Are pitch counts and early shutdowns actually helping pitchers?

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The Nationals’ decision to shut down starter Stephen Strasburg after his September 7 start last year was controversial, starting a debate that wasn’t even close to settled as the 2013 regular season was under way. The Nationals won the NL East title last season and went into the NLDS against the Cardinals without Strasburg. The Nats were dispatched in five games, leading many to speculate that the organization was being too careful with their 23-year-old phenom, needlessly weakening the team in the franchise’s first playoff appearance since 1981.

This year, the Mets and Marlins took similar precautions with their young aces. The Mets vowed to shut down Matt Harvey early before he ended up suffering an injury, and Jose Fernandez recently made his final start of the year for the Marlins with a few weeks to spare.

As MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince points out, pitchers are still getting injured quite often despite these preventative measures. Castrovince spoke to a number of people about the issue of pitcher health, including Dr. Marcus Elliott, a physician who trained at Harvard. Elliott said, “I’m certain we’re going to look back on what we did here in 2012, 2013 and not too far into the future and think that it was really primitive.”

Elliott continued, saying, “There are reasons guys end up tearing their ulnar collateral ligament or end up with repetitive trauma to a rotator cuff. There are mechanical explanations for all these things. And we haven’t spent a whole lot of time trying to understand what those reasons are.”

Castrovince also highlighted Arizona State University associate head coach and recruiting coordinator Ken Knutson, citing Knutson’s rather impressive track record of producing pitchers who don’t get injured. According to Knutson, he hadn’t had a pitcher need Tommy John surgery since the beginning of the millennium, and only because the pitcher didn’t follow Knutson’s warmup program. Knutson described that program as a “dynamic body warmup”. “Movements and runs and agility things. We do a lot with body blades or shoulder tubes. We do some strength training with a two-pound medicine ball, then we go through some body movement and throwing heavy balls.”

The entire article is enlightening and worth a dedicated reading. Castrovince raises a very good point, which is that for all of the progress baseball has made over the years in terms of technology and analytics, injury prevention — specifically for pitchers — is an area that has really yet to be broached, let alone conquered.

The Brewers are talking to the Tigers about Ian Kinsler, Justin Wilson

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The Brewers were rumored last week to have been “aggressive” in talks for Tigers reliever Justin Wilson. ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reports, however, that the talks are a bit more wide-ranging than that.

Crasnick says that the two clubs are also discussing Tigers second baseman Ian Kinsler, potentially in a package deal with Wilson. Crasnick says that the Brewers “would love to have Kinsler,” but their main focus at the moment is pitching help. Of course, the Brewers current second baseman — Jonathan Villar — is hitting a meager .223/.285/.348 in 334 plate appearances.

Kinsler is having a down season for him — .237/.331/.400 — but he’s better than that and, of course, would represent an improvement. He’s under contract through the end of this year but he has a very affordable, $10 million club option for 2018. Wilson will be arbitration-eligible this offseason, so he’s still under team control as well. As such a Kinsler/Wilson package would likely cost the Brewers a high price, so you have to think they’d try to exhaust cheaper options before making such a deal.

The Brewers had been in first place in the NL Central since June 7, but the Cubs caught them yesterday. They’re in a virtual tie, with Chicago percentage points ahead. This should prove to be a very interesting week for the Brewers’ front office.

The Dodgers have a “strong interest” in Yu Darvish

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The Dodgers lost Clayton Kershaw yesterday. For how long we do not know, but he has missed a lot of time in the past with previous back injuries so it’d be somewhat optimistic to assume that he’s going to hit the disabled list for ten days, come back and be the Clayton Kershaw of six days ago without any muss or fuss. L.A. has also lost Brandon McCarthy to the DL, so while their division lead is comfortable at the moment, there could be some rough waters ahead.

In light of that, this rumor — which emerged before Kershaw left yesterday’s game against the Braves — may be one to watch in the next couple of days:

As we noted last week, the Rangers are looking at the possibility of moving Darvish, who will be a free agent at the end of this year. The Dodgers would seem to be an excellent landing spot for him.

Darvish is 6-8 with a 3.44 ERA and has struck out 143 batters to only 43 walks in 133.1 innings. While he has missed time with injury in recent years, he’s the sort of talent that one could easily see going on an ace-like run. If he did that for a Dodgers team that, otherwise, seems to be at its peak of competitiveness, it’d be worth the heavy price they’d have to pay to get him.

Old folks like me remember such runs from starters picked up at the deadline. Doyle Alexander cost the Tigers John Smoltz in 1987, but he also propelled them to the AL East crown. The Astros had to give up Freddy Garcia and Carlos Guillen to get Randy Johnson in 1998, but he went on an historic tear after arriving in Houston and helped the club to 102 wins and the NL Central title. As both of those clubs learned in the playoffs, of course, one ace and a division title do not a season make, but you can’t even make your season if you don’t have the horses.

It’s too soon to say whether the Dodgers will have the horses in their rotation to go farther than those two teams did, but they’d have a lot better chance with Darvish, would they not?