects of throwing hard. First, the hip muscles were not allowing the same hip rotational speed to be developed as before and second, somewhere along the way when he was pitching in pain, Paul had lost the feeling for hip to shoulder separation.
For hitters and throwers, a “turbo” type effect is generated when the hips rotate prior to the shoulders. The hip to shoulder separation builds tension in the lower back, hips and stomach muscles. This “winding of the torso spring” enhances higher upper body rotational speed and a corresponding increase in arm speed. It was surprising that after years of throwing that powerful way, hips before shoulders, Paul was now having difficulty duplicating the sequence. As we discussed it more, it was obvious that when his hip was previously hurting there was less pain when he simply turned the hips and shoulders together as one piece. Evidently, over the months of pitching in pain he had trained himself to eliminate as much of his hip pain as possible and this training created an ugly “muscle memory” that had to be eliminated. We knew his velocity had dropped somewhat in the months prior to retiring, but hadn’t really analyzed the cause.
Attempting to regain the hip to shoulder separation was certainly frustrating to Paul, but the work did start showing more immediate velocity improvement. After a couple weeks of work on Paul’s part his velocity jumped to about 86 MPH. This doesn’t seem like much improvement, but it was a tremendous boost to his attitude. When compared to his initial 78 MPH readings 86 MPH seemed pretty good. Suddenly Paul could project himself regaining more and more velocity and just the idea that he could be major league average of 86-88 MPH gave him definite hope that he could pitch competitively again. More velocity would certainly be desirable, but at least he wasn’t going to have to learn to throw a knuckleball to get back in the game.
Pretty soon late November, 2006, rolled around and Paul put out some feelers to see if anyone would be interested in taking a look. He worked with Tommy Atkinson and Russ Frazier at Louisburg Junior College to get a workout against some college hitters. Scouts from several major league clubs showed up at that workout. Paul wasn’t great but he was about 86-88 MPH during the outing and didn’t have much difficulty getting the JC guys out. From there Paul talked to Mike Fox at UNC to set up another workout a couple weeks later. Several major league scouts attended this workout. He pitched to a few of UNCs best hitters and still was able to hold his own topping out at 89 MPH and relying on his curve and split as out pitches.
After these two workouts, the Orioles showed the most interest and in December they invited Paul up to Camden Yards for an individual workout. At Camden, the Orioles had a lot of their major league staff present to watch him throw a simulated game in the indoor cages.
I should interject here that Paul and I had called his agent, Ron Shapiro, to tell him we were coming and Rick Oliver, from Ron’s staff, came over to meet Paul and talk with the Orioles. Ron’s guys knew Paul had a metal hip, but hadn’t seen him at all since the surgery almost a year before. When we got to Camden Yards and parked in the lot, Paul recognized Rick standing next to his car and told me to “watch this.” When Paul got out of the car and started walking over to Rick he faked this terrible limp as if he was just barely able to get over to Rick’s car. The look on Rick’s face was priceless as I’m sure there were thoughts going through his head about how he was going to explain to the Oriole brass how Ron was bringing in this disabled pitcher for a special tryout. After Paul finished playing “gotcha” with Rick, we entered Camden for his workout. I’m not sure Rick found as much humor in this as Paul did.
With all the Oriole baseball guys watching, Paul threw well enough to get an invite to spring training.
Back In Professional Baseball
In the few months leading up to spring training, Paul continued to make progress in the areas previously discussed and by February he was topping at 90-92. His spring training was decent, but not enough to make the big club so he was assigned to AAA in Norfolk. This was almost ideal, only being 3 hours from home in Wake Forest, North Carolina. In Norfolk, Paul’s performances were up and down, even with a pretty decent fastball. At Paul’s peak with the Indians and Dodgers, his stuff was so good that his location didn’t have to be perfect to get guys out. Now, with a decent but not great fastball, there was a higher premium on location and that location was on and off from one game to the next.
By the middle of 2007 though, Paul had made enough progress at AAA to get a call up to Baltimore. With the Orioles, Paul again was not consistently sharp and had good games and bad games even though his velocity topped out at 95 MPH (17 MPH above where he started). Toward the middle of September, after about 25 outings with the Orioles, Paul had struggled enough that the Orioles wanted to give some of their younger guys a shot. To the Orioles’ credit, they allowed Paul to stay with the major league club until he completed his 10th full year of MLB service. Paul retired again after being released toward the end of the 2007 season.
In retrospect, it might have been better for Paul to have waited another full year before attempting a comeback. However, there is no history of anyone playing professional sports on a continuous basis with a metal hip so maybe it’s a blessing to have limited the wear and tear to a more normal level.
The reason to tell this story is to provide a clear picture of how valuable the legs and technique are to throwing a baseball hard. A successful major league pitcher went from 98 MPH to 78 MPH by losing leg flexibility, leg strength and especially, a powerful throwing technique. During Paul’s comeback his arm was nearly as strong at 78 MPH as it had been at 98 MPH, but when he was throwing 78 MPH he wasn’t using his legs, hips and torso to maximize his power.