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September 17, 2003

Under The Knife

Reaching Back

by Will Carroll

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I'll get right into the heart of this because Mark Prior's 124 pitch performance tore me in two. As I've mentioned before, Prior tends to throw harder in later innings, and that held true last night as well, as he was reaching 96 mph in the 8th. For the first time, however, Prior lost velocity in the 9th, topping out at 93. Adding in the elbow drop, and you can imagine how I was hyperventilating and speaking to the TV in harsh tones. (Does it make even less sense to talk to the TV when you're TiVoing the game, and you're about a minute behind?)

Prior may have had a birthday last week, but he's still in the heart of the injury nexus. Future owner Steve Stone rightfully pointed out in Tuesday's broadcast that Prior was in "unchartered" territory, nearing 200 innings pitched--and that the collision with Marcus Giles may have been, in the long run, the best thing for him. Prior, as well as teammates Kerry Wood and Carlos Zambrano--who is even younger than Prior--are all near the top of the PAP charts. Comments from Dusty Baker seem to indicate that he's more than willing to keep his young pitchers working down the stretch. While flags do fly forever, and the ineffectiveness of the Cubs' bullpen should factor into his decisions, Baker also needs to remember that his young pitchers' arms might hang limp--like the flags do on a windless summer day--if he keeps working them so hard.

I went to the incomparable Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia to test my idea that Prior and Zambrano were working at historically high rates. I ran lists over many time frames, learning quickly that asking for "all" would bring me a long list of pre-1900 underhanders. I refined the list to find that the most significant list was from 1967-2002.


Age 22 and under, 1967-2002
Pitcher                       YEAR    IP
-------------------------------------------
1    Bert Blyleven            1973    325     
2    Vida Blue                1971    312     
3    Larry Dierker            1969    305     
4    Frank Tanana             1976    288.1   
5    Bert Blyleven            1972    287.1   
6    Fernando Valenzuela      1982    285     
7    Lary Sorensen            1978    280.2   
8    Bert Blyleven            1971    278.1   
9    Dwight Gooden            1985    276.2   
10   Frank Tanana             1974    268.2   
11   Roger Erickson           1978    265.2   
12   Catfish Hunter           1967    260     
13   Frank Tanana             1975    257.1   
14   Fernando Valenzuela      1983    257     
T15  Tom Seaver               1967    251     
T15  Gary Nolan               1970    251     
17   Mark Fidrych             1976    250.1   
18   Dwight Gooden            1986    250     
19   Greg Maddux              1988    249     
20   Joe Coleman              1969    248     
21   Dennis Eckersley         1977    247.1   
22   Bill Parsons             1971    245     
23   Jerry Garvin             1977    244.2   
24   Jon Matlack              1972    244     
25   Dave Stieb               1980    242.2
  

While names like Gooden, Fidrych, and Tanana stand out as pitchers who had potential sidetracked by injury, the list includes more successes than failures. I broke the list down to a more recent timeframe so that I would have fewer names that I was unfamiliar with.

Age 22 and under, 1986-2002

Pitcher                       YEAR    IP
-------------------------------------------
1    Dwight Gooden            1986    250     
2    Greg Maddux              1988    249     
3    Ramon Martinez           1990    234.1   
4    Steve Avery              1992    233.2   
5    Dave Fleming             1992    228.1   
6    Ismael Valdes            1996    225     
7    Mark Buehrle             2001    221.1   
8    Floyd Youmans            1986    219     
9    Matt Morris              1997    217     
10   Jim Abbott               1990    211.2   
11   Steve Avery              1991    210.1   
T12  Sidney Ponson            1999    210     
T12  C.C. Sabathia            2002    210     
14   John Smoltz              1989    208     
15   Jose Rosado              1997    203.1   
16   Edwin Correa             1986    202.1   
17   Freddy Garcia            1999    201.1   
18   Ismael Valdes            1995    197.2   
19   Melido Perez             1988    197     
20   Juan Nieves              1987    195.2   
T21  Tom Gordon               1990    195.1   
T21  Pete Smith               1988    195.1   
T21  Tom Glavine              1988    195.1   
24   Jose Rijo                1986    193.2   
T25  Jon Garland              2002    192.2   
T25  Jaret Wright             1998    192.2

