The story people tell about former Cubs pitcher Mark Prior goes like this: he had perfect mechanics and the sky was the limit. Then his manager, Dusty Baker, overused him in 2003, giving him 211 innings regular season innings in his first full big league season and allowing him to throw 130+ pitches multiple times down the stretch and the playoffs. Prior broke and never really recovered, ending his career before it truly began.
Only one problem with that: Mark Prior says it’s bunk. Today he writes a first person account over at The Cauldron about where he is now — happily working as a pitching coordinator for the Padres — and where he was. As for where he was, he says leave Dusty Baker alone. It’s not his fault, Prior says, noting that he had other injuries totally unrelated to overuse which could have easily contributed to his later problems. He says “I don’t blame Dusty for what happened to me.”
Prior makes a lot of fair points there. And, it’s important to note that while overuse is not a good thing for a pitcher and while Prior was overused, some pitchers experience the problems he experienced with far less use. He may have blown up anyway. For what it’s worth, Baker became a much different manager as far as pitcher use goes after he moved on to Cincinnati and then Washington. Baker’s rep was earned but it’s outdated.
I don’t think Baker is totally blameless. What’s more, Prior alluding to his own desire to not leave games when he was young doesn’t carry the day. It was Baker’s job to rein in Prior’s youthful competitiveness and be the adult and he didn’t always do that. But as Prior notes, it’s his job now with the Padres to deal with workloads and pitcher health and it is not an easy job at all. There is still so much unknown and we know far more now than anyone did in 2003.
If Prior is letting Baker off the hook for this we all should too.