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Monday Mop-Up Duty: the confounding TJ for JT outcome

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PNC PARK – We still don’t know enough about injury prevention.

That’s what I took away from Sunday’s news that Pirates’ top pitching prospect Jameson Taillon requires Tommy John surgery. The Pirates handled Taillon about as cautiously as any top pitching prospect in Major League history. They took his workload and pitch restrictions to an extreme at times in the minor leagues. They ran him through biomechanical examinations, and they drafted him over Manny Machado because he was big, strong and had a clean delivery.

And his arm still broke.

There’s nothing that could have prevented the outcome based on our current understanding of injury prevention. But the industry should strive to improve its understanding.

The industry has spent a billion dollars on injured pitchers over the last five years. That’s billion with a ‘B.’ The industry has to focus much more attention on injury prevention. There was not even an official MLB injury database until 2010. (The DL isn’t a database, it’s a roster-management tool that does not always contain injured players or document every injury).

I suspected that when Neal Huntington said Taillon’s elbow ligament was “intact” last week the No. 2 overall pick from the 2010 draft was dealing with a partially torn ligament. The Pirates do take injury prevention seriously. Huntington said the Pirates have bettered the industry standard in injury prevention but there are no perfect batting averages here.

“We’ll continue to study,” Huntington said. “Whether it’s the biomechanics, whether it’s the size, the strength, the pitch count, the pitch build-up, the stress pitch count, the  effective pitch count…. We’ll continue to do it. Twenty-five percent of pitchers on Opening Day rosters last season had Tommy John. We’ve had less than 20 in our six years here so our rate is significantly lower than the major league rate. But we’re still having them.”

The silver lining in this is Taillon and the Pirates decided not to put this off.

Rest and rehab was an option but it has not worked over the past calendar year with Dylan Bundy, Matt Harvey and Miguel Sano. It has just delayed the inevitable.

“(Rest) is not a proven cure. It’s a possible cure or it’s delay and that is one of the challenges,” Huntington said. “We presented Jameson with all kinds of information. I’m sure he did all sorts of research on his own. How much of a factor that played in Jameson’s decision I can’t tell you. … He and we felt it was best to go ahead and have the surgery.”

The silver lining is the likely inevitable isn’t delayed, but make no mistake this is a big blow to Taillon and the Pirates.

For starters, Taillon will not be available as a  a second-half impact arm like the club enjoyed in the form of Gerrit Cole last season. The Pirates pitching depth just became considerably thinner.

Moreover, why Tommy John has saved hundreds of careers it’s still not an automatic procedure. Just look at how long it took Francisco Liriano to get back on track. The jury is still out  on whether Edinson Volquez ever will get back (though Sunday was a start).

There’s more uncertainty regarding Taillon, now. And it’s a frustrating day for the industry as yet another young, talented arm has fallen victim to the unnatural act of pitching.

What we do know is more must be done to understand how to prevent injuries.

STARTING NINE THOUGHTS 

9. One of the things that struck me about the first week of the season was the Pirates’ collective opposite-field approach, offensively. There appeared to be a conscious, collective effort to focus on using the entire field.

8. The best  and perhaps most important example of this is Pedro Alvarez. Eight of Alvarez’s first 16 balls put in play have gone to the opposite field. The key to unlocking Alvarez’s ultimate upside has always been using the whole field, which would also allow him to better stay on breaking balls. Against the Cardinals on Friday, we saw Alvarez homer to the opposite field – a missile into the Iron City Beer patio – and later rock a changeup 448 feet. It appears the talk of him maturing as a hitter this spring wasn’t empty.

7. The next generation of shifting? It was fascinating to see the Pirates shifting Cardinals’ third baseman Matt Carpenter by the pitch, by the count, a defense that was nearly in constant motion at times this weekend.

6. The next generation of shifting? The Pirates have also been more aggressive with outfield alignment at there were times this week where Starling Marte was playing so extremely pull-side he nearly needed a ticket.

