The mighty has fallen. It may not be as depressing as the fact that the house you bought for $300,000 dollars two years ago might sell for $225,000 today, but in fantasy circles the loss was just as severe. Stephen Strasburg suffered a substantially torn ulnar collateral ligament, and what that means is that there is an exceedingly high probability that he will undergo Tommy John surgery. I already wrote about the ramifications of this situation in Five Questions: Is Strasburg Finished?, but I wanted to expand on something I only briefly mentioned in that piece – and that is the way that organizations baby their pitchers. Is there any benefit to this recent practice?
It has become a comical situation really. Teams are so worried about protecting their investments that they treat them as if they were made out of paper mache. In fact, the level of injury in today’s pitcher seems to be much higher than it was in years past despite the advent of advanced physical training and medical proficiency. How is it that guys who are bigger, stronger, more reliably trained, and more closely watched than ever before break down more quickly than at any point in the past? I just don’t get it.
In the case of the Nationals, the team counted everything Strasburg did with the attention of an auditor from the government who is trying to extract every penny from your wallet. They never let him toss more than 99 pitches in a big league game, and only twice was he allowed to log even seven innings in an outing. A lot of good that all that monitoring did for Mr. Strasburg.
At the other end of the spectrum we have his teammate, Livan Hernandez, who has never missed a buffet in his life – yet he continues to roll on basically injury free. Listed as 35 years old, he might actually be 40 for all we know, Livan continues to rack up innings year after year, and he’s now 11 innings from 13th straight season of at least 180-innings. Is Livan simply gifted with a “rubber” arm? Was he genetically predisposed to never have a serious arm problem? Has he avoided injury because his career average for a fastball is a mere 85 mph? I mean after all, Strasburg’s average change-up this season was 89.7 mph.
I have no idea what the answers are to these questions. All I know is that time after time we are smacked in the face by the fact that even though we think we have it figured out, we actually have no clue.
Strasburg had his innings pitched totals limited – almost obnoxiously so. Strasburg had hid pitch total managed fastidiously as well. Yet here we are with a torn tendon and the inevitable surgery.
Perhaps the truth is that human beings simply aren’t meant to throw a baseball over an over again at such speeds. There were hurlers in the past who could rush it up there in the high 90′s, guys like Walter Johnson, Bob Feller, Nolan Ryan and J.R. Richard obviously come to mind, but there is no disputing the fact that today there are more pitchers than ever capable of tossing the old ball at speeds in excess of 95 mph. As training methods have improved, pitchers are able to get more out of their body than ever before, but perhaps we’ve gotten to the point that we have taxed the human body so excessively that sooner or later, like a taught rubber band, there will be an inevitable snap back.
If you ask me here is the simply truth – each man has a certain amount of bullets in his gun. It doesn’t matter if he stands 5’11″ or 6’6″, it doesn’t matter if he weighs 165 or 250 lbs, and it doesn’t matter if he throws 87 or 97 mph. Sooner or later everyone’s arm goes, and for every Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine we have a Francisco Liriano, Stephen Strasburg, Chris Carpenter, Brian Wilson, Joakim Soria etcetera, etcetera. The real issue here isn’t training methods or velocity as much as it should be a realization that sooner or later all pitchers have to pay the price for the fame and fortune they attain.
By Ray Flowers