The New York Mets have an opportunity to change the game of baseball this season by relinquishing the harnesses on their stud starting pitching staff and putting the current model of pitch counts and innings to rest where it belongs.
Whether they will do it or not will be in play as the 2016 season moves ahead is another question, but here’s why they should seriously consider doing it………
Here’s the caveat and let’s get it out of the way now………Yes, there’s more money on the line now with long term contracts for these precious arms but there are also exorbitant profits for team owners and shareholders due to the enormity of television contracts in recent years. Attendance continues to rise for all but the hapless Tampa Bay Rays who remain mired in their poor excuse for a home ballpark.
Pitch counts, four days rest, total innings……..it’s all by design and not necessity that pitchers are coddled in the name of “protecting” them from themselves. Matt Harvey told Terry Collins – “I want the ball ” in the eighth inning of last year’s World Series. Collins gave it to him albeit briefly and then took it away. Sad, because Harvey could have gone as far as he needed to in the same way that Jack Morris (left) reached inside and won the 1991 World Series with a extra inning complete game……..but Harvey didn’t reach that plateau because he wasn’t permitted to.
The art of pitching a baseball, similar to other sports like golf, bowling, and horseshoes is all about doing the same thing you do every time you do it. We call it the pitcher’s motion. Arm angle, the landing point of the right foot (for a lefty), follow through………it’s all about the same thing……mechanics! And when the mechanics get askew, the body doesn’t react quickly enough to the change…….. And we get injuries……usually to the arm or back. It’s not rocket science.
The noted sports surgeon Dr. James Andrews (left) has been preaching for years about the importance of maintaining mechanics as a way to avoid injuries. In this respect, the pitching coach becomes the most important part of a team’s success because he’s the one familiar with the mechanics of each individual member of his staff. A pitcher won’t know until he watches the video later, often when it’s too late and he’s already heard that “pop” telling him something has gone haywire.
These decisions as to whether or not to leave a pitcher in or take him out can vary from start to start and sometimes even inning to inning. Let’s go back to Harvey in that crucial World Series game. Terry Collins will never admit it nor does he have to, but he should have left his “Ace” in the game to finish what he started for only one reason. There was nothing “off” about the way Harvey was throwing. Had he lost a touch off his fastball – probably. Did he walk the first batter he faced in his final inning – yes. But so what? And if doesn’t matter that the bullpen eventually blew the game.
What matters is that the core of the Mets rotation are all in their mid twenties. Their bodies are fully developed. They train and stay in shape year round. They eat right and for the most part their personal lives are “right “. When speaking about the year round use of teenage pitchers playing on travel teams in good weather states, Dr. Andrews pleaded, “Give them time off to recover,” he said. “Please. Give them time to recover.”
And that’s exactly what these twenty something Met starters have been doing for three or four months now……..resting and preparing for the upcoming season. Last year, Clayton Kershaw led the National League in innings pitched with 232. That’s a mind boggling 100 innings less than Jim Palmer (right) threw in three successive years in the mid seventies…… And he’s in the Hall of Fame and never had arm surgery.
Not that they will, but the Mets should cut these young studs loose letting them be what they can be while keeping a close eye on their mechanics each and every start. After all, we all have good days and bad days at work and in the jobs we do. It’ll be the job of Dan Warthen, ( below) the Mets pitching coach, to figure out when a pitcher is “off” and having a bad day by removing him from the game immediately, even if it’s the third inning. He’ll need to be aware of stressful innings as well and act accordingly. For example, if Noah Syndegard gives up two long home runs but only throws 11 pitches to retire the side, that is a ineffective but not a stressful inning. On the other hand, if Steven Matz gives up two hits and a walk while the defense makes an error on a sure out……no one scores due to an inning ending double play and he throws 31 pitches that inning…….THAT is a stressful inning and Warthen’s radar needs to kick in along with that of Terry Collins.
I remember myself in those days when I was pitching…….there are days when home plate seems like it’s only 30 feet away and the plate itself looks as big as a basketball backboard. But then on other days it looked like the plate was only as wide as a my IPAD is now. It’s all perception of course, but as with politics perception is everything. For these guys though, the good days will occur more often than not with these young studs…….and when they do let ’em rip and go at it no matter how many pitches it takes……..