Author of Barry Bonds 'Elbow Armor' Article for 'E&P' Answers Critics

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By: Michael Witte Hail to the new home run king. We must ? at least today ? give Barry Bonds his due. He is clearly now -- and always has been ? one of the greatest athletes and technical hitting geniuses in baseball history. Having said that, I feel it necessary to respond to a number of critiques of my theories, in letters and blog postings, about Bonds? "armor," published here on Monday, which drew wide national attention.

In retrospect, I confess that I erred in suggesting a definitive number of home runs assisted (75 to 100). No way to know what that number actually is. I would have been better served by saying, generally, ?a not inconsiderable number.?

In reference to the widely-cited interview of Mark Silva, a certified orthotist conducted by Baseball Prospectus contributor Will Carroll, I would like to make the following points.

To begin, I consider Silva?s laughing dismissal of pitcher complaints about the device to be a confirmation ? not a refutation -- of my theory. Success in baseball is often achieved by the acquisition of marginal advantage. Consider Bonds? Aaron-tying, opposite field home run number 755. The pitch is outside. Bonds strikes it precisely in the bat?s sweet spot, without reaching with his front arm (at impact, jersey stretch marks appear running from his inner, upper front arm to his rotating front hip, indicating arm connection to his torso).

Had Bonds (lacking his armor) set up in the box even an inch or two farther away from the plate out of respect for fastball velocity, that same swing would have produced contact nearer the tip of the bat, resulting in a likely warning track out (the home run landed several rows back, perhaps ten feet to the right of the left field 357 foot marker). Had he been required to alter that swing by reaching for sweet spot contact, he would have disconnected his upper arm from his torso, leaking power. He didn?t have to reach.

Marginal advantage -- Bonds. Pitchers have a legitimate ? not a laughable ?complaint.

Next, the fact that Silva designed the armor as a protective device ? not a ?hitting machine? ? does not preclude its functioning, in practice, as both. (This argument ignores the question of why Bonds has required ?protection? for fifteen consecutive years - when IS that darned elbow going to HEAL?) In fact, I remain convinced that it DOES double as a ?hitting machine? and Silva?s description of its creation only adds to that conviction.

Who knew (thank you, Will Carroll) that the interior of the custom-made device was molded to fit Bond?s arm? What?s the marginal advantage? Wearing his armor, Bonds gets sensory feedback from the device about the location of his arm in space. If his elbow should begin drifting above plane, he?ll feel pressure from the device at the forearm. If the elbow drifts below plane, he?ll feel pressure on the strap under his triceps.

Hitters wearing store-bought pads get uneven feedback because the pads don?t match the arm?s contours. Hitters wearing no pads get little sensory feedback from the air.

In reference to the flexibility of the armor?s straps, should Bonds feel them flex, he will sense proprioceptively that he is offplane. Go back to home run 755. Watch his lead arm elongate like a sidearm karate punch into impact. No bending or flexing here. Were Bonds to start feeling his straps flexing during a swing, the correction would be to follow the controlled, unbending path defined automatically by the hinged plastic (I know that these points are arcane, but hey-- we?re talking marginal advantage).

In terms of the weight argument, six ounces of weight assisting to keep one?s elbow down is six ounces unavailable to the average, un-armored hitter. Marginal advantage -- Bonds.

Human bones are not steel rods or hard plastic. They do bend, even break. Powerful hitters do cause hyper-flexion of the lead arm elbow (and thus reduce wrist lever efficiency) when their back arm explodes into full extension. I have a photo of Harmon Killebrew in mid-swing with hyper-flexion almost too painful to look at.

Bonds? armor locks at the elbow guaranteeing a rigid front arm fulcrum preventing hyper-extension and guaranteeing wrist lever efficiency (again, check out 755 at impact). Marginal advantage ? admittedly small -- you know who.

Hail to the new king! Let us give him his due! However, as his reign continues, I would respectfully suggest that he address his new subjects with a front arm unadorned by ?armor.?

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Witte's original piece can be read here.

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