Last friday, as I sat in an airport in Charlotte waiting for my connecting flight to New Orleans, I saw on my Blackberry that the Washington National's finally admitted defeat, and announced Stephen Strasburg, rookie phenom nonpareil, would go under the knife for ligament replacement or "Tommy John" surgery.
I had intended to blog this on Saturday morning, but well, I was in New Orleans for a birthday, and when you end up on Bourbon Street with a pack of New Orleans natives, who generally despise Bourbon, doing test tube shots, you know your evening has taken a wrong turn.
Saturday turned out very, very badly
From a pure injury standpoint, "Tommy John" surgery has become so run of the mill amongst pitchers that it's almost meaningless except for the time Strasburg will miss over the next season (or two). Tim Hudson, A.J. Burnett, Chris Carpenter have all had ligament replacement surgery. Billy Wagner has had it twice. It's just not a big deal anymore.
For Nationals fans, we're deprived of watching him pitch, but the Nats are still years away from contending, and if they can't resign former UT quarterback and all around entertaining guy Adam Dunn, it could be even longer. Had the words "torn labrum" or "rotator cuff" appeared in the diagnosis, DC would well and truly screwed, as shoulder injuries are an order of magnitude more difficult from which to return.
I take very little pleasure in playing Cassandra, but questions about Strasburg potential for injury may have been raised in a prior post. The whole conversation about "inverted W's" is all over the web right now, just google it and you'll spend all afternoon reading about whether it's a recipe for injury or not. The net take away from the concept of scapular loading is by pinching your back a certain way, which often results in the elbow rising about the shoulder at a point in the motion, a pitcher can boost velocity but may also dramatically increase the chances of shoulder injury. This point was originally raised by Dr. Mike Marshall, who won the 1974 Cy Young as a pitcher, and claims to have developed a delivery method that eliminates arm injuries. Given the fact he sells his services as a pitching instructor, he is not a disinterested observer. More recently Chris O'Leary has done some fine blogging about the concept as well, but he also has a product to sell, so YMMV.
There is a lot of lazy sports writing about Strasburg's injury, Mark Prior, and Kerry Wood. To be honest, the only thing Strasburg has in common with these two frequently injured former Cubs is being young, cooking with gas, and now having gone under the knife. Prior and Kerry were mercilessly ridden by the Cubs at a young age in an effort to get the Northsides lovable loser's into the playoffs. In 1998, Wood exceeded 120 pitches 8 times, including a late season 133 pitch outing, and went past 100 13 other times; Prior, in 2003, exceeded 120 pitches nine times, while going over 100 17 times. Even more appalling for Prior, Dusty Baker sent him out in September of 03 for pitch counts of 131, 129, 109, 124, 131, 133 to make the postseason, then Game One of the ALDS for 133. That made my shoulder hurt just typing it.
Wood was 21 in 1998, while Prior was a ripe old 22 at 2003. Strasburg is 21. Baseball Prospectus did some fairly strong work indicating pitchers are particularly prone to injury under 24.
Wood immediately broke down, came back, broke down, came back, etc. In fairness to Wood, his High School manager had him throw 175 pitches in a playoff game, and when the Cubs freaked out, he soothed them by telling them it wasn't the first time Wood had thrown that many pitches. Oh, o.k., no worries.....
Prior underwent a series of freakish non pitching related injuries, then gradually fell apart, and is now trying his 9 billionth comeback.
The Nationals on the other hand, treated Strasburg with extreme kid's gloves, refusing to allow him to exceed 100 pitches in any of his starts. By all accounts, Tony Gwynn handled Strasburg carefully at San Diego State (somewhere, Kirk Dressendorfer just nodded knowingly). The injury can probably be chalked up to bad luck. Over the long run, the Nationals need to figure out a way to get Strasburg to go deeper into games in less pitches to ease the strain on his arm. Perhaps a road trip up 95 to sit down with Roy Halladay might be in order.
The one entertaining aspect of this whole debacle was former Cincinnati Red "Nasty Boy" Rob Dibble got fired as the Nats announcer for basically calling Strasburg a pussy.
"Okay, you throw a pitch, it bothers your arm, and you immediately call out the manager and the trainer? Suck it up, kid. This is your profession. You chose to be a baseball player. You can't have the cavalry come in and save your butt every time you feel a little stiff shoulder, sore elbow."
Rob Dibble. A man that never threw more than 100 innings in a 6 year career and missed the entire 1994 and 1996 seasons due to arm injuries and surgery. With hypocrisy like that, Dibble should see if Bob Stoops is hiring.