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Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Mystery Sabermetrics Still Can’t Solve

For all the progress made by science and mathematics in countless areas of baseball, the prediction and prevention of injuries — particularly those to pitchers like Fernandez — remain a frustrating mystery. In a game where everything is dissected with painstaking rigor, not even sabermetricians have been able to make much headway in reducing the rate at which pitchers get hurt. They’ve been at it for more than a decade, and they’re as stymied as the rest.

 

Joyful Calculus Instructor Posted: May 15, 2014 at 03:41 PM | 64 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: tommy john surgery

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   1. SoCalDemon Posted: May 15, 2014 at 04:50 PM (#4707737)
Beyond broad guidelines (things like pitch counts, when studies actually show they are related to risk of injury), why would one expect sabermetrics to provide much information here? I think that, when and if we have a breakthrough in pitcher injury prevention, its going to be on the medical care/physiology/mechanics side of things. Although the most likely scenario remains that pitching will always be a high risk endeavor, I would guess.
   2. dr. scott Posted: May 15, 2014 at 05:40 PM (#4707772)
They’ve been at it for more than a decade, and they’re as stymied as the rest.


I thought PAP was pretty well accepted, and there was actually a slowing of injury rate do to spread of that knowledge. Are people now refuting that, or just assuming its not true because of Fernandez.
   3. SoCalDemon Posted: May 15, 2014 at 05:50 PM (#4707777)
I actually think most recent studies on this have not really found anything, not even for young pitchers.
   4. Zach Posted: May 15, 2014 at 05:52 PM (#4707779)
I thought PAP was pretty well accepted, and there was actually a slowing of injury rate do to spread of that knowledge.

I think it's more accurate to say that once a publication named a statistic "pitcher abuse points," everybody started covering their butts to avoid being labeled a certified pitcher abuser.

Like "game winning RBI," naming a statistic "pitcher abuse points" jumps to a lot of conclusions that probably shouldn't be jumped to.
   5. SoCalDemon Posted: May 15, 2014 at 05:53 PM (#4707780)
From a statistical point of view, it is sort of a nightmare, in that individual, unknowable (or at least at the moment unknown) risk characteristics overwhelm the impact of things like pitch counts. Plus, not all pitches are created equal, stress-wise, certain pitchers probably were developed at yougner ages in better or worse ways, on and on.
   6. Walt Davis Posted: May 15, 2014 at 05:55 PM (#4707781)
For the same reason insurance companies use demographers.

Sabermetricians will never come up with techniques to prevent or treat injuries but do have the potential to identify risk factors. Like high pitch counts, high usage when young, shoulder problems, etc.

This sort of analysis has not been sophisticated and, more importantly, the data has not been very good until maybe recently. There are still gaping holes -- as far as I know, b-r still doesn't track DL days, even in the game logs. We've got military service, seasons lost to injury (of shaky quality it seems), MLB service time, high schools and even Twitter accounts. I've found it odd for years -- not a dig at b-r just that, of all the things we've chosen to track, there's been this rather obvious (and publicly available) blind spot for years.

Anyway, DL days doesn't necessarily get it done so you'd want injury type which some people have begun to track. You'd want to know usage in high school, travel teams, college, etc. Annoying.

But I'm also not convinced there's much to come up with. Pitching damages the arm, the arm only has so much in it. I don't expect it to ever be possible to say "our study shows that kids who throw curveballs 30% of the time at age 17 have 5 times the risk of a major arm injury by age 21" ... although I suspect something like that is true. (Note a conclusion like that requires a large enough sample of 17 year-olds to still keep tracking a large enough group potentially pitching 5-6 years later with study results published 8 years from now ... get cracking boys!)

Where sabermetrics might make more inroads is in shaping ways that teams can get the most value out of their pitching investments. Start with the basics like "pitchers like this FA at this age are projected for 700 innings over 5 years." We suspect teams are incorporating this into their contract offers although the recent spate of long pitcher contracts suggests maybe they've changed their minds.

Similarly, if you figure your average young pitcher probably only has maybe 800 innings in his arm, what mix of minors, ML bullpen and ML starting is the optimal use of those innings. We've noticed the large number of live-armed relievers popping up -- maybe teams are deciding to use up what innings they've got left in the ML pen rather than keep trying to develop them as starters in the minors.

I suppose that's another question that we'll never be able to answer with precision but is worth looking into -- given identical pitchers at age 20, how long is their expected life as a starter vs. a reliever. Do we go from 800 innings to 400? Then, how do you extract the most value?
   7. Walt Davis Posted: May 15, 2014 at 06:04 PM (#4707784)
I thought PAP was pretty well accepted, and there was actually a slowing of injury rate do to spread of that knowledge. Are people now refuting that, or just assuming its not true because of Fernandez.

1. PAP was never accepted by anybody who understands analysis nor should it have been.

2. BPro tinkered with PAP on an annual basis. The best they got to was a study by Woolner (I think it was) who came up with "stress rating" which was some sort of PAP rate stat kinda. That had some minimal negative correlation with short-term performance (guys were usually a bit worse in their start following a high stress period) and maybe some tiny correlation with future injury although they controlled for very little as I recall -- i.e. it seems to be young, stressed pitchers who got injured but that's just repeating Palmer's study of, what, 30-40 years ago.

3. BPro's timing was terrible. Pitch counts were coming down long before PAP came on the seen. At best all PAP did was propel pitch counts into the media. Real baseball people were limiting pitchers long before. This created the problem that, even by "stress", there were only a handful of "stressed" pitchers in any season and that handful was getting smaller all the time.

Basically, I might have been the biggest "defender" of PAP around here and I think it was a piece of crap. Nobody outside of BPro gave it any credence.

What really seemed to coincide with changes in team pitching usage and pitcher contract was a study by the insurance industry cuz they were tired of paying out for pitchers. As far as I know, this study was never seen by the public, but according to press reports, they weren't willing to insure pitcher contracts for more than 3 years anymore.
   8. Zach Posted: May 15, 2014 at 07:13 PM (#4707816)
The question of how to avoid injuries sidesteps the question of the extent to which pitcher injuries can be avoided in principle. Teams still need 8 or 9 innings a night, every night, so somebody is going to have to supply 150-200 pitches.

