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Leo Mazzone calls Strasburg shutdown “pathetic,” forgets what happened to Steve Avery

Aug 16, 2012, 2:02 PM EDT

leo mazzone braves phone

I’ve mentioned several times that I don’t like the impending Stephen Strasburg shutdown. I think that the Nationals, especially after they realized they had a playoff contender on their hands, needed to manage his workload in such a way that he could pitch into the postseason.

That said, one cannot be blind to pitcher injuries and workload in making the pitch Strasburg case. And one guy who appears to be really, really blind to it is former Braves and Orioles pitching coach Leo Mazzone.

Mazzone was on the radio in San Francisco yesterday, and he told a story about how back in the Braves glory years, his young pitchers used to carry a big load.  Like Steve Avery for instance:

Let me tell you something we had pitchers when they were young in 1991 okay…Steve Avery and John Smoltz and Pete Smith and Tom Glavine were all kids. They took us to the 7th game of the World Series and they all had great careers ... I remember in 1993 when we trying to catch the Giants and we were out in San Francisco and we were 7 and half games out or 8…whatever it was in late July. We are trying to catch him and Steve Avery who was 22 years old at the time already was an MVP of the NLCS and said, ‘Leo we got them now.’ I said, ‘Oh I am glad you said we got them now. Last I looked we were about 7 or 8 out.’  He said, ‘No. John Burkett and Bill Swift are talking about how they pitched 150 innings and they might be getting a little tired. We don’t get going until we got to 150.’ ”

Steve Avery pitched 223 innings that year, which was his age 23 season. The year before he pitched 233. When he was 21 he pitched 210. In the minors and majors in the two years before that he pitched 170 or so each season. On top of that, as Mazzone noted, he pitched a lot in the postseason: 29 innings in 1991, 20 innings in 1992 and 13 in 1993.

And at the end of that 1993 season he got injured and was never truly healthy or durable again.

I don’t think Strasburg is on the Steve Avery path. The Nationals have been careful with him and, even if you disagree with the strategy they’re employing now, they are trying to continue to be careful with him.  But man, if you’re going to go after what they’re doing, you probably shouldn’t be bringing up Steve freakin’ Avery as your go-to example.

  1. willclarkgameface - Aug 16, 2012 at 2:10 PM

    Come on. Steve Avery was lights out until they let him go to the Red Sox. He was a GOOD pitcher on an AMAZING staff.

    I remember that 1993 season. That Giants team was the biggest, most catastrophic collapse in my lifetime. They were up by just about 10 at the beginning of August and by the time I started 9th grade that fall the Braves had just about eclipsed them, sending them home in a matter of weeks with 103 wins.

    Mazzone is right. What the Nationals are doing with Strasburg is pathetic. Look at what the Yankees did with Joba and where is he now? He sucks. I say let the guy pitch a SMART, well-thought out regimen of throwing days and starts and win the damn NL pennant already.

    I still don’t think they are going to let him sit when they get to the postseason. They are just trying to psych everyone out. It’s working.

    • yahmule - Aug 16, 2012 at 2:48 PM

      Again with the Joba red herring. It wasn’t that the Yankees limited his innings, it was the stupid way they went about doing it. Joba’s less than stellar approach to conditioning was another factor in his failure to reach his potential.

      • natslady - Aug 16, 2012 at 3:23 PM

        I’m foggy on the Joba thing, but didn’t they yank him back and forth between starting and the bullpen–exactly the sort of thing some people are recommending for Stras? (“Why not save innings by making Stras the closer?” Um, maybe because short-relief is more stressful on a guy’s arm than starting. Power relievers flame out all the time. Plus we would miss his bat.)

      • yahmule - Aug 16, 2012 at 4:57 PM

        Natlady, as I remember it, the Yankees decided to start the year with Joba in the bullpen – but he was forbidden to pitch consecutive days – then they were going to move him into the rotation. He wasn’t really on board with that and fan and media pressure caused them to move him into the rotation early in the season, but they waited just long enough that he really wasn’t properly stretched out for starting. He had an inning limit, but wasn’t efficient enough to pitch deep into games anyway. Then they really got weird with it. They announced they would skip him in the rotation periodically and even started pulling him during the third inning of some starts. As it turned out, not even the Yankees had a good handle on what they meant by the Joba Rules.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Aug 16, 2012 at 5:19 PM

        Holy crap, here we go again.

