Dusty Baker, pitch counts and pitcher injuries

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Jeff Fletcher at AOL takes a closer look at the conventional wisdom that Dusty Baker is the angel of death when it comes to young starting pitchers:

There is no way to prove conclusively why any pitcher gets injured, so
the claims of pitcher abuse by Baker will forever be just theories. It
is indisputable, though, that Baker has had his starting pitchers
consistently throw more pitches than the norm.

Pitchers on Baker’s teams have thrown more pitches per start than the
National League average for pitchers on other teams in 14 of his 16
seasons. The difference is just about five pitches per game over his
career, but he has had two years in which his pitchers threw at least
10 more pitches, on average, than the rest of the league. One of those
was 2003.

Fletcher is pretty thorough in his reporting here, providing all of the pro-Dusty and con-Dusty I can recall hearing over the past decade or so.  It’s definitely worth a click-though and a full read.

My view: Dusty catches a more flak than he probably deserves for the specific injuries that have occurred on his watch. Some have suggested that Mark Prior’s allegedly perfect mechanics were actually far from it and inevitably led to his injuries. As Fletcher notes, Kerry Wood had an injury history before Baker drove him hard, and simply watching the torque he put on the ball back in the day was enough to make your arm hurt.  Fletcher notes other examples of pitchers who suffered injures under Baker that likely had little to do with their pitch counts.

That said, the fact is that we simply don’t know enough about the link between pitch counts and injuries to where Dusty can be excused for the consistently and significantly higher pitch counts his pitchers are forced to endure. I can’t say that Dusty Baker killed Mark Prior’s career, but I can’t say he didn’t either, and there’s no evidence that Baker every gave much thought to the matter at the time.

If I’m running a team and I’m investing tens of millions of dollars in precious pitchers, that’s simply unacceptable to me. 

Brandon McCarthy wins final spot in Dodgers’ rotation

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We learned on Monday that Hyun-Jin Ryu won one of the final two spots in the Dodgers’ starting rotation. Brandon McCarthy has won the other, Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register reports. Alex Wood was McCarthy’s competitor for the spot.

McCarthy, 33, posted a 4.85 ERA across four appearances spanning 13 innings this spring, yielding seven earned runs on 14 hits and a walk with seven strikeouts. Wood, a southpaw, gave up five earned runs in six innings against the Reds on Tuesday, which might have factored into the decision.

Last season, McCarthy made nine starts and one relief appearance, posting a 4.95 ERA with a 44/26 K/BB ratio in 40 innings. In the event McCarthy falters, the club has Wood as well as Julio Urias and the injured Scott Kazmir as potential replacements.

Yankees re-sign Jon Niese to a minor league deal

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The Yankees have re-signed pitcher Jon Niese to a minor league contract, George A. King III of the New York Post reports. Niese was released on Sunday, but he’ll stick around and provide rotation depth for the Yankees.

Niese had knee surgery last August and got a late start to spring training as a result. In six spring appearances lasting an inning each, the lefty gave up three earned runs on five hits and a walk with five strikeouts.

Niese, a veteran of nine seasons, put up an aggregate 5.50 ERA with an 88/47 K/BB ratio in 121 innings last season between the Pirates and Mets.