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Before blowing out his elbow Kerry Wood threw a ton of pitches as a 21-year-old rookie

May 18, 2012, 1:20 PM EDT

kerry wood and mark prior

People have been writing about Kerry Wood‘s rookie pitch counts for more than a decade now, so I’m not exactly breaking new ground here, but now that he’s retiring it’s worth noting again just how hard the Cubs and then-manager Jim Riggleman worked their 21-year-old phenom in 1998.

Wood made a total of 26 starts as a rookie and topped 100 pitches in 21 of them, including the following pitch counts: 133, 129, 128, 123, 123, 122, 122, 121, 118, 118, 117, 116, 115.


I can’t even imagine a 21-year-old stud prospect being allowed to come anywhere near that workload now and yet Wood did it just 14 seasons ago. He then blew out his elbow, missed the entire next season, and didn’t start a game after age 29.

Wood had a helluva career, but I’d love to go back in time and tell Riggleman to loosen the reins a bit just to see what could have been.

  1. fellspointbird - May 18, 2012 at 1:27 PM

    Wood/Prior… man they were good

    • StottsEra - May 18, 2012 at 1:50 PM

      not as good as mussina/mcdonald

  2. Mike Luna - May 18, 2012 at 1:28 PM

    He may have thrown a ton of pitches as a rookie, but Stephen Strasburg was on a pitch count and only threw 68 major league innings before he got hurt.

    Wood may have gotten injured regardless of how many pitches he threw.

    That being said, you probably shouldn’t ride a 21-year-old like he’s Verlander. We know Verlander can handle it, but not everyone can.

    • juanquixote - May 18, 2012 at 3:38 PM

      I don’t think comparing Strasburg and Wood at this point can be done. One could argue that throwing as hard as they do with the sick stuff they possess[ed] (Wood with his slider and Strasburg with that ridiculous curveball) their elbows were destined to explode regardless of workload. A better comparison can be made 5-15 years from now when Strasburg’s career is over, then we can decide if Rizzo’s careful grooming of Strasburg’s pitch counts and innings is able to keep him in the rotation and off the DL.

      Either way, the method of handling pitchers is in dire need of fixing.

      • Mike Luna - May 18, 2012 at 7:44 PM

        I was just making the point about Strasburg now vs. Wood back then. They rode Wood really, really hard, but he might have gotten hurt anyway. I don’t think anyone really knows how to keep pitchers healthy, especially those people that claim they have the answer.

        Way back when Nolan Ryan probably threw 300+ pitches in more than a few starts. The dude was a freak, but we only know this in retrospect.

        The same can be said about Verlander. He can pitch and pitch and pitch and pitch. He is something of a freak and has yet to break down. At the end of the day it’s just sort of a crap shoot.

        No matter how careful you are, guys can get hurt. That isn’t to say you should send your young hurlers out there to throw 200 pitches every 5 days until they break down, but the breakdown may be inevitable for some.

  3. ajcardsfan - May 18, 2012 at 1:30 PM

    Add that on top of the pitch counts that he apparently had in HS and it’s no wonder he deteriorated so quickly, such a shame. Somebody go jump Marty McFly when he appears in 3 years, and take that time machine back to 1993 or so and tell his HS coach to not over work him and then ditto to Riggleman

    • mattmgrace - May 18, 2012 at 1:40 PM

      There are reports that he once threw 177 pitches in one day. 145 in game one, then rested 30 minutes before throwing 32 pitches in game two. This as an 18 year-old kid who was just drafted 4th overall.

      • adenzeno - May 18, 2012 at 8:13 PM

        THIS is a fact- I was there as we might have played the winnner in they State Tournament- It was against Round Rock in the Regional Finals- I still have the charts from the game. Grand Prarie(Wood’s team) finished game 2 with the kid who started the Friday night game and lost in a CG. A LHP named Walker(Kevin I think).