        Chamberlain, starter in college, starter in the minors. He was approaching his innings limit AND the Yanks had a desperate need for a bullpen arm. So they brought him up in the bullpen. The restrictions placed on him by Brian Cashman were due to Joe Torre’s terrible bullpen management (mainly) and an attempt to keep his innings down (minutely). This was ’07.

        In ’08, they started him off in the bullpen, but the goal was always to get him back as a starter. He actually was performing very well through 11 starts (1 abbreviated as he had to get his pitch limit up), 60IP thru 11, 2.23 ERA with a 69/23 K/BB ratio, then he hurt his shoulder. He finished off the rest of the season in the bullpen.

        In ’09 he was a starter the entire year, and did very well for a young pitcher until he hit his innings high. Note, through 110 innings pitched, he had a 3.58 ERA, with a 97/50 K/BB ratio. He ended the year with a mid 4s, but still good for a 23 year old in the AL E.

        However, he was sand bagged in the “competition” between him and Hughes (even though their numbers were almost identical through the same amount of starts). The Yanks are convinced his shoulder won’t hold up, which is why he’s a reliever.

        So please, stop bringing up this crap about the Yanks screwing him up, making him a starter, etc…

    • giselleisasucubus - Aug 16, 2012 at 3:15 PM

      Willclark, with that name I figured you might know the history of that 93 season a little better. The Giants didnt collapse. They were 103-59. The Braves went nuts, give them some credit. The Giants of 1993 were the main reason the wild card was added to the game. Collapse. I wish the Red Sox would “collapse” and get over 100 wins.

    • bigleagues - Aug 16, 2012 at 3:49 PM

      Hmmmm . . . why am I skeptical on the notion that it’s Mike Rizzo actually driving the Strasburg Innings limit . . . hmmmm . . . ahhhh, yes! This is why . . .

    • skids003 - Aug 16, 2012 at 4:57 PM

      willclark, I agree. I think Mazzone’s credentials are a little better than Craig’s.

      • kindasporty - Aug 16, 2012 at 6:32 PM

        I would love to see some kind of statistical analysis on this. I’m not sure how you’d quantify it, but maybe look at major injury rates of pitchers that Leo Mazzone coached and made a certain amount of starts at a young age vs the league average of pitchers who meet the same criteria. It seems like nobody actually has statistics on this stuff. Everybody just gives their opinions and then goes off about how dumb everyone else is.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Aug 16, 2012 at 6:45 PM

        I would love to see some kind of statistical analysis on this.

        Two giant problems with this, so if you ever see it done you should essentially throw the results out the window. First, there’s a sample size issue. For every Ryan, Carlton or Maddux, you can refute with a Gooden, Valenzuela and McClain. There haven’t been enough people on both sides to make any definitive statements.

        The second is a causation vs correlation issue. Since we can’t definitively prove that doing X (pitch a ton of innings) or Y (pitch limits when they are young) will prevent Z (injury), how do we know which is the correct way? Strasburg was on a strict limit, and he blew out his elbow. CC Sabathia has made 28 or more starts every year since he was brought up in ’01, and he could blow his elbow out tomorrow.

  2. voteforno6 - Aug 16, 2012 at 2:12 PM

    Scott Boras had some interesting comments about this today…I think he was prompted by what Leo Mazzone said about Steve Avery.

    • natslady - Aug 16, 2012 at 3:04 PM

      Craig, I hope you read the article I sent you from WaPo about the rehab/recovery for TJ being two years. Really had to tread into this yet again. (Sigh).