For sabermetrics to have an impact on the number of injuries, you would first have to find some set of pitches that are more dangerous to throw than others, and then figure out some way of replacing them with less dangerous pitches. So if you discover that more than 10 pitches in an at bat are pitcher kryptonite, you're still out of luck, because you can't pull your starter just because he's at pitch number 9 against the leadoff hitter.
   9. the Hugh Jorgan returns Posted: May 15, 2014 at 10:14 PM (#4707887)
a couple of things.

Are there more power pitchers these days, then say in the 70's and 80's? Seemed like there were more junkballers back then(steve stone types)
Do power pitchers get injured more often?
Didn't Steve Carlton once say he used to go at about 85% most of the time, then dial it up only really when needed? Do pitchers still do this or do they throw 100% hard all the time?

I'm the least saber oriented guy on this site, so I'm not being snarky, just curious about these things. I'm just thinking if you've got guys going full tilt all the time and that wasn't the case in the past, maybe that lends itself to more overall arm stress and more injuries.
   10. McCoy Posted: May 15, 2014 at 10:55 PM (#4707906)
70's was the era of sinker/slider pitchers and with Roger Craig teaching pitchers how to cheat the leagues in the 80's was full of guys throwing illegal junk.

As a kid the only guy that I always heard was a flamethrower was Nolan Ryan. At the end of the 90's Mitch Williams got talked about a bunch as being a wild flamethrower as well. The only other guy I can think of being a guy known for throwing hard in the 80's on a regular basis was Roger Clemens and nowadays his speeds would be rather ordinary.
   11. the Hugh Jorgan returns Posted: May 15, 2014 at 11:11 PM (#4707911)
#10
So maybe there's some excessively unique torque action going on when throwing really hard that causes these injuries to occur frequently as opposed to the torquing action required to throw junk, which may be less harmful to the arm/shoulder?

Mate, I don't know, but I'm like everyone else, I just want to see guys like Fernandez pitch for 14 years and throw like 3000 innings because they are fun to watch.
   12. bjhanke Posted: May 15, 2014 at 11:27 PM (#4707920)
Things like PAP and other such methods that don't actually have a robust data set are, essentially, the acts of actuaries who lack data. Ask an actuary what his worse fear is. Lack of data in sufficient detail. Other aspects of sabermetrics aren't so obviously actuarial.

Mitch Williams got his arm destroyed by Jim Fregosi, trying to win a Championship with the Phillies. IMO, Fregosi was the worst arm abuser of at least the 1980s. I've had people hold out for Tummy Lasorda. That's a close enough call that I'm not going to complain. - Brock Hanke
   13. Pasta-diving Jeter (jmac66) Posted: May 15, 2014 at 11:28 PM (#4707922)
70's was the era of sinker/slider pitchers and with Roger Craig teaching pitchers how to cheat the leagues in the 80's was full of guys throwing illegal junk.

As a kid the only guy that I always heard was a flamethrower was Nolan Ryan.

the sinker/slider was more in the 80's. The 60's featured quite a few flamethrowers--Sudden Sam, Koufax, Gibson, Bob Veale, Jim Maloney, Seaver, inter alia. Not a lotta arm injuries there, well, except for Maloney
   14. Pasta-diving Jeter (jmac66) Posted: May 15, 2014 at 11:30 PM (#4707924)
Mitch Williams got his arm destroyed by Jim Fregosi, trying to win a Championship with the Phillies.

oh bullsit bj--Mitch was a horseshit reliever in 93 and always was
   15. jdennis Posted: May 16, 2014 at 12:38 AM (#4707946)
The thing I could see is saying we should diminute salary by this much based on this basic injury risk percentage, but bidding wars/agents would just completely blow that out of the water.
   16. bjhanke Posted: May 16, 2014 at 03:01 AM (#4707965)
Pasta - Right now, I have a computer so old that it won't go to any stat sites, and a removed gall bladder recovery that doesn't allow me to even drive to the Apple store to get a new computer. When I can ( week or two), I'll look this up again for you. I'm pretty sure that Fregosi blew up Williams' arm and took Tyler Greene (I think that's the name) down with him. Greene was young, but my memory is that the only pitcher on that Philly staff who ever did recover to something close that that year was Terry Mulholland, and even he didn't FULLY recover. This seems to have been Froggy's career. Pitchers as diverse as Williams and Ricky Horton found themselves with arm troubles while working for Jim. But I will certainly know more when I can go to, say, BB-Ref. I should also note that abuse of pitcher arms through demanding more curve balls is a known feature of Billy Martin's career. But Billy had an odd career feature: He was so impossible to deal with that he knew he only had a couple of years to win with whatever he could mortgage the future for, and then he'd get fired. I have no idea whether Jim Fregosi was like that. I know that Lasorda was not.

My historical memory, which goes back to the early 1950s, is that the heyday of the hard throwers who lived on their fastballs is between about 1950 and 1968 or 75, depending on what you think happened after the rules changes after '68. There were earlier guys (Walter Johnson) who lived on high heat, but they were in a weird environment where the ball was muddied up so it was hard to see, and everyone who didn't just live on he fastball either threw a low curve (see Pittsburgh and Chicago staffs from about 1901-1910) or threw some variety of spitball. Even when the spitter was abolished and the balls were discarded when they got brown, there were just a lot of curve ball guys.

