Sarris: Could a six-man pitching rotation fix baseball’s injury problem?

From SABR member Eno Sarris at Sports on Earth on May 21, 2014:

t’s time for change in baseball. The new norm is somewhere around 50 Tommy John surgeries a year, up from about five a year in the 1990s. While major league elbows are blowing out at record rates, teenagers are throwing 194 pitches in high school games. Is there a link here? Is wear and tear the issue? How can we keep our favorite pitchers on the mound? 

First, let’s establish the problem. 

There is some evidence, perhaps, that these elbow surgeries are keeping our pitchers from suffering career-ending shoulder injuries. But if you look at the days lost from shoulder and elbow injuries over the last decade-plus, you don’t see shoulder issues getting a lot better, just elbow issues getting worse. Take a look at average trips to the disabled list and average days on the DL since 2002, split by elbows and shoulders.

Even if the goalposts have possibly changed, losing 50 pitchers every year across baseball is a problem. It could be a new problem, and it might be a better problem than the problems we’ve had before, but it’s a problem nonetheless. Teams are already averaging around 10 starters per year, and if the trend continues, they will need even more just to finish the season. Even if fewer pitchers are losing careers, we can still try to focus on the fact that more pitchers are losing full seasons.

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Originally published: May 21, 2014. Last Updated: May 21, 2014.