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Must-Click Link: We’re still in the dark ages when it comes to preventing pitcher injuries

Mar 18, 2013, 11:33 AM EDT

Stephen Strasburg AP

When I was in Arizona I was party to a conversation with some people who are convinced, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Stephen Strasburg is going to get hurt again. It’s just his motion and genetics and stuff, you see, and no matter how cautious and well-intentioned the Nationals have been in bringing him back from Tommy John, he’s gonna have another visit to Dr. Andrews in his future.

I didn’t press, but I am certain if I did that, ultimately, the speakers would say that they have no actual basis for that. It’s, at best, an educated guess and a lot of gut feeling and if someone put a gun to their head they could not say for certain what his future holds. Or the future of any other pitcher for that matter.

Will Leitch has a big piece in the latest New York Magazine about pitcher injuries, and he concludes more or less the same thing. The upshot:

Ever since Moneyball, baseball has had just about everything figured it out. General managers know that on-base percentage is more important than batting average, that college players are more reliable draft targets than high-school players, that the sacrifice bunt is typically a waste of an out. The game has never been more closely studied or better understood. And yet, even now, no one seems to have a clue about how to keep pitchers from getting hurt.

It’s true. Despite everything we know and everything we do, we still don’t know which pitchers are gonna get injured, why and how to prevent it.

It’s good stuff to read and internalize for the next time someone claims that they have any kind of special knowledge about this stuff. About how so-and-so is being overworked or how whatshisname is going to be better off skipping starts or what have you. We simply don’t know. Some things make a good enough amount of sense that we should do them unless or until there is actual science telling us it’s a bad or useless move — like, say, not letting pitchers continue to throw when tired — but it may just be a genetic and mechanical crap shoot.

  1. beefytrout - Mar 18, 2013 at 11:46 AM

    We also have no quantifiable way to measure “grit.”

    • chacochicken - Mar 18, 2013 at 12:54 PM

      You measure it with either Imperial furlongs or with barleycorns and hogheads.

    • recoveringcubsfan - Mar 18, 2013 at 4:25 PM

      That’s not true. The Council of International Weights and Measures took stock of him and now the unit for Grit is technically known as an “Eckstein.”

  2. cur68 - Mar 18, 2013 at 11:54 AM

    Bullshit. Read the comments section on any post post about Dusty baker. There are dozens of people who are certain, CERTAIN, that no matter what, when a pitcher’s arm falls of, Dusty Did It.

    Somewhere, right now, a pitcher’s arm is in pain. The SECOND it’s reported here, if there’s even a sliver of a window to do so, Operation Blame Dusty Baker will stick its head up and tell us all FOR CERTAIN that Baker killed that arm. So don’t give me that “no one knows why arms fail” jive.

    The DustyH8rs know why.

    • alang3131982 - Mar 18, 2013 at 12:32 PM

      learn to take a joke?

      • cur68 - Mar 18, 2013 at 1:57 PM

        That “whoosh”? That’s the joke going over your head, al.

  3. Mark Armour - Mar 18, 2013 at 11:58 AM

    Great story by Leitch, and Craig is 100% correct about the topic. The Moneyball teams had a slight advantage for a few years until other teams got on board. The team that makes advances on injury prevention will have an enormous advantage.

  4. djpostl - Mar 18, 2013 at 11:59 AM

    You said at best it’s an educated guess.

    Of course it is.

    Because when it comes to the human body that is all we have, hence the second word in the phrase “medical practice”

  5. davidpom50 - Mar 18, 2013 at 12:04 PM

    There may not be a correct answer here. It’s possible that the human body just isn’t designed to fling a 5 oz sphere at up to 100 MPH, or with spin that makes it curve in ways that seem to defy the laws of physics.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Mar 18, 2013 at 12:27 PM

      It’s possible. There was a great article* a few years back in about Lincecum and his unique delivery. In it, they talk to a bunch of doctors about the perils of pitching, and the effect it has on the human body. Money quote:

      Throwing a baseball is an act of violence that has been graphically defined by Dr. James Andrews, Dr. Glenn Fleisig and the other doctors and clinicians at the American Sports Medicine Institute (ASMI) in Birmingham. From the loaded position, the shoulder, at its peak speed, rotates forward at 7,000 degrees per second. “That,” Fleisig says, “is the fastest measured human motion of any human activity.”

      While in the loaded position, the shoulder and elbow bear the equivalent of about 40 pounds of force pushing down. When the ASMI biomechanists wanted to know how much more force an arm could take, they brought cadavers into the lab and pulled and pushed upon the elbow joint to find the breaking point. The cadavers’s ligaments blew apart just after 40 pounds of force. “So a pitcher is just about at the maximum,” Fleisig says.

      From the loaded position, when the ball has come to a stop, it is accelerated from zero mph to 90 mph in 3/10 of a second. Rick Peterson, the former New York Mets pitching coach who has worked with ASMI since 1993 and is the acknowledged expert on pitching biomechanics among his peers, once referred to that measurement in a speech he gave to college coaches. A doctor of physics who was in the audience approached him after the talk.

      “Rick, do you know what that means in g-forces?” the doctor asked.

      “I have no idea.”

      “If your entire body was accelerated at that rate of speed for over 60 seconds you would die.”

      • wmg8383 - Mar 18, 2013 at 1:08 PM

        Good stuff, thanks for that link.

  6. Old Gator - Mar 18, 2013 at 12:08 PM

    I understand that bat is regaining the culinary esteem it lost at the end of the dark ages. Yuppies will eat anything.

    • unclemosesgreen - Mar 18, 2013 at 1:10 PM

      Mariano Rivera’s cutter has been eating bats by the dozens every year.

  7. dnc6 - Mar 18, 2013 at 12:22 PM

    “And yet, even now, no one seems to have a clue about how to keep pitchers from getting hurt.”

    I would disagree with this. Whatever Don Cooper and the White Sox are doing is pretty impressive to me. They’ve done a great job keeping their pitchers healthy.

    • shawndc04 - Mar 18, 2013 at 12:33 PM

      And, unfortunately for us Nationals’fans, Don thinks that Strasburg’s mechanics are bad and that he is an injury waiting to happen. (:^(

  8. paperlions - Mar 18, 2013 at 12:59 PM

    Nice article….though I disagree with the statement that pitchers now are getting hurt now compared to 1999 (as measured by days on the DL). What is more likely is that teams are more careful with pitchers now than they were then, and are being more proactive in prevention by putting guys on the DL rather than having them pitch through injuries or just giving them one turn off in the rotation. It is also possible that pitchers are now being more honest when they are hurt, resulting in more stints on the DL. The difference was “only” about 1800 days, about 60 days/team….a few cautionary DL assignments/team would explain the difference.

  9. ck101 - Mar 18, 2013 at 1:05 PM

    While I think you can expect over time to see some progress made on this front, the sad fact is that the progress will probably be marginal at best; many pitchers are going to get hurt, and many promising careers are going to be shortened, because the act of throwing a baseball overhand at 95 miles per hour is so unnatural and destructive to the arm and shoulder. Just as with football, there is really nothing you can do to eliminate injuries if the game is played in the manner to which we’ve become accustomed (at least in baseball it’s only arms and careers ruined, not lives as in football).

  10. rmcd13 - Mar 18, 2013 at 2:48 PM

    Throw underhand.

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