The 1980s and 1990s were dominated a lot by what ballpark you were in. Some parks had turf and were huge (Busch Stadium), while some were grass and small (Wrigley, Fenway). Possibly as a consequence, unless you were Nolan Ryan, you needed to have more than a couple of pitches. Also, this period seems to have been the heyday of the slider, which sort of replaced the curve, because it was easier on the arm. If you want more, or corrections to, what I just said, you should ask a real, you know, MLB pitcher instead of the likes of me. There were still curve ball pitchers - this is the time that the term "12-to-6" curve entered the vocabulary to describe the vertical curve balls that guys like Matt Morris threw. However, there did appear to be a significant correlation between throwing a lot of curves and having a short career. Craig Wright's original research, in Diamond Appraised, only deals with YOUNG pitchers and is what? 35 years old? Somebody should do an interview with Craig and ask if he's learned anything new. This being Craig Wright, I'm betting that he knows a LOT more now than he did then. - Brock Hanke
   17. Bhaakon Posted: May 16, 2014 at 03:07 AM (#4707967)
the sinker/slider was more in the 80's. The 60's featured quite a few flamethrowers--Sudden Sam, Koufax, Gibson, Bob Veale, Jim Maloney, Seaver, inter alia. Not a lotta arm injuries there, well, except for Maloney


At also featured a higher mound and much more deliberate pitching motions. The explosion of the stolen base in the 70's/80's made it much tougher to succeed with a high leg kick. Assuming that the underlying theory--that there were a lot more flamethrowers in the 80's than in the 60's--I wouldn't be surprised if part of the reason was that more exaggerated throwing motions protected their arms to a limited extent. Of course, I wouldn't be surprised if the underlying theory wasn't true at all, either.

Anyway, even if we could predict injury more reliably, would it really change that much? The point of baseball is to win, not to keep guys healthy. Even the pitchers seem to routinely rank their health behind even relatively trivial short-term goals (getting a no hitter, complete game, or even just a win). For a lot of teams and players, identifying clear thresholds of danger would just be giving them a target to shoot for. There's a certain risk of injury--and a relatively high one--that teams will be willing to accept.
   18. bjhanke Posted: May 16, 2014 at 03:17 AM (#4707969)
The title of this thread reminded me of an old line from William Blake's monster epic poem Jerusalem. Blake obsessed over the line "the moment in each day that Satan's watch-fiends cannot find", repeating it over and over in this 400-page epic poem. I wrote a grad school paper about this, where I demonstrated that:

1) Watch-fiends was a pun. They were Satan's fiends who watch us, but also Satan's clockwork fiends. Blake believe that mathematics and engineering were what God did; we weren't supposed to have that knowledge.

2) The "moment" was what mathematicians call the infinitesimal. That's the dx thing that you're told you can just treat as zero and discard, even if you've multiplied it by whatever huge number you wanted. The official definition of the infinitesimal was "a number so small that you cannot name a number that is smaller, but is still larger than zero." The concept dates back to the days of Euclid, but it is Newton's calculus that does not work without it. The Christian opponents of calculus (Blake, Bishop Berkeley, etc.) REALLY hated calculus, and used the fact that the infinitesimal had not been proved as a weapon. I think it was Berkeley who got off the quip (approximately), "As long as you can't prove the infinitesimal, your calculus is just as much a religion as my Catholicism." The infinitesimal was proven in 1964 by a Professor Abraham Robinson, at USC, I think, presumably with the help of a platoon of grad students. The approach was by modeling theory. Essentially, Robinson said, "Imagine our mathematical universe. Now imagine a mathematical universe that is exactly the same except that the infinitesimal does not work." He then proved that if something was true in Universe #1, it was also true in Universe #2, which made the infinitesimal irrelevant.

And you know, injuries are, in many ways, the moments in each season that Sabermetrics' watch-fiends cannot find. I doubt that even modeling theory will be able to get a hard proof that some method of predicting injuries and/or their recoveries will ever work. Humans, not numbers. - Brock Hanke
   19. Squash Posted: May 16, 2014 at 03:37 AM (#4707970)
The reverse of this theory is that the reason we are seeing so many (visible) injuries these days is that modern medicine and increased babying of pitchers is keeping players around and the media explosion keeping them in the conversation when in the 30s or 50s or even the 80s they would have disappeared into the cornfields having blown up before we had even heard of them.

As an A's fan my go-to example which I've brought up before is Brett Anderson - this is a guy who has massive baseball talent but no physical durability whatsoever. Imagine if he had pitched in the 1950s - he might have literally exploded on the mound. There would be pieces of him all over West Texas. He would have disappeared at age 18 and been the guy working at the feed store who was great in high school but then got a sore arm and never came back from it. Instead he's limping along, staying in the public eye, throwing 50 innings and having major surgery every year. Tons of the injured guys this year are the same - Kris Medlen, Jarrod Parker, Josh Johnson, Beachy - these are guys who we never even hear of if they were born 30 years before. Or they're Fidrych, or McClain, or Dibble, or whoever.
   20. Gold Star - just Gold Star Posted: May 16, 2014 at 03:46 AM (#4707971)
A footnote to TFA is from Bill James:
The durability of starting pitchers today is essentially in line with historic norms, but has trended downward slightly with the end of the steroid era. The durability of starting pitchers right now is essentially the same as it was in 1967, less than it was in the 1970s, and very slightly less than it was in the heart of the steroid era. The durability of starting pitchers now is distinctly greater than it was in the 1940s and 1950s.
Can anyone here explain how James arrived at this conclusion?
   21. villageidiom Posted: May 16, 2014 at 06:58 AM (#4707978)
Ask an actuary what his worse fear is. Lack of data in sufficient detail.
No, it is snakes.

Snakes, then undetected errors in data. Maybe eye contact after that.

Lack of data in sufficient detail does not daunt an actuary. It probably should, but it doesn't.
   22. Mom makes botox doctors furious Posted: May 16, 2014 at 08:50 AM (#4707994)
And why couldn't they predict the removal of Kruk's ball?
   23. SoSHially Unacceptable Posted: May 16, 2014 at 09:28 AM (#4708004)
But I will certainly know more when I can go to, say, BB-Ref.


You won't find anything at BB-Ref to support the idea that Fregosi blowed up Mitch Williams in an effort to win a championship. It may be true, but it sure as hell isn't evident in any of the numbers (In 2003, the only year the Phils were in contention, Mitch had, by far, his lightest workload to that point in his career: 62 IP in 65 appearances).

