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September 22, 2015 6:00 am

Baseball Therapy: Why Do Pitchers Get Tired?


Russell A. Carleton

Is it as simple as pitch count, or does degree of difficulty factor in?

A couple of weeks ago, I was listening to a podcast in which some French-Canadian guy whose favorite team doesn't exist anymore was interviewing former major-league pitcher Mark Mulder. They were talking about the case of Matt Harvey and whether he should pitch in the playoffs, and the fact that no one really has any idea whether letting Harvey pitch so much after coming back from Tommy John surgery has any effect on his health going forward. Mulder and Jonah Keri got to talking about pitcher fatigue in general and the thought that tired pitchers were more likely to get hurt.

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How important is it for a manager to rest his players?

Imagine a world without weekends. No days off at the end of a long string of days doing whatever it is you do to gather your thoughts and rest. (Or at least do a different kind of work. The lawn doesn't cut itself, after all.) The weekend is nice, because even if you aren't "doing anything," you still get a reprieve from your job or classes or whatever you do the rest of the week. But imagine that the weekend was taken away. You just became a professional baseball player.

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A recent study suggests that players' plate discipline erodes throughout the season due to fatigue. Here's why you should be skeptical.

Over the last few weeks, a press release has been making the rounds. It’s a persuasive press release that reports some interesting research, and wherever it goes, it produces a post. There’s just one problem: the research it reports is a little misleading.

The press release, which you can view here, was put out by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. It summarizes the results of a recent study on the effect of fatigue on strike-zone judgment. The source of the study is a research abstract published in an online supplement of the journal SLEEP—you can access the abstract (PDF) on page A408 here—and the principal investigator behind it is Scott Kutscher, MD, an assistant professor of sleep and neurology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

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September 12, 2012 11:05 am

Manufactured Runs: Searching for Fatigue in Stephen Strasburg


Colin Wyers

Does a look at Stephen Strasburg's PITCHf/x data reveal what might have caused the Nationals to shut him down early?

Tonight in New York is the “not” heard round the world: the game Stephen Strasburg would have been pitching if the Nationals hadn’t shut him down ahead of schedule, due to problems “mentally concentrating” that the Nationals blame on the level of media attention to the team’s plans to shut him down.

The Nationals have a strong lead in the NL East, so they are unlikely to miss his performance in one game, or for the rest of the regular season, very much. The larger issue surrounding Strasburg is the impact of losing him for the postseason. When the Nationals instituted their plan for Strasburg at the beginning of the season, it made a lot of sense for a young team with slim hopes of making the playoffs to protect one of their most valuable (and most fragile) players from injury. With the Nationals heavily favored to make the playoffs, though, some Nationals fans are likely to be disappointed if their team’s ace isn’t available for a single game of the postseason.

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April 7, 2009 11:17 am

Catcher Fatigue


Ben Lindbergh

It's accepted wisdom that the beatings of backstoppery impact player performance, but by how much?

"What's to get tired from? This isn't like football or basketball. Even if you play 100 games in the outfield, you handle only six or eight balls a game. What can wear you out? It's hard to get physically tired in baseball, unless you pitch or catch."
-Ron Fairly

"Get up. Get down. Get up again. Get down. Come up throwing. Take the chest protector off. Take the shin guards off. Hit. Put them back on. Go back behind the plate and repeat the process. Catching just breaks a man down, inning by inning, game by game, year by year."
-Reggie Jackson

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June 9, 2008 12:00 am

Ballad of the Fatigued


Eric Seidman

How do starters who throw particularly high pitch-count initial innings perform subsequently?

Delivering to the dish with a 2-2 count, Wandy Rodriguez hit the outside corner with a 91 mph fastball with which Edgar Renteria could do nothing but whiff. This heater happened to be the 55th pitch that Rodriguez threw in the inning on August 1, 2007. While the pitch brought the inning to a close, it simultaneously placed Rodriguez atop a list of the pitchers who had thrown the most pitches in a single inning. Compiled by Retrosheet's David Smith and posted on the Inside the Book blog, the list is composed of the pitchers with the most pitches thrown in an inning from 2004-2007.

I decided to examine the Pitch F/X for Wandy's game. Analyzing the velocity and movement of Rodriguez's fastball, I was surprised to find that his fastball sustained its velocity and "bite" as he went deeper into the inning. However, during the rest of the game things changed a bit. In the second inning, his velocity lost three miles per hour, but his movement increased. It has been theorized before that some pitchers may throw with more movement when they tire due to a dropping of their arm angle; perhaps this happened here, as Wandy lost velocity but threw with more movement.

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An in-depth discussion about mechanics with the motion analysis coordinator and coach of the National Pitching Association.

Pitching is both an art and a science, and from youth leagues to the big leagues, so is the challenge of keeping pitchers healthy. The National Pitching Association (NPA) is on the cutting edge of research and instruction on all three fronts, and many of their concepts are shared in their forthcoming book, Arm Action, Arm Path, and the Perfect Pitch: a Science-Based Guide to Pitching Health and Performance. David talked to the NPA's motion analysis coordinator and coach, Doug Thorburn.

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August 25, 2003 12:00 am

Under The Knife: Bad News in Oakland


Will Carroll

The strained hip should have been a signal. People came out of the woodwork, claiming that Mark Mulder had been experiencing pain for weeks, but again, the leakproof A's kept the information out of the hands of everyone who follows injury information. Mulder's injury, as you know, is a stress fracture, not a muscle strain--but what does that mean? The definition of stress fracture is clear cut, but the specifics of Mulder's acetabular fracture are much less clear. First, we have no clear cut facts from media reports or sources. Second, the information is a bit unclear. Most reports have the fracture in the femoral head, or acetabulum. Most stress fractures of this type happen at the femoral neck. Add in the note from Susan Slusser that Mulder cannot golf and could have "broken his leg," and the signs point to the neck again. Bottom line: Mulder is, for all intents and purposes, done for 2003, both regular and post-season. But what does this injury mean to Mulder's future? Hip injuries are notoriously slow to heal due to poor blood flow in the area, but I haven't heard anyone trotting out the Bo Jackson comparisons yet, and hopefully they won't. With proper healing on a normal timeframe, there's little to indicate that Mulder couldn't return for 2004 fully healthy.

I'm unsure of Matsusaka's contract status, but I'd love to see the gyroball make it over here since it's so well documented in Japanese biomechanical texts. (Which are worth a read if you can find them, just for the diagrams. They're obsessed with spirals.) I have an admitted love for knuckleballs so finding another oddball pitch is just a way of finding an advantage--something pitchers have much less of these days. Add in the decline of knucklers--the Tigers, of all teams, released Steve Sparks recently, a move that they'll come to regret--and I know of only one knuckler in the minors. Some organization is going to get smart and find their "failed prospects" and send them back to A-ball and say: "Look, you're either going to get cut or learn one of these pitches." Give an organization a bullpen with a couple knucklers, a guy with a mean scroogie, and a gyroball specialist, and there's a pen no one would want to face. Heck, let's toss in one of the sidewinders, even if they're not so odd these days.

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