Pitcher Injuries and Hindsight

What’s the solution when a pitcher gets injured, there’s no specific cause and it’s automatically assumed that it was due to the vague term “workload”?

The Phillies have placed righty Vance Worley on the disabled list with elbow inflammation and the desperate search for a reason is beginning. His MRI has shown no structural damage so it’s not a catastrophic injury—Delaware Online.

How does anyone know the cause? And what were they supposed to do about it?

While pitching at Single A in 2009, Worley threw 153 innings at the age of 21.

With Double A, Triple A and a cup of coffee the big leagues in 2010, Worley threw 171 innings at age 22.

In 2011, Worley began the season in Triple A, logged 50 innings and was called up to the big leagues and added 131 innings to make his total 181.

Is this considered abuse?

The Phillies were conscious of Worley’s pitch counts and took care to make sure he wasn’t pushed too far with a general pitch limit between 100 and 110. In a rotation with Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, there were no expectations for Worley to be the ace of the staff. He was able to fade into the background as the fourth or fifth starter and learn his craft without the team’s hopes riding on him.

A clear case of a pitcher who was abused in his rookie season was Kerry Wood. In 1998, Wood was a sensation with a blazing fastball and knee-buckling curve. He was consistently left in games to throw 120-130 pitches and led the Cubs to the playoffs—1998 Gamelogs. The weight of carrying a mediocre team resulted in Wood tearing an elbow ligament and needing Tommy John surgery in 1999. It doesn’t take research of stick figures or computer simulations to examine Wood’s history and say that the Cubs overdid it and expedited his injury.

Wood was also a pitcher with mid-to-upper-90s fastball and hard curve with a severe elbow snap to get that nasty break. He might’ve—and probably would’ve—gotten hurt eventually anyway.

With the proliferation of pitching expertise inside and outside of baseball expressing their theories—dutifully detailed on blogs and supposedly reputable websites—a reason for an injury is readily available whether it’s accurate or not. Teams like the Yankees are using medical recommendations to regulate innings and pitch counts in an effort to “develop” their pitchers with the results we see in Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, Michael Pineda and Jose Campos.

Who really knows?

The logical end to stopping a workload-related injury to a pitcher would be to limit the workload. But how? What’s the limit? And what to do if the pitcher is needed and he’s approaching his limit? Is the team or the individual more important? How’s that judged?

Throwing a baseball is damaging and there are a myriad of factors that go into a pitcher staying healthy or getting hurt. It’s a zero-sum game. It’s become impossible to develop a pitcher without hundreds of eyes with multiple theories, a forum and no accountability for the outsiders as they wait to pounce and self-promote. Retrospect and hindsight are easily transferred to “prove” whatever theory one prefers to use with pitchers. The Giants didn’t hinder their young starters with limits and have one of the best pitcher developmental programs in baseball.

It’s when one gets hurt that we hear post-injury criticism. The problem is there’s no defense for the charges when the charges are based on after-the-fact theories that are more convenient than diagnostic.

The only answer is to let the pitchers pitch and use common sense. They’re going to get hurt. It’s in the job description and that will never, ever change.

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