Though Mitch had some decent seasons up to and including 2003, he was always living on borrowed time. He always walked way too many hitters to ever be considered a good pitcher.
   24. A big pile of nonsense (gef the talking mongoose) Posted: May 16, 2014 at 09:35 AM (#4708007)
Pretty sure "1993" is meant in #23; Williams' last season was '97.
   25. SoSHially Unacceptable Posted: May 16, 2014 at 09:39 AM (#4708011)
Of course. All those 3-ending years are the same to me.
   26. A big pile of nonsense (gef the talking mongoose) Posted: May 16, 2014 at 09:42 AM (#4708014)
Dunno how old you are, but at 54 I find it depressingly easy to misplace a decade here & there.
   27. AROM Posted: May 16, 2014 at 09:44 AM (#4708018)
I thought PAP was pretty well accepted, and there was actually a slowing of injury rate do to spread of that knowledge. Are people now refuting that, or just assuming its not true because of Fernandez.


I am not aware that any slowing of injury rate occurred. About the time PAP was published, there was a dramatic decrease in high pitch count games. Pretty much anything over 130 disappeared. Walt is probably right that pitch counts were already on a downward trend. But the research probably helped push that along.
   28. Ron J2 Posted: May 16, 2014 at 09:53 AM (#4708024)
I think one of the problems for most people is that the best sabrmetrics ever could do is make a probabilistic statement -- and most people want certainties.

Hell Craig Wright identified some risk factors and gave some very loose guidelines (which really translate to be risk adverse with young pitchers) and they fairly quickly got translated into rigid rules.
   29. Ron J2 Posted: May 16, 2014 at 09:57 AM (#4708029)
Also DL time really isn't what we should be interested in. I think what makes sense is to look at how use impacts future value. The studies are very tricky to design though.
   30. SoSHially Unacceptable Posted: May 16, 2014 at 09:58 AM (#4708030)

Dunno how old you are, but at 54 I find it depressingly easy to misplace a decade here & there.


I'm close, and likewise.

   31. bunyon Posted: May 16, 2014 at 10:10 AM (#4708036)
It seems like we keep going over the same old ground in all these threads but there seems to be the perception, accurate, I think, that young professional pitchers are "babied". I don't mean that perjoratively, though many might. I simply mean the pros seem very cognizant of the risks to young pitchers.

However, while young pros are not being worked hard, younger amateurs are routinely slagged across the Americas. Pretty much everyone agrees that kids pitch a lot more now than they used to. A lot also think they throw less but that is hard to prove. But, worrying about pitch counts in professional leagues but not workloads from 14-18 is absurd. If a guy is overworked at those ages, I doubt any amount of babying in the pros will help.

The other thing that strikes me as inconsistent with a sabr POV is the phrase "pitching hurts arms". While largely true, the one shining feature of sabermetrics is a view that no status quo should simply be accepted. If dramatically reduced workloads really reduce injury risk, it should be plainly apparent in the data. It doesn't seem to be. That is, dramatically reducing professional workload has, at most, slightly reduced injury risk. It's probably close to neutral. It seems, then, that one needs to look elsewhere for "solutions". But sticking your head in the ground because your first idea didn't solve the problem is a very un-sabermetric action, IMO.
   32. Colin Posted: May 16, 2014 at 10:29 AM (#4708054)
Is it possible that sabermetrics is part of the problem? That is, are organizations placing so much emphasis on certain numbers in drafting that they are neglecting players who might be more mechanically sound in the longer term?
   33. BDC Posted: May 16, 2014 at 10:35 AM (#4708055)
the 80's was full of guys throwing illegal junk

the sinker/slider was more in the 80's


But of course there were top pitchers who threw really hard in the 1980s, as there have been in every era. Dwight Gooden is the best-known, but Mark Langston and Floyd Bannister were others. Fernando Valenzuela threw a very hard, unorthodox screwball that should have detached his arm at the shoulder joint, but he turned out to be quite reasonably durable. Sid Fernandez had a great changeup but set it up with a hard fastball. Mario Soto was similar. Tom Gordon when young … and they didn't call Dave Stewart "Smoke" entirely because of his recreational choices … oh heck maybe they did :)

I don't know how fast these guys were in absolute terms compared to 2010s pitchers, of course, nor what percentage of fastballs they threw compared to guys today. There's probably a sense in which pitcher injury is simply scaled to the current workload whatever the current workload is. Pitchers are always going to be pushing the envelope and getting hurt doing so; they get an advantage over other pitchers by incurring that risk.
   34. AROM Posted: May 16, 2014 at 10:43 AM (#4708066)
Sid Fernandez didn't throw that hard. Probably topped around 90-92. His fastball was very effective because he had a weird body and weird motion, and batters couldn't pick it up.

There were pitchers who threw really hard in the 80's. The difference is that we have so much more flamethrowers now, especially the bullpen. Now we have 8 men bullpens where 4 guys throw upper 90's and the others are low to mid 90s, maybe one odd loogy or sidearmer throwing soft. In the 80's some teams (not all) had a closer throwing 95+, and the rest of the 5 man bullpen was made up of soft tossers (at least by current definition).
   35. SoSHially Unacceptable Posted: May 16, 2014 at 10:48 AM (#4708071)
Bobby Witt and Rob Dibble were the two that came first to mind among 80s fastballers.

   36. The Good Face Posted: May 16, 2014 at 10:57 AM (#4708081)
Sid Fernandez didn't throw that hard. Probably topped around 90-92. His fastball was very effective because he had a weird body and weird motion, and batters couldn't pick it up.


Yep. He was a lefty, which never hurts, but to the batter it looked like his fastball came out of his shirt, and Sid had a lot of shirt for a ball to hide in.

Bobby Witt and Rob Dibble were the two that came first to mind among 80s fastballers.