Suddenly, I'm a lot more concerned. While 1986 is an admittedly arbitrary endpoint, there are far fewer successes than failures and there are many on that list that are now pitching on their second UCL. What changed between 1967 and 1986? I'm not sure and it could be nothing more than a fluke of choice or something societal like a change in calcium intake before the milk-mustache ads. While there are freaks of nature like Livan Hernandez or Randy Johnson who are--for lack of a better term--abuse sponges, it's hard to play the odds that your young start pitcher is destined to be one of these anomalies.

Now, onto the rest of the injuries...

  • While talking about Prior, I have to mention Kenny Lofton. Lofton tonight injured his ankle dodging a foul ball when he was ranging down the third base line. From the angle shown on WGN, Lofton looked to be a good 30 feet away from the bag, and a rocket shot at his bean made him do a limbo move not seen since that lost weekend at Hedonism II. In the 9th, Lofton was unable to reach a ball in left-center, visibly limping as he returned to his position after the play. The run-scoring double pushed Prior out of the game (perhaps helping the Cubs long-term) and shows the interrelated nature of the games and injuries. Lofton's injury did not appear serious, but keep an eye on it while Dusty has the option of using proven veterans like Tom Goodwin.

  • The A's might--or might not--have Jose Guillen. With a broken hamate bone, Guillen is likely headed for off-season surgery to remove the bone, but doing so now would knock him out for any playoff run. Guillen is ready to try and play with the pain, but it remains to be seen how effective he will be. While the injury underlying is different, the comparison to Doug Mientkiewicz is apt. Losing Guillen or more importantly, losing an effective Guillen and the runs he creates puts the A's at a decided disadvantage. If Guillen is able to be a help over the next few weeks, you'll have to give lots of credit to his guts and the A's medical staff. Billy McMillon, the spotlight is yours.

  • Terry Adams is done for the season and facing a visit to Jim Andrews later this week. The Phillies team physician is recommending immediate surgery to take out floating bone chips in his pitching elbow. Granted, immediate surgery doesn't have to be immediate--in this case, it merely means that he shouldn't pitch before having the surgery. Losing Adams puts more pressure on the shaky Phillies bullpen and on Larry Bowa's aorta. More Jose Mesa is not a good thing for a contender to be expecting.

  • The Dodgers will not only be without Andy Ashby for the remainder of the season, he's done for 2004 as well. Ashby will have Tommy John surgery as expected. The Dodgers hold a team option on him for 2004 which would have been guaranteed by certain innings thresholds, which he did not meet. At $8.5 million, I think Chavez Ravine will be in Ashby's rear view mirror. At age 36, his pitching career might be in the mirror as well.

  • Curt Schilling returned from multiple minor problems to put up a solid performance, showing near his normal velocity and full command. As the D'backs fade, Schilling may be held out of a start or perhaps lifted earlier than normal. With Schilling, it's never easy to tell what might happen. On the mound, he pretty much runs the show as he sees fit.

  • Quick Cuts: Raul Mondesi left Tuesday's game with what looked like a groin injury, but I couldn't get more information by deadline. Mondesi is recovering from an ankle sprain as well, which might be related...Trot Nixon is hoping to be back in the lineup on Thursday...I knew I was old when Rachel Hunter is playing the mom in the new Fountains of Wayne video. Great song, great video, and more inside references than a typical Transaction Analysis...Chin-Hui Tsao was activated by the Rockies and made his start Tuesday, getting rocked by the Astros...Kurt Ainsworth made it through another simulated game and is on track to pitch for the Orioles in some role for the last two weeks of the season. At best, it will be a token "Look what we got for Sidney Ponson" appearance...Are the Rangers shopping Ismael Valdes? A source tells me yes, even this late in the season...Pedro Martinez's pitch counts are rising. Is it better mechanics or a sign that the Red Sox don't expect Pedro in their uniform past 2004?
Related Content:  1986

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