Must-Click Link: We’re still in the dark ages when it comes to preventing pitcher injuries

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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.

Yankees acquire James Paxton from Mariners

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The Yankees announced that the club has acquired starter James Paxton from the Mariners in exchange for three prospects: pitcher Justus Sheffield, outfielder Dom Thompson-Williams, and pitcher Erik Swanson.

Paxton, 30, has been among the game’s better starters over the past few years. In 2018, he went 11-6 with a 3.76 ERA and a 208/42 K/BB ratio in 160 1/3 innings. The lefty has two more years of arbitration eligibility remaining after earning $4.9 million this past season.

Sheffield, 22, is the headliner in the Mariners’ return. He made his major league debut in September for the Yankees, pitching 2 2/3 innings across three appearances. Two of those appearances were scoreless; in the third, he gave up a three-run home run to J.D. Martinez, certainly not an uncommon result among pitchers. MLB Pipeline rates Sheffield as the Yankees’ No. 1 prospect and No. 31 overall in baseball.

Thompson-Williams, 23, was selected by the Yankees in the fifth round of the 2016 draft. This past season, between Single-A Charleston and High-A Tampa, he hit .299/.363/.546 with 22 home runs, 74 RBI, 63 runs scored, and 20 stolen bases in 415 plate appearances. He was not among the Yankees’ top-30 prospects, per MLB Pipeline.

Swanson, 25, was selected by the Yankees in the eighth round of the 2014 draft. He spent most of his 2018 campaign between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Overall, he posted a 2.66 ERA with a 139/29 K/BB ratio in 121 2/3 innings. MLB Pipeline rated him No. 22 in the Yankees’ system.

This trade comes as no surprise as the Yankees clearly wanted to upgrade the starting rotation and the Mariners seemed motivated to trade Paxton this offseason. To the Mariners’ credit, they got a solid return for Paxton, as Sheffield likely becomes the organization’s No. 1 prospect. The only worries about this trade for the Yankees is how Paxton will fare in the more hitter-friendly confines of Yankee Stadium compared to the spacious Safeco Field, and Paxton’s durability. Paxton has made more than 20 starts in a season just twice in his career — the last two years (24 and 28). The Yankees are likely not done adding, however. Expect even more new faces before the start of spring training.