Dec 10, 2013, 2:20 PM EST
1. I honestly thought he retired five years ago.
2. Mark Prior is still only 33 years old.
The second of those bits is even more shocking than the first. He is STILL only 33? If Mark Prior had stayed healthy, he would only now be signing a seven-year, $190 million deal with the Mariners or somebody. Baseball can be an extremely cruel game.
Prior probably should have won the Cy Young Award in 2003, when he was just 22 years old. The award went to Eric Gagne because it was one of those periodic years when the voters fall in love with relief pitching all over again. Gagne had a superb year for a closer … but not markedly different from John Smoltz that same year, Trevor Hoffman in 1998 or Craig Kimbrel and Greg Holland this year. Prior pitched more than twice as many innings and was significantly more valuable.
Anyway, people had to figure Prior would win plenty of Cy Young Awards. Here are the greatest pitching performances since World War II for pitchers 22 or younger:
1. Dwight Gooden, 1985, 24-4, 1.53 ERA, league-leading 276 Ks.
2. Bert Blyleven, 1973, 20-17, 9 shutouts, 325 innings pitched.
3. Mark Fidrych, 1976, 19-9, league leading 2.34 ERA, 24 complete games.
4. Vida Blue, 1971, 24-8, league-leading 1.82 ERA, 301 strikeouts, Cy and MVP winner.
5. Larry Dierker, 1969, 20-13, 2.33 ERA, 305 innings, 20 complete games.
6. Sudden Sam McDowell, 1965, 17-11, league-leading 2.18 ERA, 325 strikeouts.
7. Mark Prior, 2003, 18-6, 2.43 ERA, 245 strikeouts.
8. Frank Tanana, 1975, 16-9, 2.62 ERA, league-leading 269 strikeouts.
9. Bret Saberhagen, 1985, 20-6, 2.87 ERA, Cy Young winner.
10. Frank Tanana, 1976, 19-10, 2.43 ERA, 261 strikeouts.
Of this list, only Blyleven went on to a Hall of Fame career. Tanana, who is on the list twice, blew out his arm and reinvented himself as a soft-tossing lefty. Dwight Gooden, Sam McDowell and Vida Blue all dealt with various demons and fell a few steps short of greatness. Larry Dierker had an up and down career, and Bret Saberhagen was alternately brilliant and injured.
Then, Mark Fidrych and Mark Prior belong to the same club, the heartbreak club. They each had one glorious year in the Major Leagues. Their bodies would not hold up for another. Fidrych felt his arm go dead in the middle of the next season. Prior had trouble with his achilles tendon the next year — people would always suspect it was his elbow and the Cubs just didn’t want to admit it. In 2005 he was pitching quite well and he got hit by a batted ball that smashed his elbow. In 2006 the Cubs announced that he had a “loose shoulder,” which does not seem like a medical term but Mark Prior was never even a decent Major League pitcher again.
Lots of people blame overwork for the fall of both Fidrych and Prior, and that does make some sense. Fidrych in particular was abused — from May 15 to August 29 that year he made 22 starts and pitched 198 innings. Quick math will tell you, he AVERAGED nine innings for those 22 starts. This is in part because he pitched 11 innings four times during the stretch and 10 innings once. It was pretty close to criminal.
Prior’s overuse was not nearly as pronounced, but people did notice even at the time that Dusty Baker was having Prior (and fellow phenom Kerry Wood) throw a lot of pitches. In September of 2003, during the pennant run, Prior threw 131, 129, 109, 124, 131 and 133 pitches in his six starts. It’s interesting: None of those were complete games. Even now, there is much disagreement about pitch counts and how best to protect young pitcher’s arms and so on. I guess the infuriating part with the Cubs was that there seemed no visible effort whatsoever to protect Prior’s arm. Maybe it wouldn’t have made any difference, but you sort of wished they would have at least made a show of it.
When Prior was young and right, he was all but unhittable. He had a fastball he could pump up into the high 90s and his better pitch was a curveball that was like setting the phaser to stun. His curve would just leave Major League hitters frozen — sometimes it seemed like they were still standing at the plate long after Prior had reached the dugout. He walked just 50 batters in his amazing season.