5. If Ray Searage can fix Volquez he deserves a spot in the Hall of Fame and statue commissioned in Market Square.

We’ve written before about how Volquez has some Francisco Liriano in him. He’s a pitcher with velocity and killer off-speed pitches who couldn’t throw his fastball for strikes.

Well, Searage worked with Volquez on creating a more direct line to home plate this spring and, voila, Volquez throws 32 of his 43 fastballs for strikes Sunday en route to out-pitching Adam Wainwright.

4. Now, it’s a small sample size but with the departure of A.J. Burnett and the injury to Taillon, Volquez just became a more important figure for the Pirates in 2014.

3. First base wasn’t supposed to be a “cookie cutter” platoon but it has been through the first week.

The Pirates faced six right-handed starting pitchers in Week 1 and Travis Ishikawa received five starts and performed well. And oh by the way, with the way Lucas Duda is swinging the bat, I would have to think Ike Davis is most definitely available.

2. Speaking of the Davis, did you see his pinch-hit, game-winning grand slam? The Reds are going to miss Aroldis Chapman.

1. Stability matters so that Huntington and Clint Hurdle received four-year extensions is significant and remarkable given to where the program was a year ago.

HE SAID IT

“I have the pleasure and privilege of watching Mike Trout play every night. I think he’s a very special cup of tea, for which he is deserving of a completely different brew. While few, I definitely consider Bryce Harper as part of the next generation of elite brand of teas. Certainly as a studied connoisseur, I may hold a differing opinion as to the availability, demand and value of tea futures.”

- Scott Boras to the Washington Post on Harper’s potential future contract

STAT OF THE WEEK: 23

Consecutive scoreless innings for Tony Watson . There’s a reason about every team asked the Priates about him this offseason.

HE TWEETED IT

NON-BASEBALL RECOMMENDATION OF THE WEEK

Neil Walker listens to Foster the People, so should you.

-TS

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Comments

  1. Bizrow says:

    Stuff happens

    JT knew it was just a matter of time

    IMO the kid is sharp for recognizing it

  2. Steelkings says:

    Travis,
    2 things —

    1. Your starting nine is as usual, way better than my knock off.
    2. “HE SAID IT” —Now we know why the BMTIB only drinks coffee!

  3. macchamp74 says:

    Impressed with the way Bucs played for 1st week. They really seem to have an air of confidence about them.
    Now let’s get the super 2 date passed so Superman can be called up to patrol right field.

  4. Skip says:

    The Taillon situation is just another example that innings-count limitation isn’t the Holy Grail of injury prevention that so many people think it is.

    Pitching hurts arms. Whether one throws excessive amounts of injuries, or whether innings-counts are precisely managed. Unfortunately it’s just part of the game.

    And Sano’s innings were limited big-time, by the way and look at him now.

  5. 21sthebest says:

    Will Carroll’s tweet is just negligent to me. Rotator cuff and even labrum (shoulder) injuries are way down. Medical experts and athletic trainers are understanding better how to strengthen and protect those areas and this has been going on for a couple of years. I wonder if he has ever heard of Eric Cressey. Probably not.

  6. BostonsCommon says:

    Biomechanics… great buzz word.

    You can be as clean and smooth as you want, but the bottom line is that the human arm/shoulder/elbow is not designed to act as a violent lever used to repeatedly fling objects through the air, at times, in excess of 100 MHP… it’s just not.

    Now you can train it, and strengthen it, and practice, and use caution, and kid gloves, and pitch counts and whatever you want. But you’re still going to have to face facts… If you juggle knives for a living, you’re likely to be cut every now and then. It’s almost akin to concussions in football in that regard.

    I think NH gets it too.. “our rate is significantly lower than the major league rate. But we’re still having them.”…. Look, we’re better than most, but it’s the nature of the business.

