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Never believe the spin

Zack Wheeler (Photo credit: Paul Hadsall)
Zack Wheeler (Photo credit: Paul Hadsall)

I think we all recognized the need for concern when Zack Wheeler was scratched from his scheduled spring training start last weekend and sent for an MRI on his elbow, no matter how much the Mets tried to downplay its significance.

And today, we got the news we were dreading:

For the short term, I guess this moves Dillon Gee back into the rotation. Some fans would rather see Noah Syndergaard or Steven Matz get the opportunity, but there’s no way Sandy Alderson is going to put either of them on the Opening Day roster and lose a year of control when he could bring them along at the end of April and delay their free agency by a year.

There will be more opportunities. Bartolo Colon turns 42 in May – what are the odds he stays in the rotation all year? Gee and Jonathon Niese don’t have the best track records for staying off the DL, either. And nobody really knows what to expect from Matt Harvey in his first year back from Tommy John surgery.

I’m more interested in how Alderson the loss of Wheeler and Josh Edgin impact the bullpen. Going into the spring, six of the seven spots seemed to be set with Jenrry Mejia, Jeurys Familia, Vic Black, Edgin, Carlos Torres and Gee. With Edgin gone for the year and Gee likely back in the rotation, there are suddenly three openings for a group of relievers who haven’t done a lot to impress this spring.

I’m not worried about the Mets’ rotation, even with the loss of Wheeler. But the relief corps is another story. Bobby Parnell will be back eventually, and maybe someone else steps up to join the four reliable relievers out there. Let’s hope for the best.

7 thoughts on “Never believe the spin

  1. To an extent, I don’t think pitchers are getting hurt much more than in previous generations. Back in the day, pitchers were either told to pitch through the pain or, like an old mule, they just broke down and were finished before they were 30. But, now, we are better equipped to diagnose and treat injuries that used to finish players before their time. Pitchers have another life now. It’ll just cost them a year to do it when it used to cost them their careers.

    That being said, with more of a reliance on speed and less on actual pitching, it’s possible pitchers are throwing too hard or too many different pitches too soon.


    1. I think that there are people who are smarter than me that MLB should be paying to see if there are any answers to be found.

      I’m kind of annoyed by the attitude shown by Sandy Alderson, but common throughout the game: “This is what happens with pitching. You see guys going down all over the place.”

      Why accept the injuries as inevitable until you have actual scientific evidence that’s true? That’s frustrating me more than the loss of Wheeler, Edgin, or Matt Harvey.


      1. Paul,

        Bill James said this a while ago. And it’s just from looking a pitchers’ careers as he’s not a doctor. Forgive me, as it’s not a direct quote but, essentially, he said that nearly every pitcher will miss at least some time in his career. For some, it may be a start or two here and there. For others, it’ll be a year with Tommy John. It’s possible that, in this day and age, Koufax might have been able to come back after maybe sitting out 1964 or ’65 as he was constantly pitching with pain.

        Now, if you want a solution, I’ve got one. No guarantees, mind you, as it requires changing a mindset. Raise the seams on the ball and deaden it. Keep balls in play longer, even the pitch in the dirt (it was like that when we were kids). In time, pitchers will pitch to contact instead of trying to either blow it past or slider/curve/split finger it past hitters, as repeated use of those pitches can also mess up an arm as well as trying to throw it 95+.

        Here’s the deal Paul: As I said, injuries and “dead arms” have been around forever. We know more about how to fix them now. 100 years ago, Wheeler might have gotten some rest, then some quack trainer would have rubbed some “go fast” on his arm (Tabasco mixed in Vaseline–read Sam Crawford’s entry in “The Glory of Their Times”), he eventually would have pitched through the pain (how many pitchers and other players have heard that one?) and would have been finished by 27.

        I look at it 180 degrees opposite from you. Yes, it appears pitchers are babied too much and, if you’re into fantasy baseball or an APBA league (I’m not), losing a quality pitcher (and they seem to drop like flies) for a season is a killer, but, at some point, that one-year healing and rehab might get down to six months or less; a pitcher will be operated on after the season and ready to go for the next opening day.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I agree with Mark (and you know how rarely that happens) and its been my position for a long time. Pitchers have always suffered these injuries and I think, more or less, in the same numbers. The reasons it SEEMS like more pitchers are succumbing to these injuries are that:

        #1) In the old days, there was no Tommy John surgery and we didn’t even have names for these types of injuries. Pitchers were told to pitch through it. Some could, some couldn’t. When they couldn’t, they’d just say the pitcher had a bum arm or that the arm went dead. I always try to read up on ballplayers who pass away. The story that is repeated over and over with pitchers–especially those who had only brief major league trials–is that, one day, their arm went dead.