His effort to come back has been both touching and sad. Anyone can understand: He was destined to become one of the best pitchers in baseball history, and he had it taken away from him, and he had trouble accepting it. From Tennessee to Iowa, from Orange County to Oklahoma City, from Tampa to Scranton to Pawtucket to Louisville he chased ghosts, hoping against hope for some part of himself to return. I imagine that at times he snapped off the old curveball or fired a fastball that hopped a bit, and he found himself believing that he would come all the way back. Then there would be more pain.
The Chicago Tribune on Tuesday had a three paragraph note acknowledging Prior’s official retirement. The first few words were “Former Cubs Phenom Mark Prior.” And sadly, those are the last words too.
Mar 6, 2015, 11:43 PM EST
Cuban infielder Hector Olivera is free to sign with a team of his choosing now that he has been declared a free agent.
Mar 6, 2015, 11:05 PM EST
Jordan Zimmermann is well aware of the expectations the Nationals face going into the 2015 season.
Mar 6, 2015, 10:15 PM EST
Cole Hamels will be drawing plenty of eyeballs throughout the spring, as he remains a potential trade chip for the Phillies.
Mar 6, 2015, 9:25 PM EST
Daniel Murphy suffered a scare on Friday afternoon when he was hit on the hand with a pitch, but early results have been positive.
Mar 6, 2015, 8:35 PM EST
Friday was Matt Harvey Day in Port St. Lucie, as the right-hander returned to game action for the first time since he had Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.
Mar 6, 2015, 7:45 PM EST
The Astros didn’t like what they saw following Ryan Vogelsong’s medical examination, which is why they lowered their offer.
Mar 6, 2015, 6:55 PM EST
Gregor Blanco will probably get the lion’s share of the available playing time with Hunter Pence absent for six to eight weeks.
Mar 6, 2015, 6:05 PM EST
The Blue Jays have nothing to worry about with Jose Bautista, per manager John Gibbons.
Mar 6, 2015, 4:48 PM EST
Most of them don’t. But there are some predictive stats to be found in spring training games. If you know where to look.
Mar 6, 2015, 3:51 PM EST
The once top prospect hasn’t played in the bigs since 2012.
Mar 6, 2015, 3:15 PM EST
Kotchman was the Angels’ first-round pick in 2001 and played 10 seasons in the majors for seven different teams, most recently with the Marlins in 2013.
Mar 6, 2015, 2:40 PM EST
Beaned on Tuesday, plunked on Friday. Not the best week for Murph.
Mar 6, 2015, 2:20 PM EST
Beimel pitched well for the Mariners last season, throwing 45 innings with a 2.20 ERA.
Mar 6, 2015, 1:49 PM EST
Lucroy was initially given a 4-6 week recovery timetable on February 11, so he’s three-plus weeks in.
Mar 6, 2015, 1:19 PM EST
He faced six batters and retired them all. And he cranked it up to 99 m.p.h.
Mar 6, 2015, 12:39 PM EST
He’s been injured the last two seasons. He’s not starting 2015 out much better.
Mar 6, 2015, 11:31 AM EST
See, now that’s good sportsmanship in 2015!
Mar 6, 2015, 11:03 AM EST
The pitchers are starting to drop. Here’s hoping we don’t get a rash of these like we did last year.
Mar 6, 2015, 10:47 AM EST
Barry Zito took the mound Thursday for his first game action since 2013.
Mar 6, 2015, 10:30 AM EST
Reconnecting with old friends is always nice.
- MLB declares Hector Olivera a free agent 0
- Video: Watch Matt Harvey’s return to action against the Tigers 3
- Matt Harvey makes his return. And he was really impressive. 23
- Hector Olivera’s camp denies any damage to ulnar collateral ligament 3
- UPDATE: Hunter Pence out 6-8 weeks with fracture in left forearm 28
- MLBPA: leaks are from people “who want to see Josh Hamilton hurt personally and professionally” 36
- Suspending Josh Hamilton for a year would be obscene 147
- Report: MLB panel split on rehab for Josh Hamilton; one-year suspension is in play 45
- Daniel Murphy on Billy Bean: “I do disagree with the fact that Billy is a homosexual” (380)
- Suspending Josh Hamilton for a year would be obscene (147)
- Curt Schilling lowers the boom on some men tweeting threats against his daughter (137)
- That facts of Josh Hamilton’s case should not be a matter of public record (94)
- Billy Bean responds to Daniel Murphy’s comments (90)