      (1) I don’t think Stras should pitch in the postseason because you are now chopping a month off his offseason rest/recovery. Do you start him a month late next season and lessen your chances when he is now, presumably, at full strength and health? Not only was JZ limited to 160 innings, he was limited to a 5 month season. He has thrived this year, and he himself points to the shutdown as part of the reason. Stras will have a 5.5 month season. It’s asking a lot for him to go 7 months–and that last month (October), might be, y’know, stressful. If you let him pitch in the postseason, you have to commit to a possible 230 innings, that’s 70 more than JZ pitched last season, plus it’s an extra 1.5 months.

      Or do you say, OK, we stop after the NLDS? After the NLCS? After Game 1? No, with a guy like Stras, it’s better to say, you are still rehabbing, we are sorry, but that’s the programme.

      (2) At what point was this supposed “management” supposed to begin? In spring training, when Davey said you could fire him if the Nats didn’t win the division? In April after the 14-4 start? And where are a lot of the other teams with fast April starts now?

      Stras pitched well, and helped us get to this position. Tinkering with his routine might mean he doesn’t pitch as well, and the Nats are struggling for a wild card instead of in the catbird seat for the division. The games in May count just as much as the games in September. Doesn’t seem like it, but they do.

      Davey already pretty much limits Stras to 6 inning starts. He shifted the rotation after the ASG, and may shift it again (though for other reasons), but there’s a limit to what you can do by fiddling with off-days, etc. It’s one thing for a pitcher to get and extra day or two of rest, but when you skip starts, now you are talking 8 or 9 days of rest–really getting the guy out of his routine. You also affect the other pitchers in the rotation. He’s tinkered about as much as he can to get Stras into September, whereas JZ was stopped at the end of August.

      You can’t say, take him out after 4 innings–then he’s not a starting pitcher, stretched out. People are using the innings as if they were some sort of magic formula, when, really, it’s more about the number of starts (and pitches) than the number of innings. That’s why Rizzo doesn’t give an exact number. In a start, a pitcher does more than pitch, he also fields, and in the NL, hits and runs (the former of which Stras does quite well, thankyouverymuch). So to say, ok, adjust his throwing program ignores the fact that bullpen session are not baseball games.

      In Nats Town we went around and around on all these “solutions” for months, and nothing really works. You can’t assume that you can shift Strasburg’s productivity from April to October, because what you may lose in April may mean you are not a contender in September.

      • Chris Fiorentino - Aug 16, 2012 at 9:42 PM

        I’m curious as to what you think about what Orel Hersheiser said. Basically he said that if Strasburg had hurt his hamstring in June, they would have shut him down for a month or more, then had him for more innings in the playoffs. So why didn’t they just shut him down anyway? Pitchers hurt other parts of their bodies all the time and miss time and come back fine. They could have figured out in June that they have a great shot at the playoffs and shut him down for 5 or 6 starts then. Maybe he would have made it into the playoffs. Like Orel said…had he hurt his hamstring or foot, they would have put him on the DL for a month or more and his innings would be lowered.

      • natslady - Aug 16, 2012 at 10:23 PM

        Well, that was discussed also, believe me… The problem is, what if you do that (for let’s say, mid-June to the All-Star Break) and he comes back and actually pulls a hamstring? Then you’ve lost not one but two months of his pitching. So yes, if you could read into the future, then you might do that, although as Rizzo says, a shutdown/rampup program is not the best program to develop him for the rigors of next season. And in the spring, we had other problems, the back of our rotation was not stable. Having Stras early in the season helped a lot.

        You could conceivably start his season two months late (also discussed, but in hindsight). However, if you don’t make it to October, then he pitches only a 4 month season, which is not desirable for 2013.

        It did occur to me, however, to wonder why teams don’t stagger the starting months of their staffs, especially young staffs, bringing in a fresh arm for the second half of the season. We did that, in essence, with Lannan in triple-A. It wasn’t necessary (he has pitched only in two double-headers, so far) but if one of our starters had a “dead arm” we had an adequate No. 5 available without a trade.

        Also, looking at the stats for the last three months, Stras (by ERA) has been our 5th best starter, and the team actually has a better pct of W/L in games started by the rest of the rotation.