        #2) Increased media scrutiny. These days, if a prospect sneezes, we hear about it. If its a major leaguer who sneezes, we hear about it for weeks. That wasn’t the case back in the day. You might hear about a major leaguer working his way back from injury then, but you wouldn’t hear about a minor leaguer with an injury unless you happened to be living in the given minor league town (if then).

        #3) Money. In the old days, if a pitcher got hurt and couldn’t pitch through it, they threw him away and got somebody else. As Bluto said in Animal House, “Don’t cost nothin’.” Now, so much money has been invested in each player that the clubs suffer a greater loss by not identifying the injuries and having them surgically repaired ASAP. If you’ve got a pitcher making 10 or 12 grand a year, he’s pretty disposable. If you’ve got a pitcher making millions (or even hundreds of thousands), he isn’t.

        #4) Expansion. In the old days, baseball was far more Darwinistic. There were only so many major league pitching positions available (lets say half of what we have today). So the “freaks”–those pitchers who could endure pitching hundreds of innings a year without suffering an injury–were going to be filling most of those spots. Genetically, its likely the number of “freaks” per generation hasn’t changed much, but there are many more pitching positions to be filled.

        To the extent that there ARE more injuries than in the old days:

        #5) Major league demands. Baseball now demands that pitchers throw harder and faster than in the day, and that they feature more than one good pitch. How many pitchers threw over 90mph back when Bob Feller was king, do you suppose? Not that many. Now, you can’t get a scout to even look at you if you throw 86mph–even if you’re getting batters out. And nothing is more damaging to an arm than the curveball.

        #6) Money (in a different way). Adjacent to #5 is the fact that there is now so much money in baseball that kids are working to get to the majors from Pee Wee leagues on. This means that kids who pitch are throwing harder than they should be from an early age and throwing curve balls before their bones have stopped growing. A certain recipe for arm troubles.

        #7) Specialization. In the old days, pitchers were expected to go the distance. So you paced yourself. What’s the point in throwing your fastest fastball to every poor hitter in the lineup? What’s the point in using up all your gas in the first three innings when you’re supposed to go 9? Now, pitchers are expected to throw their best and hardest pitches–every pitch–for as long as they can. And there aren’t a lot of easy outs in most lineups. Whereas the number of “freaks” among pitchers hasn’t likely changed much, the number of hitters who have been “enhanced” by science–weight-lifting, proper conditioning, etc.–has grown quite a bit. Don’t see many beer-bellies out there anymore–used to be a lot of them.

        Pitching a baseball is unnatural for the human body. Orthopedic surgeons will tell you that NO ONE who pitches professionally or over a long period of time is going to escape injury. The extent of that injury is dependent upon a lot of factors (from genetics to diet to plain old dumb luck).

        All that said, I do think the Rube Walker Mets had a great conditioning program which helped keep pitchers like Seaver and Ryan relatively healthy for very long careers. And a couple of former pro pitchers I’ve spoken to tell me that pitchers weightlifting–which they do a lot of these days–is the exact opposite of what they should be doing. You want your muscles loose to pitch and weightlifting tightens them. That’s what they say, anyway.

        Now the only person who claims such injuries are preventable–the ONLY person on planet Earth–is former Met Dr. Mike Marshall…and MLB hates him (though its worth noting that at least one team at one time tried his methods for awhile and reported no appreciable difference in the frequency, rate and severity of pitchers’ arm injuries).

        Also worth noting that it is only because of sports medicine that such injuries are easily treatable today for the rest of us, should we need it, and that pitchers with these injuries are, today, more likely to return to form than not. And Alderson looks pretty wise, today, for NOT trading away our surplus of arms as most Mets fans wanted over the winter. There is no such thing as “too much pitching”. That is a baseball truism that has never changed.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Stubby,

        Extremely well said! And you actually agree with me. Pigs do fly! I’m honored and humbled. Ya done good.


  2. And right on point comes this article from Al Hamnik about the recently deceased Bob Anderson, who pitched for the Tigers and Cubs.

    “Anderson said there were times when he’d work in relief six consecutive days per orders of manager Bob Scheffing and in ’61 the ‘college of coaches.’ On the average, three or four straight days.

    Pitchers didn’t know the exhaustion, the stress on ligaments and muscles, could lead to a torn rotator cuff.

    ‘I ultimately hurt my arm and was out of baseball when I was 28 years old,’ said Anderson, who finished 36-46 with a career 4.39 ERA.

    During the 1959 and ’60 seasons in Chicago, the right-hander threw 235 1/3 and 204 innings, respectively.

    The man who had made his living off a live fastball, a sharp curveball and tricky changeup was finished after seven seasons, ending with the Tigers in 1963.”

    Hamnik goes on to say that Anderson’s torn rotator cuff wasn’t even diagnosed as such until a few years ago. There was no such diagnosis to be made in those days. He couldn’t pitch through the pain, but he lived with it for decades not knowing anything more than he “hurt his arm”.


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