A Not-So-Brief History of Pitching Injuries, Starring Nolan Ryan and the Texas Rangers
December 20, 2010 8:58 AM   Subscribe

Jonah Keri looks at the unconventional methods being used by the Texas Rangers to improve the durability and effectiveness of their pitching staff.
posted by reenum (13 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Nice article. I am relieved to find it wasn't about this unconventional method.
posted by exogenous at 9:20 AM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

God bless Nolan Ryan. When that man says "jump", pitchers move.
posted by rokusan at 9:20 AM on December 20, 2010

I'm not a baseball fan, nut that was an interesting article. The number of pitches per game is amazing.
posted by KGMoney at 10:02 AM on December 20, 2010

Isn't Chuck Norris a Texas Ranger? 'Nuff said.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 10:10 AM on December 20, 2010

When that man says "jump", pitchers move.

They're afraid they'll end up like Robin Ventura* if they don't.

Interesting article, and I think it is a sensible way of looking at it - don't push the young guys like rented mules, but don't forbid them from any sort of effort either. Middle ground.

* What kind of world do we live in where I can't INSTANTLY link to that video on Youtube - I can see it elsewhere, but nowhere embeddable here. Fie.
posted by dirtdirt at 10:26 AM on December 20, 2010

The decline of the complete game has been one of my Big Personal Stupid Questions for years. (Any variant of the "kids today aren't as tough as they were when I was a whippersnapper" makes me go all stabby, and I wanted to find the truth.)

I once dragged out stats from baseball-reference.com and fed them to a spreadsheet to see if I could spot when the bottom fell out for CGs. After all the number crunching, lo, complete games have been on a steady decline since at least 1940. So either the game changed and continues to change, or the descent from the golden age of athleticism is generations old, and players of today are mere shades of the mighty athletes of the past. Considering that Jimmie Foxx used to be considered a great beast for being six feet tall and a bit shy of two hundred pounds, the former always felt more likely.

Man, I wish this article came out five years ago. Woulda saved me a lot of data entry.
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 10:33 AM on December 20, 2010

Interesting article, but oddly, they don't mention Leo Mazzone or his dictum that you both throw every day and that you don't exhaust yourself doing so. Not mentioning the most successful pitching coach of my lifetme and the similarities and differences between his training method and the Rangers' seems like an oversight.
posted by suckerpunch at 10:45 AM on December 20, 2010

Complete games have been on a steady decline since at least 1940. So either the game changed and continues to change... -- Harvey Jerkwater

The article touches on it a bit, but I think a large part of this is political risk-avoidance: simple ass-covering. No coach, manager or owner wants to be blamed for "breaking" a pitcher from overuse: it can cost them their job or tarnish their reputation in career-damaging ways. But if they err on the side of caution, and then their pitcher suffers an injury, it will be written off as an unrelated fluke, saving management jobs/reputation. "After all," they will say "We did all we could do, look how careful we were to limit his workload."

As hundreds of management staff do this over decades, the definition of "erring on the side of caution" gets more and more conservative, since if every pitcher is allowed to throw 320 innings per season, the safer move is to be the decisionmaker who lowers the limit to 300, thus inoculating himself from accusations of abuse and building a reputation as a better caretaker of talent... but once everyone is shutting pitchers down at 300, the more conservative move will now be 280, "just to be safe." Run that for fifty years and here we are, where 220 innings per season is a huge number, and I suspect 200 will be the norm in another decade.

The same holds for pitches per game, of course, which also introduces the extra political risk a coach takes on by failing to use an asset (from an expensive bullpen) that could have been used to perhaps save a game. Grady Little's coaching career, for example, never recovered from one single such incident in 2003.
posted by rokusan at 11:30 AM on December 20, 2010

Also odd that they don't mention Mike Maddox's brother, Greg. Greg put together a 300 win career without ever having any significant injury downtime that I can remember. I have to believe that some of Mike's philosophies can be tied back to Greg.
posted by COD at 12:00 PM on December 20, 2010

CGs are in decline because a pitcher performs better in a shorter outing for the same reason you can run faster for a half a mile than for a mile. Pitching has become more specialized and outings have gotten shorter to keep fresh, strong arms in the game. No matter how hot Ryan was that day, it's hard to imagine that, after over 200 pitches he was better than whoever the Angels had in the pen.

I like the article. It's still lacking in actual research. All we have here is that some believe that pitchers who throw more will be more resistant to injury. It's not like pitchers didn't blow their arms out back when they regularly threw 150 pitches. They did. That's why coaches and managers started babying them.
posted by chrchr at 1:34 PM on December 20, 2010

Very interesting piece; thanks for posting it. (Nolan Ryan threw a 235-pitch game, holy kamoly, and that wasn't even his record!)
posted by languagehat at 2:26 PM on December 20, 2010

COD : Mazzone was the Braves' pitching coach for years, and was Maddux's coach for his decade with the team. As far as I know, Greg's longetivity techniques are Mazzone's, but the articles where they talked about that focused singly on Mazzone and the 90s Braves pitching staff, the way this article focuses singly on the Rangers. So where did Mazzone get his ideas? I don't recall that being discussed.

What the Rangers are doing sounds easily more refined than any other team I've heard to date, but I'm under the impression that there's been more difference in training regimens between teams and coaches than this article implies, and more knowledge passed from pitcher to pitcher and coach to coach. It doesn't denigrate the Rangers at all to allow that their advances didn't happen in a vacuum of bad practices.
posted by suckerpunch at 3:17 PM on December 20, 2010

Fwiw he is also on Twitter and has a great podcast...
posted by knockoutking at 6:58 PM on December 20, 2010

« Older Total Lunar Eclipse Tonight!   |   Must Be Santa, over the years (now with more Dylan... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments