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Talking Baseball

Your weekday baseball fix. Some days.



Posted by Mike on Friday, March 26, 2004

OW! My Medial Collateral Ligament!

It's inevitable that pitchers will occasionally fall to injuries, but why do some teams seem to go out of their way to increase the chance of injury to their own pitchers? It seems that every year a few pitchers are destined to be hurt due to their own manager (read Dusty Baker, Tony LaRussa, etc...). The managers know that if the pitcher becomes hurt for a prolonged period of time the team's playoff chances will be put in jeopardy. So, why do these managers ride their starting pitchers so hard?

Dusty Baker is one the worst managers the Cubs could have selected. They have a young and talented rotation in Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, Carlos Zambrano, and Matt Clement but the management went out and signed Dusty last winter who proceeded (no surprise) to spend his first season in Chicago mercilessly abusing those pitchers. Why are the Cubs allowing this to happen? If the problem a team faces is a weak bullpen then how does it help the team to over-pitch their starting rotation? That extra wear and tear will increase the probability of an injury that will force greater reliance on the bullpen - so it seems counter-intuitive to over-pitch the starters.

Pitches per game and MLB rank:

Pitches Per GameMLB Rank
Prior113.21
Wood109.92

2003 was Prior's first full season in the majors and Dusty forced him to lead the major leagues in pitches per game. I know that Prior is constantly commended for having near perfect mechanics, but this sort of wear and tear cannot be good for his young arm. Incredibly, Prior is just 23 years old. It's difficult to tell because has pitched so dominantly and maturely these last two years.

Wood was second in the league in pitches per game. What's worse, his total could have been higher if he hadn't been pulled a couple of times in the third inning because of ineffectiveness. Wood is a strong guy, but he's just a few years removed from Tommy John surgery. The surgery has been more and more successful lately, but pushing a player who has had it seems like a good way to re-injure that elbow.

Top 3 starts by number of pitches thrown:

Pitches
Prior133, 131, 129
Wood141, 130, 129


141 pitches. That isn't just a lot of pitches, that's a ton of pitches. I'm not saying that a pitcher should never throw more than 140 pitches but I am saying that this much fatigue would be more appropriate in a game that the team absolutely needed to win down the stretch. But no, Dusty made Wood throw those 141 pitches in the middle of May, and Wood still threw just seven innings with all those pitches.

Prior and Wood made it through 2003 relatively healthy, but with this type of workload their health could easily become a question this year. Speculation is fun, so here it goes. Prior will be starting the year on the DL with an Achilles tendon injury (likely not related to last year's workload), but that injury could become more important if it alters his mechanics. An alteration to his mechanics might make Prior put more stress on his arm - this will be more problematic given the workload that Dusty forces upon him. Down the road, this could result in an injury. Good-bye Future of the Cubs.

For comparison's sake, here are a few other dominant (and valuable) starters. Notice that their teams didn't abuse them in nearly the same way that the Cubs abused their two aces (Schmidt was ridden a little bit).

Pitches Per GameMaximum Pitches
Halladay100.3122
Martinez97.9128
Loaiza102.9121
Schmidt106.4128
Beckett98.5123


The Athletics are known for their humane treatment of starting pitchers, here's how the Big Three stacked up last season:

Pitches Per GameMaximum Pitches
Hudson102.5127
Zito106.6122
Mulder100.3125


What I've been getting to is that teams built around pitching, like the Cubs, can't afford to run their starters into the ground. The A's know that without their starting pitching they will not win games because their offense is atrocious. So they protect their starting pitchers, but why don't the Cubs do this? Why are they giving Dusty the chance to ruin their future?


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