August 27, 2010

Stephen Strasburg likely to have 'Tommy John' surgery, may miss 2011 season: Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo announced this morning that pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg will probably require "Tommy John" elbow ligament replacement surgery.

Strasburg left his last start on Saturday with what was was initially diagnosed as a strained tendon in his forearm. But on Thursday he had a second MRI exam that showed a "significant tear of his ulnar collateral ligament," according to Rizzo.

posted by BornIcon to baseball at 11:04 AM - 32 comments

I'm disappointed not to hear Dibble spin his comments. Would have been a fun listen.

posted by yerfatma at 11:16 AM on August 27

That's a bummer for the Nats. He was the player everyone wanted to see.

posted by bperk at 11:47 AM on August 27

I'm pretty sure it's my fault this happened.

I inadvertently linked Strasburg to Herb Score, an old-time fireball-throwing youngster whose career was derailed by injury.

posted by grum@work at 11:57 AM on August 27

Rocketman's prediction is looking pretty good right now.

Terrible news. I don't think I've enjoyed a debut in years as much as I enjoyed Strasburg's arrival.

posted by rcade at 12:09 PM on August 27

I'm pretty sure it's my fault this happened.

Damn you!

I don't think I've enjoyed a debut in years as much as I enjoyed Strasburg's arrival.

You said it. I'm not even close to being a Nats fan but when Strasburg was on the mound, I was watching.

posted by BornIcon at 12:19 PM on August 27

Tough break for sure. You hate to see it happen to anyone, much less a youngster like him. He has been amazing.

posted by mjkredliner at 01:21 PM on August 27

You look back now on the ridiculous speculations "experts" such as Buster Olney make as soon as a potential star such as Strasburg shows up, talking as if he will break every record for pitching, even before he's been in the majors a couple months? Injuries these days are what take great prospects and turn them into ex-players. Sure, Strasburg may be able to have surgery and return in great shape, but this is the type of thing that reinforces the treatment the Yankees had with Joba Chamberlain. They worried about the aspect of overuse early in his career, to practically ridiculous levels, but this current situation is what will force many other teams to refuse to utilize their young arms. I'm interested to know why pitchers these days seem to break down more and more while pitchers from past-decades could throw game after game, year after year. Guys on strict pitch counts still can't handle the workload and their arm turns to shit.

posted by dyams at 01:33 PM on August 27

There goes the Nationals' hopes of selling out games next season.

posted by Ying Yang Mafia at 01:34 PM on August 27

Terrible, terrible news. My baseball viewing has been composed lately of the Red Sox and any game Strasburg starts.

Olney:

...there is a sadness tied to the news that he has a torn elbow ligament, because even after he could not have possibly lived up to the hype, he exceeded it. He has been as good as we all had heard. The greatest pitching prospect ever. A fastball in triple digits, a breaking ball that buckles knees and breaks convention, and above all else, a young man who seems equipped to handle his talent, his stardom.

You can see the competitiveness when he pitches, the momentary flash of anger when a hitter does something untoward. There is something old-school about him, but also something down home. He had a chance to be a real leader for the Nationals, and for baseball, in 2011.

The doctors can tell Strasburg exactly how he'll be fixed, exactly how he'll probably heal, exactly when he can throw a fastball at full speed again... But for fans of baseball who like brilliant pitching, it feels as though Christmas has been postponed.

I feel bad for the Nationals fans too.

You look back now on the ridiculous speculations "experts" such as Buster Olney make as soon as a potential star such as Strasburg shows up, talking as if he will break every record for pitching, even before he's been in the majors a couple months?

Do you really need him to say "if he stays healthy"? That's a given. I don't say "I'll be home in 5 minutes unless I get in a wreck". I don't think he was overhyped. He was/is the real deal. If Olney said Strasburg had the stuff to break records he was dead right. Many people said he was a bound for superstardom if he could stay healthy. After watching his first game I couldn't have agreed more.

this is the type of thing that reinforces the treatment the Yankees had with Joba Chamberlain. They worried about the aspect of overuse early in his career, to practically ridiculous levels, but this current situation is what will force many other teams to refuse to utilize their young arms.

Can you show me where the Nationals rushed Strasburg? Have you checked out his innings pitched? Are they high? Do you have anything to back up your opinion that he wasn't coddled? Most people seem to believe he was. Maybe this was going to happen regardless.

As far as Chamberlain, despite the Joba Rules he actually was injured. In fact, they ended up sending him to Dr. James Andrews.