  3. xmatt0926x - Aug 16, 2012 at 2:14 PM

    The problem is that maybe Steve Avery would have been injured even if his workload was less. Who knows? How many pitchers in that era or any other had a workhorse load year in and year out and never had any issues? If the Nationals are going to be in the playoffs consistently for the next 5 or 6 years like they hope then all of their top starters will be racking up 230+ innings every season. is protecting Strasburg from that extra 40 innings or so this season alone going to make all the difference as far as injuries for the next 5 years when you can’t sit him down?

    • The Dangerous Mabry - Aug 16, 2012 at 2:38 PM

      Be that as it may, he’s certainly not an example to use if you’re trying to say that pitchers can throw tons of innings at a young age and never get hurt.

    • kindasporty - Aug 16, 2012 at 6:34 PM

      I agree with the first part, but as far as pitching 40 innings less, that is a good month and a half of rest. That can certainly make a difference when it comes to injuries.

  4. GoneYickitty - Aug 16, 2012 at 2:17 PM

    Maybe my memory is clouded, but I don’t remember Avery playing out exactly the way you describe. I do know that Atlanta in general had a ton of healthy pitchers who threw more than anyone else. And I’m not just talking about pitch counts; I’m referring to all the throwing between games as well.

    • JB (the original) - Aug 16, 2012 at 2:27 PM

      If by “throwing between games” you mean, “played a lot of golf”, I agree…..

      • giselleisasucubus - Aug 16, 2012 at 5:05 PM

        No, it is actually documented that Mazzone had starters throw on off days. They pitched, took a day, threw days 2 & 3, rested day 4 and then took their start. Avery was the only one who go hurt.

        I am sure they got in plenty of golf on days 2 and 4 though :)

      • professormaddog31 - Aug 17, 2012 at 1:05 PM

        If I remember correctly the only days they didn’t have a golf outing was the day they started and travel days. Otherwise, all golf all the time.

    • allzeroes - Aug 16, 2012 at 6:42 PM

      He isn’t one of the all-time greats, but he was pretty good from ’91-’93.

  5. vcupats - Aug 16, 2012 at 2:25 PM

    I hope I’m reading about all these critics as the Nationals are starting to parade through DC.

  6. heyyoujustdontknowdamone - Aug 16, 2012 at 2:32 PM

    What’s pathetic is that apparently ol’ Leo was napping when Strasburg blew out his f—ing elbow, had Tommy John surgery and rehabbed for 9 mos., i.e. the only reason we are having the Strasburg innings limit conversation. Avery didn’t break down until after Leo and Bobby Cox rode him like a pack mule into perennial Oct. failure.

  7. tomtravis76 - Aug 16, 2012 at 2:50 PM

    As Rizzo said on WJFK, yesterday, he is not a doctor, he is following the plan that has been laid out by the doctors who performed the surgery.

    Cal Ripken played in one WS in his first full season in the majors, he never went back, he showed up to work everyday. You just never know when your window of opportunity will close. You might think the Nats are built for year after year success, but sometimes magic only happens once in a career.

    • kinggw - Aug 16, 2012 at 10:14 PM

      Thats a poor example. The 83 Orioles were a veteran led team. The nucleus of the Nats is relatively young. They only have two starters over 30 (Morse and LaRoche) and all of their starting rotation are 28 or younger. They ARE built for long term success.

      Whats going on with the Nats isnt magic. They are jus a bit ahead of schedule. I would share your point of view on the Nats situation if they were like the 98 Padres, but they are not. The Phillies have proven if you build it the right way you can have a 5-6 year window to compete and I think thats what the Nats are embarking on now.

  8. kkolchak - Aug 16, 2012 at 2:55 PM

    How about a little more scrutiny for MLB’s “leadership” that keeps expanding the playoffs, and therefore the innings load of the best pitchers on playoff teams? If we accept that increased innings loads increase the risk of injury, then Bud Selig and the other supposed stewards of the sport are placing the health of their most important players at risk for a marginal increase in revenues.

    There’s a big difference between the old 5-game LCS, 7-game WS we used to have and the current 1-game WC play in, 5 game WC round, 7-game LCS, 7-game WS we currently have. Under the old format, an ace might pitch 5 extra games, longest case scenario, whereas now he might potentially pitch as many as 9 extra games.