Very true, but I recall Bobby Witt throwing around 94. That's a respectable fastball for a starter even today, but back in the 80s it was enough for him to be labelled a guy with vast potential. He was given chance after chance long after it was clear he had no idea how to keep his stuff in the strike zone. In today's game, a young starter with a 94mph fastball and terrible control is just a guy; relatively fungible.
   37. BDC Posted: May 16, 2014 at 11:04 AM (#4708086)
But that's the thing, I remember when 90-92 was pretty fast, and now you better throw that just to get scouted. It's all relative.
   38. Jeff R., P***y Mainlander Posted: May 16, 2014 at 11:45 AM (#4708119)
In the 80's some teams (not all) had a closer throwing 95+, and the rest of the 5 man bullpen was made up of soft tossers (at least by current definition).


Heck, in the 80's you had Doug Jones closing out games, and he used to throw a change-up off of his change-up. I remember the late 80's Blue Jays bullpen being unusual because they could throw Duane Ward and his 95+ heater at you for the seventh and eighth inning, then finish you off with Tom Henke and his blazing fastball.
   39. SoSHially Unacceptable Posted: May 16, 2014 at 11:54 AM (#4708132)
Heck, in the 80's you had Doug Jones closing out games, and he used to throw a change-up off of his change-up.


That doesn't really differ from Trevor Hoffman, Keith Foulke or no-relation Todd, all of whom pitched well into this century. There have always been closers like that.
   40. You Know Nothing JT Snow (YR) Posted: May 16, 2014 at 12:04 PM (#4708141)
Very true, but I recall Bobby Witt throwing around 94. That's a respectable fastball for a starter even today, but back in the 80s it was enough for him to be labelled a guy with vast potential. He was given chance after chance long after it was clear he had no idea how to keep his stuff in the strike zone. In today's game, a young starter with a 94mph fastball and terrible control is just a guy; relatively fungible.


He had the ridiculous split-finger pitch that was unhittable too. Everything he threw moved.

I remember going to a Rangers spring training game in the mid-80s and watching their heralded young pitchers - Witt, Jose Guzman, Ed Correa, Dwayne Henry, Mitch Williams, probably a couple of others I forgot - warming up together and being amazed at the impact of their pitches as they hit the catchers' gloves. POP POP POP POP POP and pretty soon a crowd was gathered over near the bullpen just watching these big raw kids throwing the hell out of the ball. It was an impressive sight.
   41. You Know Nothing JT Snow (YR) Posted: May 16, 2014 at 12:06 PM (#4708143)
I remember the late 80's Blue Jays bullpen being unusual because they could throw Duane Ward and his 95+ heater at you for the seventh and eighth inning, then finish you off with Tom Henke and his blazing fastball.


I preferred it when Mark Eichhorn was setting up Henke's heater with his 84MPH rainbows. That was a crazy contrast in styles.
   42. Nasty Nate Posted: May 16, 2014 at 12:15 PM (#4708154)
Dunno how old you are, but at 54 I find it depressingly easy to misplace a decade here & there.


I'm younger than that, and last fall I said to someone that we were coming up on 10 years since Kurt Cobain's suicide, before being corrected.
   43. DanG Posted: May 16, 2014 at 12:17 PM (#4708157)
There is a clear and obvious reason for no significant change in injury rates over the past few decades: adaptation - a form or structure modified to fit a changed environment.

As the environment is changed to protect and preserve pitching arms, the pitchers and coaches adapt to this. Most of these adaptations subtly work their ways in. The conclusion is not that the new methods had no effect in preventing injuries. Rather, it’s that new approaches to the art and science of pitching counterbalanced these safety features.

The nature of professional sports is to push the human body beyond normal limits. Every innovation to protect the body will only enable new stresses to be put upon it. The injury rate stays roughly the same as the two come into a new balance.

When bionic arms work their way into the game they will be stressed to the point that arm injuries will still be a common malady.
   44. SoSHially Unacceptable Posted: May 16, 2014 at 12:41 PM (#4708176)
While DanG's 43 is depressing, I think it's probably more accurate than anything I've seen in all of these threads. Excellent observation.
   45. Squash Posted: May 16, 2014 at 01:02 PM (#4708189)
In the end #1 really hits the nail on the head. This isn't really a saber issue, it's a medical issue. Sabermetrics can really only provide a little more clarity on things we already know - lots of pitches is bad, high-stress pitches are bad, limit both. At some point it may be standard issue to do MRIs before and after every start (I am sure some teams have discussed this already) to try and weed out the cascading effect we seem to see with guys like Fernandez: guy has a start that is a little below his normal standards stuff wise but it's just one start so nobody pays attention, the next is a little worse, then a little worse, then a little worse, and suddenly he's 10 mph down and going into surgery. Those sorts of slow-degredation injuries seem like they should be the most preventable and theoretically could be tracked.
   46. AROM Posted: May 16, 2014 at 01:19 PM (#4708211)
Fernandez: guy has a start that is a little below his normal standards stuff wise but it's just one start so nobody pays attention, the next is a little worse, then a little worse, then a little worse, and suddenly he's 10 mph down and going into surgery. Those sorts of slow-degredation injuries seem like they should be the most preventable and theoretically could be tracked.


With Fernandez, it looks like it happened between the 50-60 pitch level of his last start. In his previous start, he won, going 7 innings, 2 earned runs, and 10 strikeouts. He averaged 96 and topped out just under 100 MPH. No sign of anything wrong there.

In his last start, he was throwing 96-98 with the fastball up through 50 pitches, then 90-92 after that.

I don't know what they could have done to stop that. The 50 pitch mark looks to have been around the 5th inning, where Fernandez had a 1-2-3 inning. The next inning he loaded the bases and served up a grand slam. Carefully monitoring his velocity they might have pulled him after or before 5 and saved a few runs. But the tear had probably already happened at that point.
   47. Perry Posted: May 16, 2014 at 01:39 PM (#4708224)
As a kid the only guy that I always heard was a flamethrower was Nolan Ryan. At the end of the 90's Mitch Williams got talked about a bunch as being a wild flamethrower as well. The only other guy I can think of being a guy known for throwing hard in the 80's on a regular basis was Roger Clemens and nowadays his speeds would be rather ordinary.


