The Blame Refrain

Media, Spring Training

When the news of Adam Wainwright‘s Tommy John surgery diagnosis spread across the web, the reactions were widespread and diverse.

“Experts” speculated on how the Cardinals would respond and forecasted their demise; Jonny Gomes of the Reds was accused of celebrating and singing (he denies this); Dusty Baker seemed genuinely saddened by the news in a non-competitive way while still wryly wondering who’d get the blame for the injury; and Rick Peterson promoted his company’s techniques to teach pitching and avoid injuries.

In today’s game there are rules and regulations placed on pitchers to maintain their health; clubs have computer printouts, historical medical reports and such inanities as “The Verducci Effect” to dictate how they treat their pitchers.

One problem.

They don’t seem to be working.

The cacophony of “protective” rules for pitchers is limitless and explainable, but it’s not fostering development; it’s creating an atmosphere of paranoia and self-righteous justification in case the pitchers don’t develop or get injured. There’s a time and place for preventative prescriptions, but taking it too far has yielded the inevitable result.

And it’s getting worse.

Let’s have a look at the frailties of today’s pitching culture.

I’m selling, you buying?

Rick Peterson is a good pitching coach with a fine resume of development and—importantly—keeping his charges healthy. Unlike many other baseball people and would-be experts, he’s willing to think outside-the-box and listen to others. That’s an impressive attribute and a testimony to his confidence and belief in what he does.

He’s also a relentless self-promoter who has a short shelf life for any organization because of his overbearing nature.

Peterson said the following on Twitter when Wainwright’s injury was confirmed:

Sad news for Adam Wainwright, TJ surgery.Avoidable.Get your pitchers to 3P Sports to learn how. ESPN http://es.pn/gx7b65

It contains the essence of Peterson in 140 characters or less. The obligatory condolences for the injury combined with an attempt to sell his wares.

Peterson is a polarizing figure.

When I read his tweets I can almost feel one hand on my shoulder and his other hand covering his mouth in a conspiratorial fashion to prevent the enemy from reading his lips and gaining insight into his skull-sessions.

Peterson’s reputation was made with the Athletics as he mentored Mark Mulder, Barry Zito and Tim Hudson with the Athletics and all three were healthy and productive; he also turned Cory Lidle into a durable winner as a starting pitcher. With the Mets, John Maine and Oliver Perez enjoyed success they couldn’t replicate before or since. And the Brewers, with limited talent, maximized with Peterson handling the staff.

While almost everyone in baseball and in the media rolls their eyes at Dr. Mike Marshall—former big league pitcher, Cy Young Award winner, journeyman extraordinaire, iconoclast and egomaniac—Peterson has met with him to discuss pitching techniques.

Peterson’s style has a short shelf-life. Eventually his pitchers tune him out, but he does have important contributions to make to development.

If you look at a pitching coach or “expert”, you must examine their agenda. Are they trying to get you to buy what they’re hawking as Tom House does? Or do they have a legitimate history of success underpinning their theories as Peterson does?

Blame Dusty.

Baker was only half-kidding when he openly wondered who’d get the blame for Wainwright’s injury. Baker is considered to be an arm-shredder; Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan seen as modern geniuses whose reputations allow them to get away with things that would cost other baseball people their jobs.

One out-of-context example of the different terrain upon which La Russa operates was that 20-inning affair against the Mets last season. What would’ve happened had then-Mets manager Jerry Manuel inserted an infielder to pitch and lost the game? La Russa did it with Felipe Lopez and it was okay because it was La Russa. He wants to hit the pitcher eighth? He has data to back him up and he gets away with it because he’s La Russa.

Such is the nature of the benefits of being a Hall of Famer as opposed to someone hanging onto his job by his fingernails and maintaining an unfair reputation as an abuser of pitchers that Baker has.

Was Baker to blame for the injuries to Kerry Wood, Mark Prior and Edinson Volquez?

