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How to Win

Is Modern Medicine Helping Pitchers?

If you’re trying to improve at something, remember these words: It doesn’t matter if you’re doing things right if you’re not doing the right things.

It reminds me of the best parking job I ever did. Late for practice, I gained a few precious seconds by slipping gracefully into the parking space and racing into the gym. Only then did I realize that I was at the wrong gym. It was Wednesday, when we practice in the gym across town.

Moral of the story? It doesn’t matter how well you park if you’re in the wrong lot.

All this comes to mind because of a Baseball Prospectus article by Mike Ferrin. In discussing the trade in which the New York Yankees acquired pitcher Michael Pineda, he points to an article by Tom Verducci that cites research from Stan Conte, head trainer for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Conte indicates 50 percent of starting pitchers and 34 percent of all relief pitchers will wind up on the disabled list this year.

Think of that for a moment. If the citation is correct, you’ve got to wonder about modern routines. Despite all the advances in conditioning and in medicine, half the starting pitchers in the big leagues will be hurt badly enough this season to miss at least two weeks.

It makes you wonder if these advances are really advances at all. Are we doing the right things? Are trainers, managers, pitching coaches, etc., in the right parking lot?

I don’t have any data, but I wonder how today’s injury rate would stack up against the rates from 50 or even 100 years ago.

It seems to me that there are fragile pitchers in all eras, and durable pitchers in all eras.

Years ago, starting pitchers would work every fourth day, and sometimes fill in as relievers. Nowadays, starters work every fifth day, and hardly ever appear in relief. Nowadays, teams carefully monitor the number of pitches that every pitcher throws. Some teams even have special rules for how often the pitcher can work.

The Yankees did it, not too successfully, with Joba Chamberlain, and the Washington Nationals are doing the same with Stephen Strasburg, who is more than a year removed from surgery.

Is all of this producing more durable and more productive pitchers? If you have any data, I’d love to see it. In the meantime, you can’t help but wonder if, when it comes to nurturing pitchers, big-league baseball teams are in the wrong parking lot.

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