    Even had the Nats tried to really conserve Strasburg’s innings, it would have been difficult to come up with the 54 innings minimum needed to cover that longest case scenario without significantly impacting the regular season.

    • natslady - Aug 16, 2012 at 3:09 PM

      See above, KK. Same thought, only I related it to Stras.

  9. giselleisasucubus - Aug 16, 2012 at 3:19 PM

    Did anyone actually think about those crazy innings that Avery was throwing? Strasburg will stay below 200 even if he pitches the playoffs. Avery threw over 215 at 21,22 and 23. That doesn’t happen anymore, at least as much as it used to.

    • kkolchak - Aug 16, 2012 at 3:39 PM

      Which, by implication, means that there is in fact a sound basis for limiting Strasburg’s innings. Why don’t they let 21-year olds throw 215+ innings any more? Why do they have pitch counts these days? Why aren’t even older pitchers allowed to throw 250+ innings anymore? Why doesn’t any team use a four man rotation when most fifth starters suck?

      The Nats are just taking the next logical step in what has been a slow evolutionary process.

  10. wethog66 - Aug 16, 2012 at 3:36 PM

    It is hilarious to read all these reporters and talking head “experts” comment about what a huge mistake the Nats are making by actually taking car of, and showing concern for, the long term future of one of their biggest investments. While in the world of the NFL one of the big topics for reporters and talking head “experts” is all the former players suing the NFL because the NFL didn’t warn the players about the affects of concussions back in the day.

    So we have the National Media, for the most part, railing against the evil NFL that didn’t protect its players from serious injury, but that same National Media, for the most part, railing on about what a big mistake the Nats are making by not running out their 24 year old ace pitcher who is coming off TJ surgery.

    Whatever sells papers, I mean creates web hits I guess. Ah the hipocracy.

    • wethog66 - Aug 16, 2012 at 3:40 PM

      Also, Mazzone was on Mike and Mike yesterday morning shilling out his “Pathetic” comments as well. Guess he is making the rounds to whomever will listen. Maybe he has an ulterior motive? lol

  11. drummerdave20 - Aug 16, 2012 at 3:50 PM

    you’re fucking stupid. you have a chance to parade this season. I’m a die hard phillies fan. and I’m saying this. pitch the kid. we would never shut down hamels or Halladay or anyone in the playoffs. window of opportunity is small because remember, the phillies WILL be back next season after acquiring a big name outfielder and 3rd baseman. we lost hunter pence joe Blanton and victorino and we re like 5 games over .500 since the trade deadline. that just shows how deadly we are with Howard and utley back. imagine if we had the other pieces and Howard and utley all season long. not to mention chooch is hurt. like I said. we ll be there next season. and I’m sure Florida will too. so pitch the kid n will now!

    • vcupats - Aug 16, 2012 at 4:06 PM

      This won’t hurt the Nats as much as everyone thinks. We have the best staff in baseball. So instead of using a 4-man playoff rotation of starters 1-4, we’re using starters 2-5. Ever since Detwiler (#5) regained his form we have had no weak links in the rotation.

      • recoveringcubsfan - Aug 16, 2012 at 4:13 PM

        Also, vcupats: lineup. Lombardozzi, Harper, Zimmerman, LaRoche, Morse, Espinosa, Werth, Suzuki. Pretty big reason they could conceivably beat anybody this postseason. The middle of the order is as good as any going right now.

    • recoveringcubsfan - Aug 16, 2012 at 4:10 PM

      Florida is a mess, my man, so nobody can say what they will do next year. Isn’t JJ due for more surgeries? Can Reyes hit in all 9 spots? Logan Morrison is getting a full leg transplant this time, I hear. I feel for you Phillies Phreaks, because your team is busted and old, so you have only memories now. I’m not trying to be mean, but you should really go look at your roster and then tell DC who you have that’s younger or better than the Nats player at a given position. Ruiz, if he was healthy. But that’s about it.

      But I digress – nobody has said it yet, but the real crux of the Mazzone issue is: was he oscillating like an unheld orphan the whole time, or what? I can’t believe the Orioles let him go before he fixed their pitching staff. He was going to be their savior or something.

