Strasburg’s doctor: there are no studies supporting the Nats decision to shut him down

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UPDATE II:  Yocum walks it back. Now he says he did talk to the Nats. Oy.

UPDATE: Boras says, nope, the Nats DID talk to Yocum. This is getting interesting.

12:33PM: All throughout the Strasburg Shutdown drama, we repeatedly heard how the doctors were all saying that it’s advisable to shut Strasburg down. That doctors were consulted and that the Nats’ plan was medically sound. Those of us who didn’t like the decision were told that we had to defer to the team and their cadre of medical experts because we, after all, are not doctors.

Only one problem: no one with the Nationals ever asked the guy who performed Strasburg’s surgery what he thought about it and, more significantly, the guy who performed the surgery tells the L.A. Times today that there are no studies supporting the proposition that shutting him down will protect him at all:

The doctor who performed elbow surgery on Stephen Strasburg said he did not tell the Washington Nationals to shut down their ace pitcher.

“I wasn’t asked,” Dr. Lewis Yocum told the Los Angeles Times … Yocum said that, had he been asked, he would not have been able to provide conclusive information about whether Strasburg’s long-term health would be best served by shutting him down.

“There’s no statistic as far as studies,” Yocum said.

Yocum further notes that it’s GM Mike Rizzo who came up with the 160 inning shutdown standard himself. That he imposed it in the case of Jordan Zimmermann, and that he’s doing the same with Strasburg without the aide of any medical directive.

Which, hey, that’s OK in and of itself. Zimmermann has worked out so far, so maybe Rizzo has stumbled upon a bold and effective new standard here. And it is his team and he can do what he wants and what he thinks is best for it.

But given the lack of studies on the matter, those people supporting the shutdown decision have to give up shaming those of us who don’t into silence with some notion that medical necessity or insight governed this decision.  End the erroneous appeals to medical authority — like Scott Boras has done repeatedly — and own up to the fact that it’s Mike Rizzo, not medical science, making this call.

Cardinals encourage players not to hide injuries

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In Major League Baseball, players are routinely pressured to play through injury and pain. Sometimes it’s just a minor ache, and sometimes it’s a very serious injury. The pressure comes from everywhere: the players themselves, their peers, coaches, front offices, media, and fans. Players who develop a reputation for landing on the disabled list are described as “soft” and “fragile.” Players who battle through the pain get talked about as “gritty” and “dedicated.”

Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the Cardinals are trying to encourage their players to be more honest about their health. The culture surrounding this is tough to change, but manager Mike Matheny wants his players to come to him if “anything that is off.” As Goold notes, Alex Reyes and Matt Bowman revealed they were, in Bowman’s words, not “entirely forthcoming.” Carlos Martinez said he pitched tentatively because he was “scared” of re-injuring himself. Matheny also called pitcher Michael Wacha “a great liar” when talking about his arm health.

Matt Carpenter has also played through injury and takes pride in it. He’s an example of the old mentality the club is trying to pierce through. Caarpenter said, “I’m a believer in if you’re getting paid to do a job and you’re capable of doing the job — even if it’s 85 percent of your best — I feel you have the obligation to be out there. That is the mentality I’ve always used. I could have very easily, at times last year, sat on the [disabled list], but I felt like I could still go out and do my job.”

Goold points out that players approach dealing with health issues differently depending on where they’re at in their careers. A young player who just got called up has pressure to stay in the big leagues and appear in games, so he may not want to address a health issue. A player who has already secured a multi-year contract may have less pressure on him and thus may be more willing to come to the trainer’s room.

I’ve long believed that player health will be the next arena in which front offices will separate themselves from the pack. Analytics had been that battleground for a while, but with every club now having an analytics department in some capacity, front offices will have to find value in new ways. Limiting the amount of time that players miss due to injury would be a significant boost for a team and it will start with players being forthcoming about what’s bothering them rather than trying to fight through pain.