Its always dangerous to make a blanket statement in baseball. If I say that “CollegeX is known for killing pitcher arms” then there’ll immediately be people who cite players who are exceptions to such a rule.
Nonetheless, while reading a ton of prospect-driven content on the web over the years, some common themes pop up. And the crux of it is this: there are some college baseball programs out there that are accused of hurting their players’ professional prospects and draft statuses by virtue of the misguided or (in some cases) outdated coaching and usage of players.
Grantland’s Michael Baumann wrote an excellent article summarizing some of the “danger programs” in 2013, citing work done by Rany Jazayerli and Baseball Prospectus. Some of this also comes from Keith Law‘s freely offered opinions on the topic, and he offers up plenty of supporting evidence in his columns and chats.
Here’s some trouble-maker programs (and by “programs” often times by implication you’re blaming the head coach as the decision maker):
- Stanford: Law calls it the “Stanford Swing.” Per Law, Stanford coaches emphasize going away, altering hitters’ swings to de-emphasize pull hitting, to the point apparently where players are outright benched for pulling the ball. Now, there’s quite a few Stanford grads in the Majors right now, and the hitters listed aren’t exactly an honor roll of top-hitting guys. Jed Lowrie might be the best active hitter. The career Stanford grad homer leader is the recently retired Carlos Quentin, out of baseball at 32. So maybe there’s something to it.
- TCU: Jim Schlossnagle is not well known for its handling of pitchers. The Nats are well aware of this, having drafted damaged goods in Matthew Purke, who was 15-0 as a freshman and basically hasn’t been the same since.
- Rice’s Wayne Graham: Law has provided an exhaustive list of pitchers who he accuses the Rice coaches of blatantly over-working and has flat out suggested that pitchers considering attending Rice should go elsewhere. In fact, the most blatant example of this was the 2004 draft: Rice had three starters drafted in the first 8 picks (Philip Humber, Jeff Niemann, and Wade Townsend) and ALL three of them suffered shoulder injuries soon there after.
- UNC‘s Mike Fox so over-used a reliever a few years back that the New York Times of all papers wrote about it. And he had Matt Harvey, don’t forget, allowing Harvey to throw an astounding 157 pitches in a 2010 outing and 5 other instances of 120+ pitches. Is it a coincidence that Harvey blew out his UCL just a couple years later? Or just bad luck?
- South Carolina‘s Ray Tanner: won back to back CWS’s … on the backs of his pitching staff.
- Texas‘ legendary coach Augie Garrido already had a reputation for overuse before the infamous Texas-Boston College regional game in June of 2009. Texas’ Austin Wood, a reliever, came out of the bullpen to throw 13 innings and 169 pitches in the 25-inning game. Garrido really took a lot of heat for that … but his BC counterpart might have only been slightly less culpable. BC threw its own guy Mike Belfiore for 129 pitches and 9 2/3 innings. In Wood’s case, it was made even worse by the fact that he had thrown two innings *the day before.* It is no surprise to report that Wood had to undergo Shoulder Surgery the next season, nor is it a surprise that the crusty Garrido disclaimed any responsibility for the injury by Wood’s usage in that game. Belfiore, it should be noted, has never shown any evidence of injury, was a 1st round draft pick just prior to his appearance, and looks like a 4-A pitcher who is now in the Detroit organization but who had a cup of coffee in 2013. Perhaps its because Belfiore was a starter and basically threw a start instead of Wood, who was clearly a reliever.
Pitch count guidelines: there’s research out there that basically shows that anything above 120 pitches in an outing is an indicator of fatigue-induced regression their next time out, and 130+ pitch outings might as well be prescriptions for injury.
Times have changed: no longer are A-1 pitching prospects left in games to rack up ridiculous pitch counts. Mark Prior had at least 6 starts the year he was drafted where he threw 120-130+ pitches. Ben McDonald was famously started in back to back CWS games, getting clobbered in the second game … all while having *already* been drafted by the Baltimore Orioles, who must have been screaming at the television set watching what was unfolding as legendary LSU coach Skip Bertman set about destroying the best arm in the nation.
But then again, the more things change, the more they stay the same. NC State, in a mad dash to make the post-season in 2014, let their Ace starter Carlos Rodon throw 120+ pitches seven times. Rodon’s usage was also discussed in Baseball America. Did that lead to Rodon’s diminished stuff and subsequent drop in the 2013 draft? Maybe. I’m sure the White Sox are ok with it, since he doesn’t seem to have suffered any ill effects and is in their rotation 2 years later. Trevor Bauer, while at UCLA, *averaged* more than 120 pitches an outing the year he was drafted … but he seems like such an outlier because of his warm-up technique (which involves extreme long toss and clearly has built up his shoulder strength over the years). Are NC State and UCLA trouble-programs? I havn’t heard much since so i’m leaving them off for now.
Did I miss anyone?