A baseball purist will say the amount of injuries to position players and a pandemic of sorts to starting pitchers is out of hand. Bypass the parity of teams that seem to have evolved during the course of the first 40 games and take a brief look at the injured list.
By far the most significant pitcher on the sidelines is the Mets’ Jacob deGrom, and missing his second start this time attributed to right side tightness.
The injury to deGrom, though not as serious as an injury to his precious arm or elbow, does present an array of issues for the Mets as it pertains to their starting rotation. Also, MLB values the two-time Cy Young Award winner.
Jacob deGrom is placed in a market as the best pitcher in baseball. Any significant time away from the mound is a loss for the Mets and baseball. But baseball does have an issue with the injuries to pitchers that have hindered all 30 teams.
At the start of play Thursday, and with the season almost 20 percent complete, a total of 135 starters or valuable relief pitchers are on the sidelines due to elbow, arm, muscle, or injuries to the knee.
Way too many, though. deGrom is expected to return again next week. So teams have been impacted and some pitchers that MLB look at as valuable commodities including Padres’ closer Kirby Yates and starter Mike Clevinger are out for the season with elbow injuries and recovering from Tommy John surgery.
The Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg is working his way back from right shoulder inflammation and is a main cog to their rotation. Strasburg went to the stretch to conserve energy and improve command, though his velocity decreased and went to a nasty change that earned him a World Series MVP in 2019.
So the purist will say, what is wrong? Years ago the guys like Koufax, Drysdale, heck even Tom Seaver could compile close to 300 innings during a season and did not miss much time due to a nagging pain in the lower back or bout with a common cold.
I reached out to a longtime baseball executive with knowledge of every pitcher and position player on the MLB roster that also encompasses the rosters of a retrenched minor league system.
The injuries are not a secret. Even with the back issues that confront Jacob deGrom, the approach and conditioning has changed. The game has changed and injuries on an everyday basis will continue to be a trend.
“The best pitchers over the years only used their best fastball four to six times in a game and we have too many today throwing every pitch as hard as they can,” he said.
It comes down to increased velocity. He said in baseball terms, about a pitcher, “Their command depreciates as the velocity increases. They also have nowhere to go and step up to when they sit at 96-100. That constant barrage of high level pitches leads to injuries.”
Though deGrom, averaging close to throwing a 100 mph fastball, there is always a concern that his arm and serious injury could be a matter of time. But for now it’s tightness and the Mets were spared a long term absence from their ace.
That constant barrage of high leverage pitches as opposed to how many there were in another era is the predominant cause of Tommy John surgeries and other arm injuries.
Analytics could be the other factor, and I have stated this numerous times. The game is dominated with teams and analytical staff that stress those constant high and consistent velocity numbers coming from pitchers.
A purist will always say those 300 inning starting pitchers during their careers never spent a day on what was then known as the disabled list.
“Rotations were generally stable for over a decade,” said the executive. “Righthanders pitched for many years without any physical injuries. The villains here are both velocity and weight training. Baseball is a game of stretch and flexibility, looseness over bulk.”
He added, “The most pitchers’ conditioning that pitchers did back then besides running pole to pole was long tossing which still is the best method of strengthening the arm.”
The question? Can those days return? It starts at the beginning and pitchers would need to be trained differently. I am sure this is easier said than done as analytics is in place and a purist can’t return the game to normalcy that would potentially decrease the amount of increased injuries to pitchers and less Tommy John surgeries.
As the executive said, “A change would take five or about 10 years to complete the transition back to real baseball.”
But as one pitcher returns there is always another going down the next day. Analytics may lead to some of these injuries but we know that dependency on numbers is here to stay.
Here in turn is a problem because the Mets hope the issues for Jacob deGrom are his last. Baseball can only hope those 135 others return soon and the injuries are less of a burden to 29 other teams.
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