As I recall there were a lot of these guys in the 60s. Jim Maloney. Bob Veale. Koufax. Gibson. Dick Radatz. Don Wilson. Sam McDowell. Gary Nolan and Luis Tiant are remembered more as junkballers, but were flamethrowers when they came up.

Edit: whoops, looks like Pasta already made this point.
   48. AROM Posted: May 16, 2014 at 02:37 PM (#4708276)
As a kid the only guy that I always heard was a flamethrower was Nolan Ryan. At the end of the 90's Mitch Williams got talked about a bunch as being a wild flamethrower as well. The only other guy I can think of being a guy known for throwing hard in the 80's on a regular basis was Roger Clemens and nowadays his speeds would be rather ordinary.


Sure, Clemens would only throw about 90 today (or at least that's where he was with the 2012 Sugerland Skeeters), but he is 51 years old. In the 1980's Clemens at times cracked 100 MPH.

Hard throwing pitchers were much more rare than they are today, but this post says more about your memory than anything else.
   49. AROM Posted: May 16, 2014 at 02:44 PM (#4708281)
Here's a very incomplete list of flamethrowers active in 1985:

Starters:

Gooden
Ryan
Steve Bedrosian
Mario Soto
Danny Darwin (not sure if he was throwing smoke still, but in late 70's, early 80s he was an upper 90s guy)
Floyd Bannister

Bullpen:
Lee Smith
Ron Davis
Tom Henke
Randy Myers
Mark Clear
Tom Niedenfuer
Juan Berenguer (nickname "Senor Smoke" says it all)
Jeff Russell
   50. villageidiom Posted: May 16, 2014 at 02:46 PM (#4708283)
In the 1980's Clemens at times cracked 100 MPH.
In all my years following the Red Sox I don't recall any moment when Clemens even came close to 100 MPH, let alone cracked it. IIRC he topped out at 95 MPH, maybe hit 96 a few times.
   51. Johnny Sycophant-Laden Fora Posted: May 16, 2014 at 03:07 PM (#4708313)
Can anyone here explain how James arrived at this conclusion?


No idea, is he talking about durability as in ability to avoid injury or durability as in ability to throw scads of innings?

IP by top starters is down an all time low in fact...
Average league leading IP totals:
1901-1917: 373
1918-1924: 324
1925-1956: 303.8
1957-1961: 275.4
1962-1983: 315.6
1984-1999: 264.6 (I adjusted for the strike years, 1981, 1994, 1995)
2000-2013: 242.9

Some yearly cut offs are kind of arbitrary, but basically we can see a more or less steady decline for 40+ years now
that 1957-1961 stretch is kind of wonky though, short enough to be a random fluke I suppose, without it you could almost say that top starters threw as many innings in the mid 1920s, through the 30s, 40s, 50s, 60, 70s and early 80s...

Wainwright threw 242 innings last year, that's the most by an NL pitcher in 3 years
Shield OTOH led the Al with 229, adjusting for strike years that's an all time low for a league leader.
In the NL, 8 of the 10 lowest league leading marks were put up the past 10 years, the 2 outside that decade? Livan Hernandez, 233 in 2003 and 250 by Viola in 1990
in the AL, the 10 lowest league leading totals were all set the past 15 years
   52. Johnny Sycophant-Laden Fora Posted: May 16, 2014 at 03:27 PM (#4708337)
Here's a very incomplete list of flamethrowers active in 1985:


My vague recollection is reading somewhere that the Radar Gun used in the 80s tended to report lower speeds than today's gun, 2-3 MPH slower, so if a guy was clocked at 95 in 1985, today's gun would have clocked him at 97-98.

In the 1980's Clemens at times cracked 100 MPH.


I don't recall anyone reportedly hitting 100 between Ryan and Dibble (and Ryan's score was not timed using a handheld radar gun, and Dibble's was recorded on a different type of gun than had been used in the 80s
   53. villageidiom Posted: May 16, 2014 at 03:40 PM (#4708355)
Too late to edit #50, but...

The more thought I give to this, I'm thinking there were a few times with Boston it was noteworthy that he got up to 98. But I'm not sure if I'm conflating Clemens with someone else for that. Either way, 98 < 100. (Back in the 80s, 100 MPH was rare enough to be noteworthy, and I don't recall Clemens ever being noted for it.)

A couple places online say that the fastest pitch he ever threw was 100 MPH... in 2001. An article from 1999 has him boasting that he finally cracked 100 MPH (in practice) a few times. A Schoenfield ESPN article about his 20k game in 1986 has him touching "as high as 97 MPH", whereas some random internet commenter on another site has him averaging 98 in that same game. I used to have the game on VHS, and still might, so to the extent that they were showing radar readings on NESN back then I can check on it.
   54. villageidiom Posted: May 16, 2014 at 03:45 PM (#4708360)
My vague recollection is reading somewhere that the Radar Gun used in the 80s tended to report lower speeds than today's gun, 2-3 MPH slower, so if a guy was clocked at 95 in 1985, today's gun would have clocked him at 97-98.
This sounds familiar. IIRC the old guns wouldn't pick up the ball until it was close to the plate, at which point air resistance would have taken off a little speed. Newer guns are picking up the ball earlier, when it's traveling a little faster.

So sure, I can buy today that Clemens might have cracked 100 MPH a bunch in the 80s... But it certainly wasn't knowledge in the 80s, which is what I was saying. Newer/better knowledge is a good thing.
   55. Ron J2 Posted: May 16, 2014 at 04:00 PM (#4708376)
#51 I'd look at IP over the course of a career.

The other thing I'm looking at is how frequently a pitcher with at least 2 WAR in a season at least matches the number of innings pitched (or comes within 90%) the next and whether that's changing over time.
   56. AROM Posted: May 16, 2014 at 05:50 PM (#4708456)
My memory was that late in one of his Cy or near Cy seasons, I was watching highlights of a dominant Clemens game and the reporter mentioned that on one pitch late in a game he hit 100. I thought it might have been early 90's, but it might have been his 97-98 Blue Jay years.

