Baby Steps Not Working for New York Yankees Pitching Prospects

Peter AlfanoContributor IIFebruary 27, 2017

CHICAGO, IL - AUGUST 21:  Starting pitcher Ivan Nova #47 of the New York Yankees delivers the ball against the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field on August 21, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

I'm old enough to remember the four-man rotation and a starting pitcher finishing 15 games or more a season.

I remember when no one kept pitch counts and auxiliary scoreboards weren't clocking fastballs like pitchers were qualifying for Daytona.

And the funny thing is, I don't remember all the arm troubles that we are seeing today.

It's time to stop babying pitchers, the New York Yankees included.

They pretty much ruined Joba Chamberlain's career path with the so-called "Joba Rules" and indecision about whether he should be a starter, middle reliever or closer.

They have tried to do the same with Phil Hughes, who appears to be getting stronger as the innings add up in late August.

Michael Pineda probably sowed the seeds of his shoulder injury in Seattle last season but the Yankees certainly weren't discouraged by his second-half drop-off in 2011.

Meanwhile, down on the farm, Manuelo Banuelos, Dellin Betances and Jose Campos, acquired with Pineda, have all had a lost season because of arm woes.

Now it's Ivan Nova who is on the disabled list with an inflamed rotator cuff. 

Throwing a baseball 90 times a game or more is an unnatural act, which requires building arm strength and endurance, not limiting pitchers. Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens, Tom Seaver and Bob Gibson had few, if any, injuries during their career.

Go back to the 1950s and logging 250-300 innings was commonplace among front-line starters.

In 1947, his first full season in the majors, 26-year-old Warren Spahn threw 289.2 innings for the then Boston Braves. Spahn won 363 games over a 21-year career, and that was while losing three years in his early 20s to military service.

Let's compare that to Stephen Strasburg, who has already had Tommy John surgery and is facing an innings limit of 160-180 innings this season. The Washington Nationals seem intent on shutting him down even if it costs them a trip to the World Series.

They're acting as if they will be perennial contenders when the former Montreal Expos don't have much of a winning tradition.

Nova, who is 25, has thrown 157.1 innings this season, about half of Spahn's workload.

He threw only 165.1 innings in 2011.

Obviously, something significant has changed about the approach to pitching over the past 20 years or so. A lot of it revolves around specialization. Once upon a time there were starters and a closer. Everyone else wasn't good enough to start, and they were considered mop-up pitchers or long relief.

Now, pitchers are being groomed to pitch the seventh inning, the eighth, and to close. It is considered a big step to go from the set-up role to closer. Really? Are pitchers' psyches that fragile?

It's time to throw out the Joba Rules, the Strasburg Rules and everything in between. Coddling pitchers is not working.

Let starters develop some strength, stamina and resiliency. Let's dismiss the notion that six innings is a quality start.

A pitcher's arm is always in a state of discomfort; it comes with the territory. But an aching arm and the more serious injuries we are seeing are completely different animals.

Many young pitchers throw more innings in a high school or college season than they do as pros. I don't think those innings are catching up to them, but pampering them is.