Noah Syndergaard: a race car in the red

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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.

Jones, Maddux, Morris consider Bonds, Clemens for Hall

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COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — Hall of Famers Chipper Jones, Greg Maddux, Jack Morris and Ryne Sandberg are among 16 members of the contemporary baseball era committee that will meet to consider the Cooperstown fate of an eight-man ballot that includes Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Rafael Palmeiro.

Hall of Famers Lee Smith, Frank Thomas and Alan Trammell also are on the panel, which will meet in San Diego ahead of the winter meetings.

They will be joined by former Toronto CEO Paul Beeston, former Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs executive Theo Epstein, Anaheim Angels owner Arte Moreno, Miami Marlins general manager Kim Ng, Minnesota Twins president Dave St. Peter and Chicago White Sox executive vice president Ken Williams.

Three media members/historians are on the committee: longtime statistical analyst Steve Hirdt of Stats Perform, La Velle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune and Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle. Neal and Slusser are past presidents of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

Hall Chairman Jane Forbes Clark will be the committee’s non-voting chair.

The ballot also includes Albert Belle, Don Mattingly, Fred McGriff, Dale Murphy and Curt Schilling. The committee considers candidates whose careers were primarily from 1980 on. A candidate needs 75% to be elected and anyone who does will be inducted on July 23, along with anyone chosen in the BBWAA vote, announced on Jan. 24.

Bonds, Clemens and Schilling fell short in January in their 10th and final appearances on the BBWAA ballot. Bonds received 260 of 394 votes (66%), Clemens 257 (65.2%) and Schilling 231 (58.6%).

Palmeiro was dropped from the BBWAA ballot after receiving 25 votes (4.4%) in his fourth appearance in 2014, falling below the 5% minimum needed to stay on. His high was 72 votes (12.6%) in 2012.

Bonds denied knowingly using performance-enhancing drugs and Clemens maintains he never used PEDs. Palmeiro was suspended for 10 days in August 2005 following a positive test under the major league drug program, just over two weeks after getting his 3,000th hit.

A seven-time NL MVP, Bonds set the career home run record with 762 and the season record with 73 in 2001. A seven-time Cy Young Award winner, Clemens went 354-184 with a 3.12 ERA and 4,672 strikeouts, third behind Nolan Ryan (5,714) and Randy Johnson (4,875). Palmeiro had 3,020 hits and 568 homers.

Schilling fell 16 votes shy with 285 (71.1%) in 2021. Support dropped after hateful remarks he made in retirement toward Muslims, transgender people, reporters and others.

McGriff got 169 votes (39.8%) in his final year on the BBWAA ballot in 2019. Murphy was on the BBWAA ballot 15 times and received a high of 116 votes (23.2%) in 2000. Mattingly received a high of 145 votes (28.2%) in the first of 15 appearances on the BBWAA ballot in 2001, and Belle appeared on two BBWAA ballots, receiving 40 votes (7.7%) in 2006 and 19 (3.5%) in 2007.

Players on Major League Baseball’s ineligible list cannot be considered, a rule that excludes Pete Rose.

This year’s BBWAA ballot includes Carlos Beltran, John Lackey and Jered Weaver among 14 newcomers and Scott Rolen, Todd Helton and Billy Wagner among holdovers.