Googling, I saw an article from 99 saying that Clemens hit 100 3-4 times the previous season.

I'm a bit skeptical about 2001. We don't have velocity data for that year, but BIS/Fangraphs says he averaged 93 the next year. But he might have had a really good day.

With all of that, keep in mind that radar guns were not 100% accurate, you had fast and slow guns. Maybe if pitch fx was around Clemens would have topped at 98. But there is enough evidence there to conclude he threw really hard, about as hard on average as the top starters of 2014.

Clemens of 2002 on, which we have data for, show a guy with good but not overwhelming velocity. But that Clemens was pushing (then pulling) 40.
   57. Johnny Sycophant-Laden Fora Posted: May 16, 2014 at 06:35 PM (#4708481)
#51 I'd look at IP over the course of a career.


OK, I'll try this
For pitchers whose careers started 1890-1899, the top 5 in career IP averaged: 4850 IP
1900-1909: 4561 IP
1910-1919: 4367 IP
1920-1929: 3959 IP
1930-1939: 3390 IP (obviously WWII was a factor)
1940-1949: 3887 IP
1950-1959: 3849 IP
1960-1969: 5328 Ip (expansion... Yowza) Top 10 (which more than accounts for expansion) averaged 4842 (Double YOWZA)
1970-1979: 4156 IP
1980-1989: 4509 IP
1990-1999: 3233 IP (and that's not going up by much- only Hudson is gonna add to it)

Basically career innings went down after the deadball era ended, and stayed flat until the class of 1960-69, when career durability improved, fell back, improved, collapsed.

I think career innings like seasonal innings tends to be inversely related to offense, but still the sillyball era seems really out of whack
   58. Johnny Sycophant-Laden Fora Posted: May 16, 2014 at 06:41 PM (#4708484)
I remembered hearing John D'Acquisto as being an absolute flamethrower, but I also recall once announcer in or around 76/77 saying something like, "throws harder than anyone but Ryan, buts still not a good fastball, no movement"

I think walking as many people as he struck out was also a problem...
   59. Rob_Wood Posted: May 16, 2014 at 09:10 PM (#4708545)

Roger Clemens definitely hit 100 mph on one pitch in the 1980's with Rich Gedman as catcher. Clemens talks about the pitch in his book Rocket Man. I think it was at Fenway in 1986 vs the Tigers but I might be misremembering.
   60. bjhanke Posted: May 16, 2014 at 11:35 PM (#4708592)
Just going from visuals, and remembering that I see MANY more NL games than AL, the hardest repeating thrower - meaning not just one pitch, but constantly - was Rob Dibble until he blew his arm out. NO control, but the fastest I ever saw. Ryan was next, then Sudden Sam McDowell (not a large sample size, but Jeez), and then RJohn (gotta have me some Hollywood in there). I never saw enough of Clemens when he was young to really judge (I didn't see many McDowell games, but I saw all of the ones I did see at all). All of these guys were definitely faster - meaning just raw speed - than Gibson, Koufax, Roberts, Score, Drysdale, or anyone else I can remember. I don't remember seeing ballplayers before 1954, when I was six, so I only got to see one superseason from Score and Roberts may have been faster when he was really young; I don't know. But the TV fell in love with Score, so I did get to see enough Score for it to score. It's worth noting that the big hole here, where there aren't any whose careers centered then, is the 1980s. Johnson and Clemens aren't really "1980s" pitchers. - Brock Hanke
   61. bjhanke Posted: May 17, 2014 at 12:17 AM (#4708604)
This isn't the research I'd really like to do, but the "Mitch Williams" year was 1993, and that let me use the Win Shares yearly numbers in the Win Shares book instead of trying to get on a web site.

Here's a list of every pitcher the Phillies used in 1992, 1993, and 1994, along with their Win Shares that year. First names given if I'm sure of them. Players central to the debate in all caps:

1992 (70-92)
CURT SCHILLING 17
TERRY MULHOLLAND 9
R. Rivera 7
MITCH WILLIAMS 6
M. Hartley 4
B. Ayrault 3
W. Ritchie 2
K. Shepherd 2
C. Brantley 1
Jose de Leon 1
B. Jones 1
D. Robsinson 1
Mike Williams 1

1993 (97-65)
TYLER GREENE (rookie) 16
TERRY MULHOLLAND 13
CURT SCHILLING 13
Danny Jackson 11
D. West 9
MITCH WILLIAMS 9
L. Anderson 7
B. Rivera 5
Jose de Leon 3
R. Mason 2
D. Pall 2
B. Thigpen 1
Mike Williams 1

1994 (54-61)
Danny Jackson 14
D. Jones 10
B. Munoz 9
Heathcliff Slocumb 7
D. West 5
T. Borland 3
Fernando Valenzuela 3
CURT SCHILLING 2
L. Anderson 1
S. Boskie 1
A. Carter 1
T.Edens 1
TYLER GREENE 1
B. Wells 1
"M" WILLIAMS 1
TERRY MULHOLLAND on the Yankees 1

I ain't backing down. Fregosi blew out Tyler Greene's arm in one year. Although Mitch Williams wasn't very good in general, he also completely collapsed in 1994. "M" Williams means that there is only one "M" Williams on the Phillies in 1994, so I can't be sure that the one Win Share is actually Mitch's instead of Mike's. There is no other M. Williams in the majors in 1994, so Mitch collapsed to either one Win Share, or out of the majors altogether. And I'm not talking about iffy or mild collapses; I'm talking about guys who could only turn in ONE Win Share in 1994, unless they were Curt Schilling, and could manage a whole TWO Win Shares. That is, Fregosi reduced four decent-or-better ML pitchers to replacement rate at best, in one year. I will admit being wrong about Terry Mulholland, but it hurts the opposition case. Terry collapsed just as completely as Greene in 1994; he just was on the Yankees, not the Phils. The one guy who DID survive the nonsense was Danny Jackson, not Mulholland.

