I’m Not Going to Pay a Lot for this Pitcher.
With the end of the waiver-free trade period coming soon, baseball people are losing their collective minds regarding trades, specifically trades for ‘closers’, or as I like to call them ‘one inning wonders’.
Now I may be a contrarian (may be?) but I firmly believe that it takes a whole team to win or lose, and adding a pitcher who only pitches three to four innings a week, always with a lead, and never with runners on base may NOT be the best way to solve your bullpen issues. Teams may be better suited to focus on depth of their staffs. A relief pitcher that works the 7th and 8th and can handle inherited runners may be more valuable than the save collectors.
We all remember the vision of Craig Kimbrel, standing in the bullpen for the Barves, waiting for Fredi to wave him in.
Last year, there was one save in the World Series. The year before there were two, and one of them was thanks to a Herculean effort by Madison Bumgarner. As much talk as closers get in the World Series, it’s the depth and breadth of the team than wins titles. That, and a little (lot of?) luck.
That’s not the only time fans and media get their undies unstarched though. There’s always a thinking that THIS pitcher will make the entire difference in the world, so they’ll overpay them, trade way too much for them, or sign them for way too many years.
There’s win now, and then there’s “We’re going to try to win now, but if we don’t, we’re screwed for five years.”
Pitchers get hurt. They always have. They always will. Even now with early detection, pitchers are a bad bet. Especially now.
I was doing research for a long series on the sizes of pitching staffs throughout the last 50 years, and in the past, teams used their aces as long and as often as they could. Some pitchers could handle it. Some broke down sooner rather than later. We remember the iron men, but forget to realize that they pitched efficiently, minimizing batters faced, and throwing strikes more often than not. They also had two to three batters per nine that they didn’t need to bear down on. Who would need to throw their best stuff against Enzo Hernandez or Hal Lanier?
People remember Nolan Ryan. Face it, he was a freak. He had the mechanics and genetics to do what he did. Same for guys like Seaver, Blyleven, Morris. But what about Frank Tanana, Gary Gentry, Dick Woodson, or Dave Rozema? They couldn’t handle the workload over the years, and either were out of the game before age 30 or became a slop-baller relying on changing speeds and location.
Now, though, it’s different, of course. Pitchers aren’t asked to complete games, the specialization of relief pitching and the evolution of hitting has taken care of that. Batters now work counts a lot more often, pitchers try for specific locations, and hopefully they have the command to do so, and almost everyone is a threat to do some damage. Rare is the punch-and-judy slappy in this day and age. They always used to say “bear down”. You gotta “bear down” on every hitter.
But the big change in my eyes is just how freaking fast pitchers throw. They’re exerting a lot of torque on their bodies in firing fastballs in the upper 90s to 100s. This is where mechanics and genetics come into play, and injuries can happen despite the best prevention and care.
The act of pitching involves not just the arm muscles, shoulder and elbow. The whole body is involved in producing the requisite energy needed to hurl the ball over 100 MPH. At that kind of speed and energy, there’s little room for error, and one change in motion can cause stress and strain on different parts of a body. For some people, while they may be ABLE to throw 100 MPH, but then, at what cost?
Clayton Kershaw has a herniated disc in his back right now and is out for a while. When he returns, if he has to change his motion because of that injury, what could happen to his velocity and location? Will he be throwing from a different arm slot and could that cause trouble. Throughout baseball history, a sprained ankle, a toe injury or a knee problem has resulted in a different motion for pitchers that then result in the usual arm, shoulder, or elbow woes.
It affects everyone. Wilbur Wood took a vicious liner off of his kneecap in 1976 that broke it. Physically, he couldn’t do exactly what he did before, and mentally, he was messed up. His last two seasons were dismal for him.
The three main pitchers for the 2011 Giants were Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Brian Wilson, ages 26, 27 and 29 respectively. Where are they now? Bumgarner is now just 26. What will he be doing in a few years?
The 2013 Atlanta Braves had a lot of great pitching potential: Mike Minor, Brandon Beachy, Kris Medlen? What happened? Jair Juirrjens went 14-10, 2.60 in 2009, good for 6.5 WAR. Gone by age 28.
In the past, the poster children for spending way too much money on injury risks were Darren Dreifort and Steve Ontiveros. Dreifort’s free agent contract, signed for the 2001 season, was for five years and $57 million. The Dodgers received 205 2/3 innings of work in those five years, with an 87+ ERA and a total WAR of 0.2. Instead of Dreifort beingas a rotation stalwart, Los Angeles had to put guys like Luke Prokopec, DJ Houlton, and Omar Daal, plus the ghosts of Andy Ashby, Wilson Alvarez and Scott Erickson. That money probably could have gotten two league average starters each year.
Even with the money flowing in the game, it’s probably better to sign pitchers for two years at the most, maybe three. If you need to bolster your staff, get an expiring contract that won’t cost a lot of prospects. This way, the risk is minimized and the future of your franchise isn’t compromised. Else, you pay a lot of money or talent for a player that could be worth less than zero in four years.