When I was in Arizona I was party to a conversation with some people who are convinced, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Stephen Strasburg is going to get hurt again. It’s just his motion and genetics and stuff, you see, and no matter how cautious and well-intentioned the Nationals have been in bringing him back from Tommy John, he’s gonna have another visit to Dr. Andrews in his future.
I didn’t press, but I am certain if I did that, ultimately, the speakers would say that they have no actual basis for that. It’s, at best, an educated guess and a lot of gut feeling and if someone put a gun to their head they could not say for certain what his future holds. Or the future of any other pitcher for that matter.
Will Leitch has a big piece in the latest New York Magazine about pitcher injuries, and he concludes more or less the same thing. The upshot:
Ever since Moneyball, baseball has had just about everything figured it out. General managers know that on-base percentage is more important than batting average, that college players are more reliable draft targets than high-school players, that the sacrifice bunt is typically a waste of an out. The game has never been more closely studied or better understood. And yet, even now, no one seems to have a clue about how to keep pitchers from getting hurt.
It’s true. Despite everything we know and everything we do, we still don’t know which pitchers are gonna get injured, why and how to prevent it.
It’s good stuff to read and internalize for the next time someone claims that they have any kind of special knowledge about this stuff. About how so-and-so is being overworked or how whatshisname is going to be better off skipping starts or what have you. We simply don’t know. Some things make a good enough amount of sense that we should do them unless or until there is actual science telling us it’s a bad or useless move — like, say, not letting pitchers continue to throw when tired — but it may just be a genetic and mechanical crap shoot.