I just happened to catch former MLB pitcher and current MLB.com analyst Mitch Williams calling into the morning show on 106.7 this am. And I felt compelled to immediately call into the show to rebut some of the more arguable statements he made. Of course, this being Washington DC they only took 2 calls (one of which immediately changed the subject to golf; nice screening there WJFK) before moving onto a football-related segment, so I’ll exhaust my need to speak up in this space.
Williams had lots to say about Stephen Strasburg‘s mechanics, Mike Rizzo‘s decision to shut him down, and other fun stuff.
First off, I find it ironic that a guy with some of the worst mechanics in the last 25 years has the audacity to question Strasburg’s mechanics. Williams nearly dislocated his left shoulder on every delivery and fell off to the 3rd base side so badly that he nearly hit the ground on each pitch (as is displayed in the photo above). Strasburg, on the other hand, was considered to have impeccable mechanics upon hitting the draft and you really had to squint to find flaws in his delivery. Google searches on the topic are so muddied with opinions that its hard to find actual scouting reports from his amateur days versus “hindsight is 20/20″ pieces that look for flaws to explain his 2010 injury. But its ironic that Strasburg suddenly has all these mechanical issues according to pundits, because he got injured.
Speaking of that 2010 injury, Williams intimated that the infamous “Inverted W” was the reason Strasburg got hurt. I just have an awful hard time with that theory. First, its a THEORY and is merely a coincidental piece of evidence in pitcher injuries. You can find examples of pitchers who get into this position pre-delivery who have never had any injury issues just as easily as you can cherry-pick guys like Strasburg or Mark Prior who have suffered injuries. More importantly, the Inverted W is more indicative of SHOULDER injuries in pitchers, not elbow ligament tears. Shoulder injuries in pitchers are by and large wear-and-tear injuries, caused by over use and over-throwing over hundreds and thousands of pitches. You don’t generally throw one pitch and tear completely through your labrum or rotator cuff. However, elbow injuries to the UCL are almost entirely singular, acute injuries caused on a specific pitch. We all can remember the exact pitch Strasburg threw to injure his arm and the grimace on his face after he threw it (as well as the blowhard Rob Dibble comments …. but we’ll choose to ignore those).
I wrote at the time my opinion on why Strasburg got hurt, and it had nothing to do with his pitching mechanics (my pet theory: Ivan Rodriguez fell in love with Strasburg’s change-up, had him throwing too many of them, and the vastly increased stress on his elbow caused the injury. See the Aug 2010 post linked above for more detail). I think its irresponsible for Williams to get onto a local radio show and opine that Strasburg “needs to change his mechanics” because of the injury, or else he’ll always be an injury concern. Because in reality, nobody knows. Personally I think teams trying to “change mechanics” in pitchers is a mistake; you throw one way your entire life, from age 5-6 onwards, and your entire shoulder/arm combination becomes inured to that method of throwing. How can anyone think that suddenly as a 25 yr old you can even change the fundamental way you throw a baseball and be successful? Adjustments, no problem. Fix slight timing issues or slight changes to your wind up? Sure. Core changes to arm slots and arm loading? Problematic.
Williams continued with the same tired themes we’ve been hearing from National writers (i.e., the Veterans aren’t going to like this, its a team game, the Nats should have managed this better, the Nats are foolish not to go for it, etc). But he fails to mention what most fail to mention; Rizzo arrived at this shutdown decision with Strasburg the SAME way he did with Jordan Zimmermann last year; he talked with the surgeon who performed the surgery (Dr. Lewis Yocum in LA, the same doctor apparently about to pronounce the same fate on our 2012 #1 draft pick Lucas Giolito) and arrived at a prescribed, pre-defined innings limit. You notice we’re in the EXACT same position as we were with Zimmermann in 2011, yet without any of the national media interest. (And so far, that limit has worked out pretty darn well for the Nats and Zimmermann; right now, he’s 2nd best in the NL in several macro pitching categories; bWAR, ERA and ERA+, while being top 10 in WHIP, K/BB, and BB/9).
The way I look at it is thus: if you or I had Heart Surgery, your Cardiologist probably would recommend a course of recovery. For the first X months, avoid any activity, then ease your way back to vigorous activity over a period of Y more months. And you’d follow that advice, right? Well, the pitching arm of a Major League Starter pretty much is equivalent to the heart of a normal person; without that arm, you’re not a major leaguer any more. So when you get surgery on it, you listen to your doctor and do exactly what he says. If someone told that same heart patient that, well because we’re really close to the World Series, you should really ignore your surgeon and just go for it for the betterment of the team, what would you say? You’d probably say, “well, this may help the team make this one short term goal but I may be dead a lot sooner because of it.” In my mind, that’s what Strasburg/Rizzo are doing; they’re following the same advice that has now led to Zimmermann having a fantastic (and healthy) 2012 season.
And one caller, to his credit, did point out a very important fact: the story on Strasburg hasn’t really changed all year. There was a communicated shutdown expectation to Strasburg and the team in spring training. Its only the National media that is now catching onto this and thrusting microphones into our players’ faces and asking for reactions that are getting over blown and taken out of context. I guess this is what its like day in, day out in New York and Boston…
There are no absolutes in life; Strasburg could absolutely re-injure himself in 2 years time and turn into this generation’s Mark Prior. Or he could be like Chris Carpenter, who had the TJ surgery in 2007 then recovered to a 17-4 record in 2009 as a guy in his mid 30s. But anyone who thinks they know otherwise is just stating an opinion. And everyone has an opinion. I support the shutdown, I think its prudent for the longer term position of this team, and I don’t think 2012 is a once-in-a-lifetime shot for this franchise. Of the “core 15″ of the Nats (8 positional players, 5 starters and 2 relievers) exactly ONE guy is a free agent or not presented with at least an option for 2013. Most of these guys are either signed long term or under team control for at least another FOUR seasons. So this team isn’t going anywhere. You play it safe and get ready for a 4-5 year run.
That’s MY opinion. :-)