    • madhatternalice - Aug 16, 2012 at 4:29 PM

      And another Phillies threadjack. Honestly, can we go with one NL East story that doesn’t have some Phillies homer try and take over the comments?

      Sure, you’d like the Nats to pitch Stras for the rest of the season: that way, he blows his elbow out and doesn’t continue to terrorize Phillies hitting for the next decade.

      Sorry, pal. Not buying the Kool-Aid you’re selling.

    • cratsbats - Aug 16, 2012 at 4:45 PM

      Wow, 5 games over .500. I’m quivering from fear.

  12. heelbostonfan - Aug 16, 2012 at 5:03 PM

    It’s a total disgrace what the Nats are doing. They are literally passing up a chance to win the World Series. They are more or less telling Strasburg, “Hey thanks for your contributions to a potential World Series team. We know we wouldn’t be here without you given that you could be a Cy Young candidate and all, but thanks for nothing.” Serious question: Is Pete Rose calling the shots for the Nats?

    This is not Little League. This is not the bush leagues. This a pennant race in the BIG leagues.

    Guys aren’t getting hurt because of their workloads. It mostly has to do with what pitches these guys are throwing. The splitter was originally intended to be an easy-grip changeup. Instead, guys are jamming the ball as far as they can in between their fingers which puts huge stress on the elbow. They put further stress on their elbows by throwing sliders that start way inside and end up outside. Jeez Kerry Wood had a slider that almost started behind hitters and broke way outside. In related news, Wood was never healthy after his 20 K game.

    Strasburg throws a big slider. Limiting his innings doesn’t change the fact that it’s his pitches and not his workload that led to his Tommy John surgery. Maybe you limit his innings down the stretch so that he’s fresh for the playoffs. If I’m Strasburg, I’m counting down the days to when I can leave skid marks on my way out of town.

    • voteforno6 - Aug 16, 2012 at 5:53 PM

      What evidence do you have that pitchers are getting hurt because of the pitches that they throw? It would be very helpful if you could forward that to MLB, as I’m sure that they would greatly appreciate your help. Also, you seem to imply that the Nationals have no chance of winning the World Series, once they shut down Strasburg. Don’t they have any other players on the roster?

    • natslady - Aug 16, 2012 at 7:08 PM

      I’m confused by this. Are you recommending that Stras pitch and not use the slider, so he pitches but doesn’t pitch effectively? How does that help the Nationals’ cause?

  13. harjack - Aug 16, 2012 at 5:20 PM

    I think it’s a good thing the Braves got as much out of Avery as they could before he blew his arm out !

  14. Joe - Aug 16, 2012 at 6:37 PM

    It’s interesting that there’s all this talk about Steve Avery, but nobody has picked up on the fact that Mazzone also mentioned Pete Smith. Smith was hurt and ineffective pretty much every season after he was 22. Nats fans would hate it if Strasburg turned into Steve Avery, but they’d be livid if he turned into Pete Smith.

    Smoltz had some arm troubles for awhile too, IIRC. That might cost him the Hall of Fame.

    • professormaddog31 - Aug 17, 2012 at 12:56 PM

      Smoltz’s arm was an elbow problem for the longest time. It was a bone chip graveyard. From what I read he would have had issues with the elbow no matter where he played.

  15. sfs1 - Aug 16, 2012 at 6:55 PM

    John Clay of the Lexington Herald Leader (who rarely comments on baseball outside of some occasional Reds talk, he’s the UK beat writer) called him “crusty Leo Mazzone.”

  16. dannythebisforbeast - Aug 16, 2012 at 8:29 PM

    Not in it to win it!!

  17. frenchy121212 - Aug 16, 2012 at 10:21 PM

    Boras’ point was dumb. He’s saying a young pitcher pitching too many innings before age 23 doesn’t work. He’s trying to protect a guy who was hurt before hethrew a large amount of innings. Pitching injuires are dumb luck. Nothing else. For pitcher Boras names someone else could name a guy on the other side of the argument. Boras would run out of pitchers first.

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