I don't see anything as black and white as you're making it. Correlation does not imply causation without anything to back it up.

posted by justgary at 02:35 PM on August 27

Maybe this was going to happen regardless.

It's worth noting that most of the speculation/projection about potential injuries for Strasburg (including that linked by justgary above) predicted shoulder problems due to his mechanics, not elbow troubles.

posted by holden at 02:41 PM on August 27

I'm interested to know why pitchers these days seem to break down more and more while pitchers from past-decades could throw game after game, year after year. Guys on strict pitch counts still can't handle the workload and their arm turns to shit.

I'll bet that the EXACT same percentage of pitchers "break down" in 1950 as in 2010. The differences are:

  1. There are simply more pitchers in 2010 than 1950, AND information about injuries (on other teams/leagues) is easier to obtain in 2010 than in 1950.

  2. So much money is being spent on these pitchers that they are being told to report any injuries to the medical staff/trainers immediately. In 1950, the "rub some dirt in it and keep going" philosophy simply meant that "injured" pitchers were replaced with "terrible" pitchers. These "terrible" pitchers probably had a nagging injury that forced them to adjust their throwing mechanism (see Herb Score and his elbow injury), which messed them up and made them easy pickings for the hitters.

  3. The only pitchers we seem to remember from the 1950s are, of course, the ones that lasted long enough to BE remembered. The injured guys (other than famous flash in the pans) just fade away.

Bad math alert!

It's almost impossible to track injuries using the existing data (other than to scour newspaper stories). Some pitchers stop pitching because they suck. Some pitchers don't get a lot of starts because they are injury replacements. Who knows?

However, for the sake of comparison, I compared the time period of 1950-1955 to 2000-2005. I found out how many total pitching years there were for starting pitchers in each era. A "pitching year" would be at least one start in a season. So if a pitcher makes at least one start in 5 seasons, that's 5 "pitching years". If a pitchers makes 20 starts in 2 seasons, skips a year (injury/minors/whatever), and then makes 20 starts in the next 2 seasons, that's 4 "pitching years".

From 1950-1955, there were 1071 "pitching years" in total.
From 2000-2005, there were 1779 "pitching years" in total. That makes sense are there are simply more teams/pitchers.

If a pitcher starts 10 or less times in a season, that may indicate that he was injured.
(Like I said, bad math and assumptions, but impossible to figure out otherwise.)
There may be other reasons to start less than 10 times, but those should be somewhat consistent over time for any time period. If anything, with a 4-man rotation in the 1950s (instead of 5-man in 2000s), pitchers should get the opportunity to pitch MORE starts.

From 1950-1955, there were 499 "pitching years" of only 1 to 10 starts. (46.6%)
From 2000-2005, there were 746 "pitching years" of only 1 to 10 starts. (41.9%)

So there was a higher percentage of "short seasons" in 1950-1955 than in 2000-2005. This would (badly) seem to suggest that there might have been more injuries to starting pitchers in 1950-1955 (as a ratio) than in 2000-2005.

posted by grum@work at 02:41 PM on August 27

One Pitch Event

"I listen to the opinion of the doctors and they feel it was probably a one-pitch event. The MRI we took [Thursday] was dramatically changed from the MRI we took when we drafted him."

In other words, not from wear and tear.

posted by justgary at 02:45 PM on August 27

You look back now on the ridiculous speculations "experts" such as Buster Olney make as soon as a potential star such as Strasburg shows up, talking as if he will break every record for pitching, even before he's been in the majors a couple months?

I hope you realize that before he got injured, Strasburg WAS breaking records for pitching, even in his brief period of time.

Here are the list of starting pitchers since 1901 who, during their first season

  • threw at least 50 innings

  • had at least 10 starts

  • had at least a 12K/9IP ratio

Kerry Wood (1998)
Stephen Strasburg (2010)

And Strasburg was having a better season.

If you drop the K/9IP to 11, you then include Mark Prior, Dwight Gooden and Hideo Nomo.

Simply put, Strasburg WAS having a (brief) season for the ages, and every indication (assuming he didn't get injured) was that he WAS someone to get hyped about.

The last player I can remember having this much hype before he started in the majors was Alex Rodriguez.
Stupid hype happens a lot, and usually by the fans of a team for a specific prospect on their roster. The hype that Strasburg (and ARod) got across the league and from many different sources is rare.

posted by grum@work at 02:52 PM on August 27

Strasburg made just 12 major league starts. But in those 12 starts, he faced 274 hitters and struck out 92 of them.

