Pitching with more finesse would keep MLB pitchers healthier

There was a recent article by Tom Verducci about how MLB pitchers are working less, yet getting injured more. This issue came to the forefront most recently with the injury to Shohei Ohtani and the retirement of Stephen Strasburg, but it raises the question of why guy like Gaylord Perry could throw 300 innings a year and last into his mid-40s, while Strasburg has been on pitch limits his entire career, surpassed 200 innings twice, and qualified for the ERA title just three times, yet was basically done at age 30.

Yes, we’re comparing apples to oranges. Sandy Koufax was also done at 30, and the who knows how many pitchers never even had significant careers because they blew their arms out before they got started because there was no such thing as Tommy John surgery. Still, as Verducci points out, the number of pitchers on the injured list this year is double what it was in 2015, even though workloads are less.

How does this get fixed? Well, one thing that has changed in the past decade or so is the velocity of pitches. In 2015, Aroldis Chapman was considered a freak of nature because he could hit 100 mph on a regular basis. Now, every team has a couple of guys coming out of the bullpen throwing triple digits, and starting pitchers are hitting the upper 90s, or throwing breaking pitches in the low 90s with ridiculous amounts of spin.

Not only that, they are throwing this kind of stuff on every pitch. Back when the Atlanta Braves had their dominant rotation in the 90s, they talked a lot about pitching under duress. The basic meaning of that was that pitching is relatively easy on a pitcher’s arm if he was able to get in a rhythm and locate his pitches well. Where a pitcher inflicted wear and tear on his arm was when he had to throw a lot of stressful pitches — pitches where a mistake could do a lot of damage, or where he struggles to hit his spots.

Obviously, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz had enough talent that they could limit the number of pitches that they threw under duress. But they also all pitched at least 20 seasons, including more complete games than any active pitcher will ever dream of. It seems like part of the difference between those guys and many pitchers today is that today many pitchers throw every pitch as though it is under duress. It is questionable whether most pitching arms are constructed to throw 100 mph at all, but many pitchers compound that damage by throwing every pitch as if the season was riding on it.

Is there a fix for this with today’s MLB pitchers?

You can’t change the rules to limit how hard pitchers throw, so it would be up to the teams to change their own behavior, which would mean teaching pitchers an entirely different way to pitch, starting in the minor leagues.  You would think that a front office would prioritize a pitcher’s long-term health over winning one game or even getting one batter out, that pitchers would understand that throwing every pitch with maximum power and torque is unsustainable.

Pitching in today’s MLB with some degree of finesse is tough. It takes patience and focus, and it just isn’t the way things work today when pitchers who can’t strike out at least a hitter per inning are devalued as prospects. But maybe the best way to keep pitchers pitching is to embrace some old-school techniques.  Just because a guy is capable of throwing every pitch 100 mph doesn’t mean he should.