Aug 28, 2013, 8:57 AM EDT
Every time a promising young pitcher goes down with a serious injury some old timer comes out of the woodwork and says that the injury proves that guys are being coddled, that pitch counts are the devil’s work and if we went back to four-man rotations, 300+ innings pitched a year and real stirrups and wool uniforms everything would be OK. They did it with Strasburg. They’re doing it now with Harvey.
… pitchers used to throw forever. I’m talking about in the Major Leagues, in the Minor Leagues, in Little Leagues and in sandlot leagues. And let’s get that ridiculous example out of the way in Walter Johnson. After he made his Major League debut in 1903, he pitched 200 innings or more 18 times in 21 years. He even went nine straight seasons throwing 300 innings or more. Two-hundred innings once was the standard for starting pitchers during a given season. Now, not so much … how are these pitch counts working overall these days when it comes to keeping guys in the lineup? Ask Harvey.
All of these things follow the same pattern: they note recently diagnosed injuries, ignore injured pitchers of the past and use massive exceptions to the rule in the form of Hall of Fame-level superstars when it comes to trotting out examples.
Walter Johnson and Nolan Ryan are freaks in the best sense of the word. They were hard throwers who never broke down and pitched forever and ever. That’s why they are, quite literally, exceptional. As in: they are exceptions to the rule which posits that pitchers get hurt. Why does Terrence Moore write garbage when William Shakespeare did not? Why are writers these days not all like Shakespeare? See how that works?
Even more significantly, Moore and his old school brethren fail to recognize that, these days, pitcher injuries are diagnosed whereas, in the past, they rarely were. Guys who pitched all the way up until the 1970s were fine and then they “just lost it” or “their arm gave out.” They continued pitching as junkballers and knuckleballers or they were relegated to one of the hundreds upon hundreds of minor league teams, affiliated or not, and just gutted things out all the while never having a good answer to the question “what happened, Smokey? You used to zip it in there?” How many of them tore UCLs or rotator cuffs or capsules or what have you? Tons, I’m sure. It’s not like someone invented the UCL in 1978. We just couldn’t diagnose those injuries.
Finally Moore and his ilk fail to recognize that guys throw much harder today with much more violence done to the arm and shoulder. Nasty hard sliders and split-finger pitches and cutters and what have you, with overall velocity — like all measurable athletic acts — improving and increasing as time goes on. How many third and fourth starters in the 1940s hit 93 on the gun? How many threw ungodly breaking stuff? That’s the threshold for even making it to the bigs these days and as such way more guys are doing way more violent things to their arms.
I don’t know if pitchers should throw more between starts. Or if we’re too soft with some guys who are mechanically sound and suffer no ill effects. Or if pitch counts matter less than innings or matter more. Like I said the other day, I don’t think we know much more about how to save a pitcher these days than we ever have and some are gonna get hurt no matter what we do.
But I do know that Moore and the old folks who think like him are just guessing here when they say pitchers should be treated like Mickey Lolich was treated in the 70s, and they’re guessing while being willfully blind to the differences in the game of old vs. the game today.
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