Jazayerli: A National mistake

From Rany Jazayerli at Grantland.com on September 12, 2012:

To hear some of the rhetoric, you’d think that there are only two positions on the subject — those who believe the Nationals are correct to shut down Strasburg and those who think it’s fine to sacrifice Strasburg’s arm on the altar of October baseball.

But there is a middle ground, which comes from understanding that the only sure way to eliminate injuries in baseball is to eliminate baseball. There is some baseline risk of injury that exists every time a player takes the field. That risk is elevated for pitchers, whose value derives solely from the kinetic chain that is centered in the shoulder and elbow of their pitching arm. But injuries are not 100 percent preventable. Just ask Brandon McCarthy: He left the ICU Sunday after brain surgery to remove an epidural hematoma, caused by a line drive that fractured his skull.

If the goal is the complete prevention of pitching-related injuries, the only answer is to turn over the job to an indestructible batting-practice machine (or Livan Hernandez, which is the same thing). But if the goal is to prevent pitchers from an elevated injury risk due to overuse of their arms, Major League Baseball accomplished that several years ago.

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In every year but one from 1988 through 1999, starters were allowed to throw 130 pitches in a game at least 100 times. Many pitchers held up under the strain; many others didn’t. For every Randy Johnson, who racked up 105 starts of 130-plus pitches in his long career, there was a Bobby Witt. Witt threw 130-plus pitches 24 times between 1988 and 1990. He had his greatest season in 1990, with career bests in strikeouts (221) and ERA (3.36). In 1991, he blew out his shoulder. He pitched for another decade as an innings-eating junkballer; the ace was gone.

While Witt was in the majors — and running up his pitch count — when he was just 22, Johnson didn’t make his major league debut until after his 25th birthday. This is relevant because evidence that had been around since the mid-1980s suggested that pitchers under the age of 25 were particularly vulnerable to overuse. A 25-year-old starter might hold up under the strain of a heavy workload, but a 22-year-old starter probably wouldn’t.

Read the full article here: http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/8369941/history-shows-washington-nationals-shut-stephen-strasburg-too-soon

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Originally published: September 12, 2012. Last Updated: September 12, 2012.

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