  7. Danny Murtaugh says:

    While Taillon news is sad indeed, here’s a bit of sweet irony:

    Volquez, 5.2 IP, 3H, 1R, 1ER, 1BB (int.), 4K, 81 pitches, 53 strikes
    Burnett, 5.2 IP, 8R, 4ER, 6BB, 3K, 109 pitches, 59 strikes

    Volquez helps Pirates to beat Cardinals’ ace. Burnett loses to Cubs’ 5th starter.

    Sure, it is only one game.

  8. LeeFoo says:

    Hey Mac…who is that really old guy in that picture?

    Was that from your ski trip?

  9. JD says:

    Danny Murtaugh, how you doing?

  10. Jim S. says:

    You said it all, Travis – “unnatural” act of pitching. They can only prevent so much.

    I hope Pedro’s approach is something he intends to sustain. His walks are up. St. Louis pitched around him, and he took the base often. He is also hitting the ball to LF/LC with authority, quite often. He hit 2 balls to LC (one in each series) that went for outs in the Notch, but would have cleared the fence in almost any other park. He looks locked in. I hope this is an evolutionary improvement on his part, rather than just a week or two thing.

  11. Nate83 says:

    Neither him or Cutch is off to great starts but both are taking a lot of walks. Pedro’s approach is nice to see. Using the whole field will make him a better hitter and it also means he’s waiting a tick longer to identify the pitch. He doesn’t need to swing out of his shoes to hit home runs.

  12. BostonsCommon says:

    His power is so easy. Really impressive to me. All he needs to do is square the ball up. He seems to be much more in control of himself at the plate.

    It’s different than watching Stanton, IMO, who swings with bad intentions.

  13. Nate83 says:

    Stanton is an impressive talent. I’m just not sure the results match the hype. Bo Jackson could do things on the baseball field that most couldn’t but that hardly made him a great baseball player. I sometimes feel that elite athlete sometimes gets confused with great baseball player.

    If the Marlins have to pick between Fernandez and Stanton if I was them I would go with Fernandez even though I usually would go with the position player over the pitcher.

  14. bradthedad says:

    As is often said, it’s early but Pedro’s growth into a bona fide 4 hitter is huge. You got right/left combo at 3 and 4. Too many times last year, we saw teams pitch around Cutch and Pedro not so much. That’s changing, folks.

  15. Andrew says:

    I would add Mike Renoild’s name in with Eric Cressy. I think Will Carroll’s knows both of them, but that tweet was utter hyperbole. You are definitely correct that shoulder issues have been greatly reduced thanks to better training/knowledge and it started with simple regimens like the Jobe six pack.

    Boston, yes injuries will always occur and just because they cannot be eliminated does not mean that teams should just give up in trying to reduce their occurrence.

  16. Jim S. says:

    I think Pedro has hit in some tough luck so far. In addition to the 2 long balls that were caught, he also scorched one right at the RF yesterday. I think he has been squaring the ball up pretty well, and going the other way well so far. Extremely small sample size, of course. But, encouraging so far.

  17. Jim S. says:

    I don’t trust tweets from floating heads. ;-)

  18. Jim S. says:

    BTW, that quote from Boras is as strange as it gets IMO. He must need to tether his head to something stable when he sits down to keep his giant brain from making him topple to one side.

  19. Danny Murtaugh says:

    I watched some of the Cardinal’s broadcasts of this weekend’s games. In the first game, they mocked the Pirates shifts, especially for Carpenter. By the end of game 3, they were complementing the Bucs’ perfect positioning.

  20. BostonsCommon says:

    Also encouraging is the 5:5 K:BB ratio… But since you already qualified the sample size.

  21. JD says:

    Are you related to the former manager?

  22. Danny Murtaugh says:

    Only in spirit

  23. Naterosboro says:

    This is just my own observations (no actual scientific data to backup my thoughts)….

    but I feel that the “evolution” of little league is causing these arm injuries. Add to the fact that coaches (at lower levels) place winning above all, kids are bigger, stronger & faster than they were yesteryear, and I think you have a recipe for these arm injuries manifesting later in careers.