It’s a major misapplication of blame to say Baker was at fault for Wood—it was Jim Riggleman who pushed Wood in the Cubs frantic run to the playoffs in 1998. Prior was a mechanical nightmare from the start and his subsequent and repeated breakdowns have had nothing to do with Baker; one would think that he’d be healthy by now; Volquez was allowed to throw pitches in the 120 range numerous times, but it’s a stretch to connect the number of pitches he threw to his eventual Tommy John surgery.

There are a different set of rules for La Russa than there are for Baker because one is La Russa and the other is Baker and it has nothing to do with results or injuries; it has to do with the way they’re perceived.

Front office edicts absolve the blame.

You can believe the propaganda and romanticized notions uttered by the likes of Michael Kay if you choose to, but think about it.

When C.C. Sabathia had a no-hitter going against the Rays early last season, Yankees manager Joe Girardi made it a point to insinuate himself into the debate by saying that Sabathia wasn’t going to throw an outrageous number of pitches strictly in the interests of pitching a no-hitter.

It was a moot point because the no-hitter was busted up before a decision had to be made. But Kay came out with his own take on the situation, quoting Girardi as if his word was gospel, “We’re not about (individual achievement) here…”

As delightful as such a thought of  all-for-one is, baseball is like anything else with fiefdoms, turf-battles and agendas. Girardi can never be blamed for a pitcher’s injury because he has little-to-no say in their use. He makes his own idiotic bullpen/pitching change decisions mid-game, but apart from that, he works in defined parapenters.

He does what the front office says and that’s what GM Brian Cashman wants; it’s why Cashman didn’t want Lou Piniella as the replacement for Joe Torre—because Piniella would’ve ignored him and was unfireable as a manager.

It’s the same situation in Washington with Stephen Strasburg. I’ve said repeatedly that there have to be people with the Nats who were relieved that Strasburg blew out his elbow while under the constraints of “protection”; there was no one to blame for the injury, therefore it was okay.

Naturally, they’d never admit it openly. Nor should they; but put yourself in their position with a once-in-a-lifetime arm placed in your hands. Do you want that on your resume that you’re at fault for his injury that cost him a year? No.

Joba Chamberlain? How have the developmental techniques worked?

Pedro Martinez was traded from the Dodgers because team doctors were convinced he was going to break down as a starting pitcher. He was so small, threw so hard and had such a violent delivery that it wasn’t absurd to harbor such a belief.

Three Cy Young Awards later, where are we?

Conjecture and after-the-fact, unprovable allegations are easy. How about we go back to Sandy Koufax and wonder how great he would’ve been had he been on a pitch/innings count from the time he began his career. Would he have been more durable? Who knows? There’s no way he would’ve been better than he was.

Bob Gibson must be sickened by the way pitchers are babied today. The same goes for Juan Marichal, Gaylord Perry, Jim Palmer, Tom Seaver, Steve Carlton and any of the other greats who pitched until they could no longer pitch and produced into their late 30s and early 40s.

Some of today’s pitchers look like they’re ready for a bodybuilding competition and spend half their days wiling away on the disabled list; Greg Maddux had pipe cleaner arms, skinny legs, a paunch and was the most durable pitcher of his generation who never had an arm injury. Maddux had picture-perfect mechanics and trained specifically to throw a baseball, not to look good in his uniform.

Nolan Ryan is implementing a new strategy in developing pitchers and getting attention for it. If it fails, if they get hurt it’ll be taken as a mistake; if it works, others will follow suit with the techniques.

Fear is a motivating factor for change, but it’s not conducive to making a successful pitcher. But fear is what we have; blame is what we have; and failure is what we have.

It’s not working and doesn’t look like it’s going to change anytime soon because of self-involved stupidity.

At least there’s the fail-safe retort: Blame Dusty.

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “The Blame Refrain

  1. Masterful post. I wonder, when the front offices started to cover themselves instead of putting players to play and win? I’m convinced it’s related to the exponential increase to the payrolls. Fear of losing investment leads to bad practices.

  2. I’m with ya, Prince. I’m just wondering, is it me, or is Tommy John surgery just par for the course these days? Every time I look around someone is getting TJ surgery.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s