With Strasburg's Injury will Yankees Alter Their Plan for Phil Hughes?
Stephen Strasburg needs Tommy John surgery (TJS), and if you are in shock over this, you shouldn't be. Strasburg has all the requirements of a guy destined for this procedure.
First, he throws extremely hard, upwards of 100 MPH. That is just too taxing on the throwing arm’s tendons and ligaments. There is a certain threshold for the body when it comes to pitching a baseball. Second, Strasburg has brutal pitching mechanics, with a very violent motion.
Rather than a smooth arc in his arm's backswing, Strasburg uses a direct path, leading with his elbow. In leading the backswing that way, Strasburg's elbow ends up well above his shoulder, putting extra stress on his arm.
With his velocity, that combination is a terrible one-two punch, most often leading to surgery. AJ Burnett, who still has bad mechanics, was a similar pitcher at a young age and needed TJS many years ago.
Unless they have great mechanics, most hard throwers have multiple arm issues. I spoke at length with pitching coach Rick Peterson last winter and he agreed that the Strasburg and Burnett-type arm action was detrimental to a pitcher's health.
Strasburg has been babied and coddled as much as any pitcher ever and he still came down with an injury (actually two if you count his shoulder soreness earlier). But like other hard throwers who had TJS (Josh Johnson, Tim Hudson, Chris Carpenter), Strasburg will eventually come back and throw.
Let’s hope he has better mechanics upon his return or he is destined to be a reliever.
Many people are wondering why Strasburg was even in the majors just one season after his college career. Well, he dominated every level up to the major leagues and had nothing left to prove. He was carefully monitored, and likely would have the same injury pitching in the majors, minors, or college this season.
It is just a good thing that the Nationals were not in a playoff race and using Strasburg more than what he was actually used. That would have brought down a heap of big criticism from fans and media about "what is best for the player" and "the Nationals caused this injury." *
*I am waiting for the criticism to start on Tony Gwynn, Strasburg's head coach in college. While there is NO WAY Gwynn had anything to do with this injury by pitching Strasburg, someone has to be responsible in this blaming society we live in. Dusty Baker will never live down the injuries to Kerry Wood and Mark Prior, yet he had nothing to do with the terrible mechanics of both young pitchers.
Everyone knows how strict the Nats were with Strasburg. He never threw 100 pitches in any start, topping out at 99, and only entered the seventh inning in three of his 12 starts.
Yet he still needed surgery. It is more bad mechanics and his great velocity which put more torque on the elbow and shoulder than innings or pitch counts.
But while the Nationals had no playoff aspirations when Strasburg was called up, the Yankees do have World Series thoughts on their minds.
That begs the question of Phil Hughes's innings limits this year. Hughes is 24, and has not had a full season on the mound yet in his major league career. He has a somewhat similar backswing arc as Strasburg, but it is not as drastic or violent as the Nationals phenom.
Hughes' limit this year is in the 170-180 inning range, and he is currently at 144. He should be expected to make about six more starts which could give him another 35 innings or so. The Yankees might look to skip Hughes a start, or limit him in certain games, piggybacking Javier Vazquez in Phil's starts.
But according to Cashman, come playoff time, "it's all hands on deck" and Hughes could be part of the playoff rotation. The Yankee GM said he could not look people in the organization in the eyes and not use his best pieces in the most important games.
That means Hughes in the postseason rotation, likely slotting into the No. 4 spot.
While I have many times stated in the past that Hughes will definitely not be part of the postseason rotation, but will be in the bullpen, it likely is not the case. This is not to say that is what I thought the Yankees should do, but what I expected the Yankees to do was to put Hughes in the postseason bullpen.
Despite his last start in Toronto, Hughes is the Yankees' second most consistent starting pitcher next to CC Sabathia. I trust him more in a playoff start than I do Javier Vazquez, Dustin Moseley, or even AJ Burnett.
Although I expect Andy Pettitte to come back into the rotation, and today's news of an issue-free bullpen session was positive, Hughes still needs to be part of the rotation if the Yankees will win this year.
So, if Hughes is OK with getting postseason starts and innings, putting him over 180 for the season, why isn't it OK for him to get a few more regular season innings? Important, down the stretch innings? *
*And for the record, major league innings in May and September are the same. There are no "extra stress" innings. Pitchers do not throw with less effort in May than they do in September, or less effort in the third inning than they do the seventh. Certain pitches in certain game situations might be thrown harder (AJ does this way too much) but pitchers generally throw with the same effort all the time. High stress innings is one of the biggest misnomers in baseball pitching theory.
That 34-inning increase violates the Verducci Effect and, according to the theory, would put Hughes in an "at risk" situation the following year. This is why the Yankees are looking to maybe skip Hughes or use the piggyback method.
Before his last start, Hughes suffered miserably after he was skipped in a start around the All-Star break. He needs to pitch on a consistent, rotated basis and not be skipped or reduced. The Verducci effect has not been proven to be a precursor to injuries, and all the pitchers on this “at risk” list over the last two seasons have been major injury-free.
The injury to Stephen Strasburg showed that pitchers who are limited and coddled are not immune to injuries. Most pitchers go through arm problems and it’s not a given that if Hughes is limited, he will be immune to injury. The risk is always there.
But that risk and concern should have no bearing on the Yankees winning another World Series title this year. The idea of baseball is to win games and World Series titles.
Hughes has been durable all year and the Yankees need his innings down the stretch, especially with 10 of the last 14 games against the Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox.
And if Hughes does have any arm issues next season, then worry about it next year. While he is going over his limit with the playoffs, another 12 regular season innings is not going to drastically affect his future. His career will not end if he throws 200 total innings this season including playoffs.
Winning another World Series title and ring should be the important thing right now.
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