To keep score: Jim Fregosi blew the arms out of Tyler Greene, Mitch Williams, Curt Schilling, and Terry Mulholland chasing the 1993 pennant, which he did win. Only Danny Jackson survived the insanity. The quality of the pitchers whose arms got creamed ranges from Schlling to Mulholland. Some of the Fatal Four did recover, some number of years later, but it should be obvious what Fregosi was doing chasing that pennant. - Brock Hanke
   62. SoSHially Unacceptable Posted: May 17, 2014 at 12:38 AM (#4708610)
I ain't backing down. Fregosi blew out Tyler Greene's arm in one year. Although Mitch Williams wasn't very good in general, he also completely collapsed in 1994. "M" Williams means that there is only one "M" Williams on the Phillies in 1994, so I can't be sure that the one Win Share is actually Mitch's instead of Mike's. There is no other M. Williams in the majors in 1994, so Mitch collapsed to either one Win Share, or out of the majors altogether. And I'm not talking about iffy or mild collapses; I'm talking about guys who could only turn in ONE Win Share in 1994, unless they were Curt Schilling, and could manage a whole TWO Win Shares. That is, Fregosi reduced four decent-or-better ML pitchers to replacement rate at best, in one year. I will admit being wrong about Terry Mulholland, but it hurts the opposition case. Terry collapsed just as completely as Greene in 1994; he just was on the Yankees, not the Phils. The one guy who DID survive the nonsense was Danny Jackson, not Mulholland.


And I'm curious what evidence there is that he blew out Mitch Williams' arm, other than Mitch being crappy in 1994. Even with 7 innings of postseason work, his 1993 workload was considerably less than just about every season he'd experienced in the big league up until that point. With postseason, he threw 69 innings in 72 appearances, which is less (of both) than he averaged in Texas and Chicago before getting under Fregosi's cruel thumb.

Mulholland threw for 13 seasons after escaping Fregosi, so whatever shredding was done was horribly ineffective. Schilling also had a couple of down seasons after his 1993 campaign, which was a career high, but recovered nicely.

Now, Tommy Greene was never the same after 1993. Couple that with his injury in 1992, and I can easily see a claim that overwork in the pennant year contributed to his demise. Of course, virtually all claims of shredding are just speculative, so we don't really know whether Greene's arm troubles were inextricably linked to Fregosi's deployment of him.

As for the falloff in Win Shares, I'm sure you can look at just about any pennant winner and pick out a couple of pitchers who dropped precipitously the following year, a byproduct of the instability of pitching results and the natural inclination for players on pennant winners to be performing at their best. It's not proof of arm destruction.

   63. Howie Menckel Posted: May 17, 2014 at 12:47 AM (#4708616)

"Roger Clemens definitely hit 100 mph on one pitch in the 1980's with Rich Gedman as catcher."

I covered the 1991 US Open where fossil Jimmy Connors was hitting 99 and dominant Steffi Graf was hitting 101. that was interesting....
   64. bjhanke Posted: May 17, 2014 at 03:36 AM (#4708625)
SOSH - I'm not claiming that Froggy destroyed the entire careers of a bunch of pitchers. I've said all along that some of these guys were able to stage comebacks after a few years. It would be pretty dumb to say that Curt Schilling never had a ML career after 1994. What I AM claiming is that all four arms completely cratered in 1994 and that, along with Jackson, these guys were the core of the Philly pitching staff. I will admit that the staff wasn't the driving force for the pennant - this team hit a lot better than it pitched - but these were the core pitchers of the staff. It's the "completely" that's important. Sure, some pitchers fall apart every year, but seldom to this extent. None of the four was a ML pitcher at all in 1994, and Williams may have been worse than AAA, and, as far as I recall, none of them had Tommy John surgery or anything; their arms just went dead. There are almost never this many pitchers who collapse to this extent in any numbers on one team in one year. You've got four pitchers, three of whom had established themselves as ML pitchers (Greene was a hot prospect, and thanks for correcting the first name), and none of whom were serious injury cases in general. They weren't necessarily great (well, Schilling) pitchers, but they were established veterans or a hot kid. This is Billy Martin territory.

You probably have also noticed that I've not proposed any answer to the question of HOW Froggy did this. The people who are complaining are mostly complaining about that. The reason I haven't answered that question is that I don't know the answer. Too many IP? Too many pitches per inning? Asking them to throw unusually high numbers of curve balls? Bunching their appearances and then giving them too many days off in a row? I just don't know. But Froggy did have a history of doing this (I started following his career after this year, and then he got his hands on Rickey Horton with the Chisox and I'm a big Horton fan). Both he and Tummy Lasorda had this kind of history.

I should also mention now, before anyone thinks I feel cornered and am pulling a rabbit out of the hat, that I was on a radio show (I was the baseball columnist for the local alternative weekly, and radio / TV guy Frank Cusamano took a liking to me) with Frank and a well-known retired MLB player, and this topic came up during a commercial break, where we weren't worried about the audience hearing what we said. I mentioned my opinion of Froggy, and the ballplayer said no, Tommy Lasorda was the answer to the "destroys the most arms" question. I allowed that if Froggy wasn't #1, then Tommy certainly was, and the ballplayer allowed that if Tommy weren't #1, it was Froggy. We both agreed that no one else was in the discussion. So, it's not as if this is some idea I had out of nowhere. This was a current topic of conversation in MLB at the time. The ballplayer in question never played for either Froggy or Tommy, so he wasn't grinding axes. I'm trying to defend my position without that, so please feel free to ignore it. I just didn't want it to come up later, when someone has gotten really committed. That would be a debating cheat. I was on the receiving end of enough of those when I started winning debates with my mom at age 14. I try VERY hard not to cheat people in debates. Anyway, that's my position. If you can add to it (like coming up with a mechanism as to how it happened or some stats on how rare this really is), I'm happy to listen and believe you. But I just don't think you can deny that it happened, regardless of how. - Brock

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