Yesterday’s post about MLB having seven-inning games to reduce pitching injuries drew interest, but there’s an even better way than that.
Major League Baseball (MLB) fans are tired of messing with the game, even if some of the new rule changes are proving good overall.
And yet, the number of injuries to pitchers, especially those in a team’s starting rotation, is growing each year, causing a significant drop in the quality of players we see on the field from game to game.
In my story yesterday (published here), I pointed to a recent article by Tom Verducci and Sports Illustrated that finds that 51 percent of all major league pitchers lost time due to injuries last year.
Various relevant and compelling facts are also put forth to support the finding.
There aren’t any numbers for the 2023 season yet, but our eyes do not lie in telling us injuries to pitchers are on the rise again.
MLB: Speed Kills – Believe It
There’s a belief that the faster you can throw a baseball, the better you’ll be as an MLB pitcher. While this may be true, it also may be dangerous. Higher velocity can help you get hitters out, but it may be overrated.
The brainwashing begins in Little League, where there’s always some overgrown twelve-year-old big enough to strike out fifteen batters, overmatched 80-100 pound batters. I was one of them, my team’s hero because I could “throw that speedball by them.”
I couldn’t wait to learn how to spin a curveball, just like my idol at the time, the winningest left-handed of all MLB pitchers, Hall of Famer Warren Spahn.
But it’s also true I blew my arm out at sixteen from throwing too hard and for too long. I could still pitch with pain (there was no surgery in those days), but from then on, I was known as “RagArm,” and my illustrious “career” came crashing to a close in American Legion ball.
Would I have gone on to pitch like my idol Spahn? No one can say.
Another Baseball Story
Here’s another baseball story, this time further up the line from a high school 25 miles from where I live.
Ian Anderson, a vital member of the Atlanta Braves starting rotation that produced a World Championship in 2021, was drafted straight out of Shenendehowa High School, a suburb of Albany, New York. He was the third overall pick in the first round of MLB’s June Amateur Draft in 2016.
Shenendehowa is a Division One School renowned for its athletics and sports programs, especially baseball. Still, its baseball coaching staff consists only of a head and assistant coach. There’s no pitching coach or a medically certified trainer on hand 24/7 to handle the players, especially pitchers.
Where is Ian Anderson today? Two years removed from earning that cherished ring as a member of the Braves, he can be found on the wrong side of the 50-50 chance he would suffer a severe arm injury.
After a difficult 2022 season, Anderson was demoted to Atlanta’s AAA team, where he didn’t get out of the 1st inning and was charged with six runs on four hits and two walks in only two-thirds of an inning in his only start before he was designated for Tommy John surgery.
He will miss the entire 2023 season while the endless supply of Braves pitchers take his place, leaving the chance he is set to be the Wally Pipp of Altanta’s rotation.
Take It From The Horse’s Mouth – Dr. Frank Jobe
I am not a doctor, and even if I was, can it be proven that Anderson’s career-threatening injury is traceable to his high-school days?
Alas, that is precisely the point – no one knows – even though Anderson’s baseball experience is far more typical than we’d like.
Need more? Here’s Dr. Frank Jobe, the pioneer for Tommy John surgery. He says, “The number of high school pitchers who believe that Tommy John surgery should be performed even though no injury is present: 1 in 2.”
And… “67% of the pitchers who wind up needing Tommy John surgery were throwing breaking balls before the age of 14.”
So, what does this prove?
If anything meaningful comes from MLB to help prevent these injuries, the effort must be made from the bottom up, not from the top (MLB pitchers) down.
Anyone already pitching in the major leagues is past the point of no return, and teams must and will continue to live with the loss of critical pitchers on their staff and the high financial costs associated with an idle player.
So too, with pitchers in college and the minor leagues, where high velocity gets noticed first, the track up in professional baseball is expedited.
The anomaly about high velocity is so built into baseball now that we barely appreciate the rarity of pitchers today who consistently record outs with a fastball that sits at 88-91 mph. Rich Hill, Nestor Cortes, and Janson Junk (I’m not kidding, that’s his name) are three pitchers who quickly come to mind that fit the bill. like
In earlier days, “soft tossers” and Hall Of Famers like Tom Glavine, Whitey Ford, and Warren Spahn, plus perennial winners like Jamie Moyer, Mark Buehrle, Jamie Garcia, and Bronson Arroyo, have all had long and successful careers in MLB, along with a host of others.
Nevertheless, Aroldis Chapman will live and then die when he no longer throws his 102 mph fastball, and he will never – ever – learn how to “pitch” as a means to extend his career.
So, this means we must return to the beginning where it all begins – Little League.
Rule Number One
Eliminate all pitching in Little League and Travel Ball and Youth Baseball until Varsity Baseball in High School or the age of sixteen is reached.
Don’t laugh; I’m serious, and you should be as well if you want to see a better baseball brand in MLB with the best pitchers pitching and not sitting idle in rehab or the dugout.
So, how do we play Little League games without a pitcher? It’s simple, use a pitching machine. They throw strikes to varying speeds if calibrated correctly, equalizing competition between the “big and little guys.”
The machine can also be calibrated to throw breaking balls for those playing ahead of the competition.
I know – pitching machines are expensive, but here’s where MLB must step up by negotiating a contract with one manufacturer that sells their product at a reduced cost to all teams in the United States., its Territories, and Latin American counties like Venezuela.
Teams in the suburbs will be subsidized, while Little League teams in inner cities are provided with machines at no cost.
Rule Number Two –
See Rule Number One
MLB Must Be The Impetus For Change
It is fruitless to think that MLB can reverse a system and, more importantly, a culture firmly in place from Little League, high schools and colleges, the minor leagues, and the one ingrained in major league clubhouses today.
So, we must start at the beginning with the intent to define a brand new “brand” of baseball, albeit one we will never live to see taking its place on major league playing fields decades and generations from now.
MLB has the money to make the effort required to begin reducing the plethora of injuries to pitchers. According to Forbes, MLB posted an overall income of $10.3 billion in 2022, the most ever.
So be it if my answer (as a start) to use pitching machines instead of pitchers in Little League doesn’t cut it. Let “The Suits” at MLB figure it out, then.
But the “speed kills” culture in baseball today needs to be altered, if not eliminated. In a culture like the one we live with in America today – a culture where everything is from fast food, speedy downloads, and fast cars – the task is arduous and sated with obstacles.
Still, please make no mistake that speed (pitching velocity) is killing baseball because, as fans, we deserve a better chance to watch the best of the best pitch in games.
Once, Ian Anderson (and a host of others) was a member of that select group. And maybe, Steve Contursi would have gotten there, too…
At the very least, though, we should begin the debate…