  4. yahmule - May 18, 2012 at 1:32 PM

    I really enjoyed seeing Riggleman overplay his hand and fire himself last year.

  5. hermitfool - May 18, 2012 at 1:47 PM

    Wood’s mechanics were dreadful. The anti-Tom Seaver.

    • mattraw - May 18, 2012 at 1:59 PM

      With the caveat that I’m not a doctor (and when has that stopped anyone from speculating on pitchers), I will say I found it amusing, while watching highlights of the 20K game today, to hear the announcers talking about his “smooth, effortless delivery.” Even at the time I think you could watch the break on some of those sliders and just know if couldn’t have been good for his elbow. Then again, if you ascribe to the belief that it’s better to burn out than to fade away, that game was one hell of a flameout.

  6. brewcrewfan54 - May 18, 2012 at 2:09 PM

    Is there direct links to high pitch counts and Tommy John surgery? Do guys who throw as hard as Wood once did become more susceptible? Without doing the work for myself I don’t know that there’s any absolute proof of any reason when a pitcher ends up with the procedure.

    • 1920gsh - May 18, 2012 at 3:03 PM

      Genetics, mechanics and pitch count all play a factor. We actually had this discussion at length during our Little League Coach’s safety meeting prior to our season start. We had orthopedic surgeon give an hour long dissertation… with the advent of year round travel ball, there has been an explosion of Tommy John surgeries, in all age ranges. They are now doing several on 12-14 year olds every year. Crazy.

      • brewcrewfan54 - May 18, 2012 at 3:11 PM

        That is crazy. And while I don’t coach little league I’m am a strong proponent of the only pitch that you teach kids before high school is a changeup. I doubt my line of thinking will ever catch on and kids are going to learn how on their own just like kids do with anything else you tell them not to do. Changeup though is a very safe,effective pitch that I don’t think is being taught enough to young pitchers.

      • willsolo - May 18, 2012 at 5:47 PM

        I have actually heard the opposite of the changeup. I heard that is one of the worst pitches to throw for a kid. I read an article on it but I can’t find it now.

      • brewcrewfan54 - May 18, 2012 at 6:15 PM

        Willsolo, I have heard the opposite but would like to see that article.

      • Tim's Neighbor - May 18, 2012 at 8:21 PM

        I was actually surprised to find out that a family friend’s 10 yr old had never had a coach tell him he was too young to throw a curve ball. Many leagues (rightfully) outlaw it until a certain age and now have pitch counts. The kid actually didn’t even know what a change-up was. This gave me a sad.

  7. yahmule - May 18, 2012 at 3:41 PM

    The spitter is also safe for youngsters. I leave it up to the individual to determine whether they believe it ethical to teach a 12 year old how to load one up.

  8. Walk - May 18, 2012 at 4:33 PM

    I have kids little league age so i get asked to coach a lot. I teach two pitches to them but i do show them several grips but only pitches i want to see in game is the four seamer and change. If it is necessary or one of the kids has trouble i work with them on grip to alter it some but mostly those two pitches are all that is needed. We only have around 40k people in our area and the little league coaches are overseen by the local high school coaches so it keeps everyone on the same page and when we hand the kids over in a couple year we can do so hopefully free of bad habit and healthy and ready to take on the work load for their age.

  9. jayquintana - May 18, 2012 at 5:22 PM

    Man, it’s such an inexact science. So, who knows why Wood got hurt. Imagine if Nolan Ryan was put on a “pitch count” — he’d have been taken out of the game 2 innings early every time he took the hill.

    • cleverbob - May 19, 2012 at 10:20 AM

      Until someone comes up with a formula to determine each individual player’s appropriate pitch count it will continue to be an inexact science, based on touchy-feely hunches or arbitrary round numbers.

  10. redneckrick - May 19, 2012 at 8:56 AM

    Long toss and strengthening of the deceleration muscles on the back of the shoulder are key

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