The only starting pitchers who have ever, in any season of 10 or more starts, whiffed that high a percentage (33.6) of the hitters they faced were Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson. Those two own eight Cy Young awards. There's a reason for that.

...we present those numbers simply to make this point, for about the billionth time: This guy was special.

link

(or on preview what Grum said.)

posted by justgary at 02:55 PM on August 27

Can you show me where the Nationals rushed Strasburg?

I never said they did. But that doesn't change the fact teams will use this as a reason to be ultra-careful with top pitching prospects in the future.

As for injuries being impossible to predict, and whether or not Strasburg was overhyped, you have to at least look at the fact the two may be related. The guy practically goes on tour in the minors for a while, sends ticket sales through the roof, has television stations following each of his starts, and now his elbow is wrecked? That hype may have led to him overthrowing as a means to continue the impressive strikeout totals he recorded that very first start for the Nationals, and that everyone expected with each and every start from that point on. And I just don't agree with all the "may be the best ever" crap before a guy has played a quarter of one season. You could say that about anyone that bursts onto the scene, and it wasn't too long ago that Dice-K and his incredible, untouchable gyroball was going to dominate baseball as we know it.

posted by dyams at 03:06 PM on August 27

The guy practically goes on tour in the minors for a while, sends ticket sales through the roof, has television stations following each of his starts, and now his elbow is wrecked?

I'm not sure the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle should be applied to people.

posted by grum@work at 03:26 PM on August 27

That hype may have led to him overthrowing as a means to continue the impressive strikeout totals he recorded that very first start for the Nationals, and that everyone expected with each and every start from that point on.

I can agree with this. Maybe the pressure to live up to the hype (still don't understand calling him overhyped... he easily met it) led him to over throw. We don't know. But I don't think the Nationals did anything wrong, and I don't think playing for the Yankees would have made a difference (the hype would been much higher than in D.C.).

And looking at Chamberlain, with his early arm trouble, and the fact that at this point he's nowhere near the dominant pitcher he once was, points to the fact that pitchers are simply very fragile despite any measures a team takes to prevent injury.

posted by justgary at 03:34 PM on August 27

The Nationals were being as careful as they possibly could with him. They were limiting him to around 90 pitches per start, give or take a few, and were going to end his season when he reached 80 innings pitched, regardless of how well he was doing. This injury probably just happened and was going to anyway.

posted by NerfballPro at 03:36 PM on August 27

You could say that about anyone that bursts onto the scene, and it wasn't too long ago that Dice-K and his incredible, untouchable gyroball was going to dominate baseball as we know it.

Dice-K was basically a mystery. He was overhyped. Strasburg was a known talent.

I'm not trying to convince you, because I know I can't, but it seems most everyone that saw him pitch thought he was special, and the stats back up that up perfectly.

And it took one game to realize he was in a different class than dice-k.

posted by justgary at 03:38 PM on August 27

The guy practically goes on tour in the minors for a while, sends ticket sales through the roof, has television stations following each of his starts, and now his elbow is wrecked?

Strasburg averaged five innings in his 11 minor league games and 5.6 innings in his 12 Major League starts. I don't see how you can make the argument that he was overworked or overworked himself, at least not from a numbers standpoint.

posted by rcade at 03:53 PM on August 27

You could say that about anyone that bursts onto the scene, and it wasn't too long ago that Dice-K and his incredible, untouchable gyroball was going to dominate baseball as we know it.

Remember when I said there was stupid hype? The "gyroball" was stupid hype, simply because he didn't throw one.

posted by grum@work at 03:57 PM on August 27

Remember when I said there was stupid hype? The "gyroball" was stupid hype, simply because he didn't throw one.

I think that's the reason I don't that your comparison holds much validity dyams. But dice-k IS the perfect example of the hype you seem to be mocking. It was mainly media and fan driven (including the ridiculous gyro ball). Scouts talked about him being a number 2 or maybe even a 3, but most didn't have him as a staff ace, and I heard nothing of the Hall of Fame.

Sure, media and fans hyped Strasburg, but this time with good reason. The scouts and players that saw him pitch were predicting great things. Scouts do that all the time; it's part of their job (middle of the staff stuff, 30-40 home run power, etc).