    By this I mean, a lot of these kids (especially when they get to the HS level) are starting their seasons in January, and not putting a baseball down until October or November (with “Fall Ball”). They start their training in January to get ready for tryouts in March (this is at least how we do it in Southern New Jersey). They then play a HS season. They then play a summer season (I’ll use American Legion ball as the example here), and then they move on to a fall season (if they don’t play another sport). They take 1-2 months off, and then start the whole process again. That’s a lot of stress to be putting on ligaments/tendons/muscles that are still growing.

    When you add in that a coach may “overuse” a kid in order to get a W, that’s added stress to that individual. Usually, coaches are “overusing” the better kids, who are the ones that will continue their careers to high levels of the game, those are the arms that are then flaming out (getting injured) in the minor and major leagues.

    Add to this that kids are differentiating earlier. By this I mean, when I played little league, we all just about played all the positions. I played 3B, SS, 2B, 1B (in a pinch; which is ironic b/c that’s where I made my bones in HS) and pitched. Some kids played all the positions, not really settling into a specific position until HS or college (or even as a pro in some cases). Now you see situational leftys on little league teams (that’s hyperbole of course, and I hope that isn’t happening, but I think it illustrates my point…). All adding to stress put on these arms more and more at younger ages.

    I’d love to hear thoughts from other coaches, parents, etc.

  24. BostonsCommon says:

    I’d also add that you have knucklehead coaches letting 11-14 year-olds throw breaking balls, oftentimes with no instruction on how to correctly do so… Why would you even let them at that point? Fastball and change up, and be done with it.

    I still remember once feeling a sharp pain in my elbow after trying to sling in form of a breaking ball.. I couldn’t have been more than 12 at the time. Will never forget it.

  25. Andrew says:

    From what I understand this is pretty much the consensus of sport medicine community, James Andrews and other have been arguing for pitch limits and have implemented programs to the effect across youth baseball. Whether they are followed is another question.

    Sport specialization is also another big area of concern, I know a lot of prominent trainers/sports medicine professionals think that specialization at a young age is detrimental, for the reason you highlight. Exposing still maturing tissue to the same repetitive stress will have lasting impact.

  26. Jim S. says:

    I’m one of the coaches for my son’s 12U travel team, Bostons. We absolutley don’t let the kids throw curves – ever. A couple have tried, though, and we put a stop to it and tell their parents they won’t be allowed to pitch if it keeps up. And, we carefully monitor pitch counts. No one will be allowed to start an at bat unless he is sub-20 pitches in an inning, and 25 is our absolute cutoff no matter what. Every kid on the team is expected to pitch some, unless they absolutely don’t want to. So, we are able to manage the workloads. Tournaments scare me a little, when you can play 5 games in 3 days, and possibly 3 on Sunday if you get to the finals. The formats sometimes lend themselves to overuse in a short period of time. A lot of the tournaments say curve balls are not allowed.

    I think some coaches are irresponsible with kids’ arms, but I do think it is getting better. I think most coaches try to do the right thing. I know we do. We don’t even particularly care if the team wins, as long as kids are developing the right way. We want them to have a chance to play in HS, if they want.

  27. 21sthebest says:

    Amen Andrew.

  28. 21sthebest says:

    My son pitched from the time he was 8 and I never let him throw a curveball until he got to high school. I taught him a three finger changeup in Little League and the thing is it has the same effect on a young hitter as a curve basically and that’s change of speed with the arm motion of a fastball.

  29. Jim S. says:

    Same with me. I wouldn’t let him throw a curve, and he doesn’t want to.

    I grew up with a kid who started throwing a curve ball at 10 years old in Little League. He was lethal for all of 2 years. By the time he was 12, his arm was shot and baseball was over for him.

  30. 21sthebest says:

    LOL

  31. 21sthebest says:

    The rule of thumb the orthopaedic game me Jim was that they shouldn’t throw curveballs until they can shave.

    That applies to the boys too.

