I can smell an ineffective effect coming on.
Yet baseball keeps doing things the same way. It is addicted to the “theater” of having a specialized closer and the “theory” that an arm has only so many pitches in it—and that everybody’s arm will be treated exactly the same way. And when the casualties keep piling up, baseball keeps going about it the same way. The sport is so flush with money even wasting half a billion dollars a year doesn’t set off any alarms.
The incidence of injuries went down slightly in one brief period: the back end of the steroid era, when sophisticated, cutting-edge use of illegal performance-enhancers—not the industrial-strength, gym-rat regimens of the early adopters—were keeping people on the field and aiding in recovery. But since 2007—right after amphetamines joined steroids on the banned list—the rate of injuries has not improved despite the advances in science, nutrition and training. Walk into any major league clubhouse before a game and you will see all kinds of strength trainers, masseuses, massage therapists, doctors, whirlpools, hydrotherapy pools, hot tubs, cold tubs, weight rooms, gyms ... and injured pitchers.
“That means this method is not working,” Conte said. “Injuries have not gone down. With all due respect to the medical professionals, and they’re great, we’re not putting a dent in it.”
...And yet the universally accepted system is a failure when it comes to reducing the rate of injuries. What can change it? A maverick organization. (The Rangers and Giants are loosening pitch count restrictions in the minors, but the evidence is not yet very apparent in the majors.) A maverick manager. (Why won’t somebody use a closer—say Sean Marshall or Aroldis Chapman in Cincinnati—in the manner of a 1980s closer such as Jeff Reardon? And my personal idea: give each starting pitcher a 10-day vacation during the season. Recovery, both mental and physical, is an undervalued asset.) Stem cell treatments. (Baseball better be bracing for a whole new series of ethical questions as science blurs the line between performance enhancing and performance enabling.)
Who knows what the future holds? Not even Tony LaRussa, the father of the modern bullpen, likely could have envisioned a pitcher limited to about 60 innings being worth more than $12 million while representing a breakdown waiting to happen. But this much is certain: the injury rate will not be reduced if teams continue to treat pitchers the same way they do now.