So when people whose jobs it is to evaluate talent are praising him through the roof, I don't think that goes without merit. Add to that his statistics were through the roof (matched only by hall of fame players), proving the scouts right, and I think the hype, that he matched, was well deserved. In other words, the complete opposite of dice-k.

Of course, doing it for 10-15 years is something altogether different. No one could predict that. But the claim that his stuff was special, even that he had hall of fame caliper pitches, rings true to me.

posted by justgary at 04:49 PM on August 27

OK I'll say it: sure hope Strasburg can get some HGH quietly and quickly!

Of course I'm kidding...........

posted by MW12 at 04:56 PM on August 27

OK I'll say it: sure hope Strasburg can get some HGH quietly and quickly!

If it's medically prescribed for his injury recovery, and it's during a period of time when he isn't participating in any games (majors/minors/rehab), I don't see why it would be so terrible.

posted by grum@work at 05:08 PM on August 27

OK I'll say it: sure hope Strasburg can get some HGH quietly and quickly!

Andy Pettitte approves.

posted by justgary at 05:16 PM on August 27

Kerry Wood (1998)...If you drop the K/9IP to 11, you then include Mark Prior, Dwight Gooden and Hideo Nomo.

And all of these pitchers went on to have illustrious, hall of fame caliber careers.

posted by Ying Yang Mafia at 07:07 PM on August 27

The Curse of Youppi strikes again ?

posted by tommytrump at 07:42 PM on August 27

I was very much against the early hype, just because baseball is a cruel game and these things don't usually work out quite the way the audience would like, but after 10 starts, he looked more than for real.

I don't care if Mark Prior, Gooden and Nomo didn't end up Hall of Famers, outside of Prior they had fucking good long careers. Nomo has two no hitters and Gooden was the best pitcher in the game for a time being.

This sucks for baseball. Shitty.

posted by WeedyMcSmokey at 09:34 PM on August 27

And all of these pitchers went on to have illustrious, hall of fame caliber careers.

Fair enough. Instead of going after pitchers in their first year, how about we limit it to pitchers who were 21 (Strasburg's age) and put up similar numbers (>= 50IP, >=10 starts, >=9K/9IP), regardless of which season it happened.

How does Sandy Koufax sound to you?
Frank Tanana?
Dennis Eckersley?

Are those good enough?

posted by grum@work at 11:36 PM on August 27

And all of these pitchers went on to have illustrious, hall of fame caliber careers.

Kerry Wood: injuries. Mark Prior: injuries. Dwight Gooden: drugs. Hideo Nomo: I believe Nomo was 27 before he ever pitched in the majors, and yet he won rookie of the year, led the league twice in strike outs, and threw 2 no hitters.

If we pick and choose statistics, we can use the one I mentioned:

The only starting pitchers who have ever, in any season of 10 or more starts, whiffed that high a percentage (33.6) of the hitters they faced were Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson. Those two own eight Cy Young awards. There's a reason for that.

Not only will those two pitchers be in the HoF, they're top level HoF pitchers; two of the greatest pitchers to play the game.

It's really hard to believe we're debating Strasburg's talent level. Strasburg wasn't tricking hitters, he was blowing them away. Hitters may have adjusted a little, but so would Strasburg. Barring injury or self implosion he was an elite pitcher, and predicting great things from him, if he stayed healthy, wasn't a stretch at all.

posted by justgary at 05:52 PM on August 28

Barring injury or self implosion he was an elite pitcher, and predicting great things from him, if he stayed healthy, wasn't a stretch at all.

I'm not disagreeing with this statement, but a pitcher being considered great and keeping his arm healthy can't be seen as separate issues. It's not like in football where a running back takes a nasty hit and his great career is permanently altered. Part of pitching is learning to keep your arm sound and strong, and pitching within yourself. I'm sure there are pitchers who could go out and overthrow during each start, blow some batters away, but their arm wouldn't be able to handle the stress. There have been some amazing pitchers who have learned to dominate without blowing batters away, and they have lasted many years (Greg Maddux; Jim Palmer). There have also been pitchers like Tom Seaver, Steve Carlton, and Nolan Ryan who have learned the proper mechanics that have allowed them to pitch many years and remain healthy.

I guess what I'm saying is I consider a great pitcher someone who dominates for several years, not a young guy who impresses for a few starts then goes on the shelf with a ruined arm. Maybe Strasburg's arm was meant to dominate college baseball, and not cut out to consistently dominate at the pro level. It's too bad we may never know if he could have truly been one of the best ever.

posted by dyams at 10:08 AM on August 29

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