Noah Syndergaard is back in New York to undergo an MRI this morning for a possible strained right lat. This after he left yesterday’s start in the second inning with an injury. THAT after Syndergaard refused to undergo an MRI after being scratched from his Thursday start with biceps and shoulder discomfort. A DL stint is inevitable and Mets fans everywhere are holding their breath, hoping the team won’t be without its ace for an extended period.
The Noah Syndergaard drama is, sadly, not a terribly unfamiliar one. Not unfamiliar for the Mets, who have a spotty history with pitcher injuries, misdiagnosis and miscommunication. And not an unfamiliar one for baseball in general, which has been plagued with injuries to almost all of its best pitchers over the past several years.
Today Ken Rosenthal talks about the pitcher injury crisis in his latest column. He doesn’t have any grand explanation or solution to the problem, of course, as no one does. But he does pass along the words of his colleague, Hall of Fame pitcher John Smoltz, who says something that rings pretty true:
Smoltz compares pitchers to race cars . . . with most taught to simply throw as hard as they can, they are unable to adjust to flashing signals on their personal dashboards.
“I call it the red-line factor,” Smoltz said. “When you keep running your engine above the red line, you’re going to blow it out. If you race your car hard for too long a period, it’s going to overheat.
“We’re getting dangerously close to every pitcher red-lining when he doesn’t really have to. They’re not preparing to learn how to pitch like it’s a six-gear car. They’re always in sixth gear. Never in fourth or fifth.”
Keeping in mind that (a) pitchers have ALWAYS gotten injured; and (b) even the guys who don’t throw hard got injured and continue to get injured too, there is still something to Smoltz’s observation, I think.
Velocity is way up overall, but it’s not all attributable to a new strain of mutant athletes who are simply able to throw harder. It’s also attributable to pitchers being taught or encouraged to give maximum effort on each pitch. You see them take longer between pitches, in part to maximize the energy available into each pitch. You hear them talk about “executing pitches” all the time, with each of the 90-100 pitches they make each game being treated like an individual performance, each of which can be judged as successful or not.
Gone, it seems, are the days when pitchers ramped up and ramped down effort depending on the opposing hitter or the game situation. When a start was judged as a whole as opposed to each pitch being “executed” or not, with some pitches wasted, some used to conserve energy and the radar gun and strikeout totals mattering less than they seem to now.
I don’t mean to play the back-in-my-day game with this. I realize that old timers — Smoltz and myself included — are always tempted to think things were different and somehow better before than they are now. But I do think there is something to what he’s saying here and to what, I think anyway, I’ve observed over the past few decades watching baseball. There is a far greater premium being placed on size and strength of the pitcher and the velocity and maximum effort and intensity expended on every pitch. It can’t be good for muscles and tendons.
Far smarter people than John Smoltz or you or me are studying this stuff and they all have a greater vested interest in pitcher health than you or I do, so maybe this is all off and something else is going on. But it sure feels like dudes amping up like crazy and throwing in the high 90s pitch after pitch is not the greatest thing.