Ryan Jensen’s arm action has been a point of discussion since the moment he was drafted back in 2019. The debate over whether he would be a starter or a reliever long-term typically started and ended with the way he threw the baseball.
And up through his May 4 appearance of this year, the way Jensen threw the baseball was…problematic. He featured an incredibly long arm swing as he prepared to throw, dropping his hand down below his right kneecap with his elbow almost completely locked out. Then he was placed on the development list.
That’s a relatively new feature in the minors, one the Cubs use to work with otherwise healthy players on various tweaks and improvements. By getting them away from live competition and a focus on trying to win, the organization can use time at the complex in Mesa to focus primarily on honing individual skills. That could mean learning a new pitch or tinkering with a grip. For Jensen, it meant changing the way he pitched.
When he returned to game action more than a month later, the right-hander displayed a completely new arm action, one that had been shortened considerably. We’re not talking about a Lucas Giolito-style inside route transformation, but take a look for yourself.
Cubs 2019 first-rounder Ryan Jensen has shortened his arm action and was repeating it much better in the last two outings I saw.
After walking multiple batters in his first five appearances, Jensen did not walk one in his last two outings.
Left is new, right is old video. pic.twitter.com/uGCVnxwHnq
— Aram Leighton (@AramLeighton8) June 20, 2022
Why would the development staff do this? What’s the point of changing something as habitual as riding a bike?
It all comes down to the reality that so much of a pitcher’s success is rooted in the ability to repeat their delivery. Making sure arm action or release point is identical from the first pitch to the 100th is equally as critical as disguising a fastball from a slider from a changeup.
Though Jensen’s athleticism afforded him an advantage when it came to repeating his motion or at least overcoming inconsistencies, the Cubs didn’t believe that was enough to get him to the next level. Shortening his arm path eliminates some of the potential to deviate from his ideal delivery because his arm is now less prone to lag behind his bottom half, both from pitch to pitch and over the course of a start.
That was an issue we saw popping up throughout his short professional career. While he has always displayed pretty nasty stuff, locating it — whether that be in the zone for strikes or on the edges and away from the heart of the plate — wasn’t always a strength.
In his first five starts of the season prior to the mechanical adjustment, Jensen issued a whopping 14 walks with 18 strikeouts in 16.1 innings. In his eight innings over three starts since returning from the development list with his revamped mechanics, he has walked just one batter while striking out six.
Making such a significant adjustment can’t be easy for a professional athlete, especially one who was drafted in the first round based on the results he’d gotten from throwing a certain way his entire life. Jensen will undoubtedly have lapses when his body wants to revert back to the old pattern and he’ll need to continue working to make these changes stick.
But maybe Jensen can follow the lead of Scott Effross, who rode the success of his own mechanical overhaul to a spot on the big league club.