  32. bobo says:

    The thing about specialization at a young age is that it is forced on the kids even if you, as the parent, try to prevent it. Case in point: my 9 year old son plays hockey. Last spring at my urging, he wanted to try baseball in the spring instead of spring and summer hockey. I told his coach he wouldn’t be out for the spring team and he agreed that it was good — that he thought more kids should play other sports.

    Then, at fall placement tryouts he got placed on a lower team than the kids he had been playing with for the previous 2 years. When I questioned the coach (the same one btw) he told me he didn’t have room on that team. My son was good enough, but “I have to reward the kids that showed the dedication through the spring and summer”.

  33. BostonsCommon says:

    Good to hear you’re both going about it correctly. And I’d like to think that any educated coach would do the same. It’s just not always the case… Could be ignorance or flat out carelessness.

  34. bobo says:

    … I hit post by mistake…

    My son played the season in the lower team. Was mad about it, and now won’t consider baseball for fear of falling even further behind his hockey teammates. It is sad that they feel like they have to specialize before they are 10, and I’m not sure what to do as his parent. Really frustrating.

  35. 12 is too young. 13 or 14 I’m ok with. The kids are going to play around with it on their own. Better to do it under the instruction of a good coach. I’ll say this, the curveball gets a bad wrap. If the mechanics are right it is no more dangerous than a fastball. I think kids trying to overthrow their fastball is more problematic.

  36. Jim S. says:

    I think it is always good to wait, 21.

  37. Steelkings says:

    Little league barely exists. Just because you see it on TV doesnt make it a monster. To qualify for the August ABC tourney you have to play in half of 18 regular scheduled games. Travel baseball teams will play up to 90 games a summer. Some kids will pitch in up to 30 games.
    Little League goes way out of their way to protect kids arms. Wrong of you to bag on them.

  38. Steelkings says:

    Little league barely exists. Just because you see it on TV doesn’t make it a monster. To qualify for the August ABC tourney you have to play in half of 18 regular scheduled games. Travel baseball teams will play up to 90 games a summer. Some kids will pitch in up to 30 games.
    Little League goes way out of their way to protect kids arms. Wrong of you to bag on them.

  39. Steelkings says:

    Whether it is right or wrong, most of the best pitchers were throwing breaking pitches as a 12 year old. They worked it for a few years and then when they got to high school they were able to get people out. You see, kids who can throw their breaking pitch for strikes are able to get people out. Then there is everybody else.

    Look it up. The good pitchers were lights out in HS.

    Reggie Wayne , without being touched roasted his knee on a cut. Had nothing to do with what he did as a kid. Stausburg roasted his arm and he barely ever throws breaking pitches.

  40. Ghost says:

    Absolutely correct. Strict pitch count limits and days of rest have been strictly enforced in LL for a little while now.

  41. Leo Walter says:

    I watched the Cardinals home opener with the Reds yesterday, and they were shifting almost as much as the Bucs. Their broadcasters were raving about the results. Funny how perceptions change, isn’t it ?

  42. 21sthebest says:

    I didn’t think Andrew or anyone was “bagging” on Little League.

  43. Steelkings says:

    Naterosboro, 21

  44. Jim S. says:

    That’s unfortunate, bobo. Specialization is good.

  45. Jim S. says:

    Wish I hadn’t posted. I mean specialization at that age is not good. Trying several sports is better, IMO.

  46. likeabugonarug says:

    You had to ruin your entry with that non-baseball comment. Ship Neil out now before he brings the team down. Still don’t understand what anyone sees in that band. All their songs on their first album sounded pretty much the same, from the beat to the main melody to the chorus’. Got sick of riding in my wife’s car because that’s all she was playing when it came out – over and over and over again. My prediction is they maybe have one more album in them but will go away after that. Their second album was #2 in Philly Inq chart the week it came out, and is gone from the top 10 already in the 2nd week.

    Kevin

  47. Jim S. says:

    So, are you saying throwing curveballs at 12 is advisable, Steel?

  48. 21sthebest says:

    I guess I read him differently than you did.

 
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