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Mudville: April 13, 2024 9:27 am PDT

Spin Doctors

BY KEVIN KERNAN

And now Gerrit Cole.

Cole has been the Unbreakable Yankee. Now he is going through a series of MRIs because of elbow discomfort and will miss Opening Day – and it could be much worse once the Yankees know and reveal the extent of Cole’s injury.

The MLB March Madness continues as pitcher after pitcher goes down with an injury, sore elbows and sore shoulders.

Will the new age general managers and pitching coaches admit there is something desperately wrong with the way they have their pitchers throwing in this Age of Injury?

Don’t bet on it.

Keep spinning it, fellas. Keep being Spin Doctors. Keep throwing those sweepers. Keep up the work with the weighted balls and max velocity and the intense gripping of the baseball so tight to get that max spin.

They will never admit they are wrong. They create the Spin, in so many ways, and eventually the injured pitchers see the Doctors, in so many visits. There is a plague on the pitching land of baseball. Wise men and wise pitching instructors have been replaced by these new age Spin Doctors.

“The iPad will fix everything,’’ one of the wisest baseball men I know, a former pitcher, who has been railing about the lack of mechanical adjustments made in this new pitching world.

“Nothing about mechanics, nothing about the feel for the pitch, it’s all about pitch design, pitch shape and pitch this or pitch that, they all just try to sound smart. Like they invented something new,’’ the top baseball evaluator said.

“Like sequencing,’’ he said. “Sequencing is f—- pitching. It always has been. Hitting is timing, pitching is disrupting the hitters timing. People fall for the word salads.’’

Yes, they do.

Gerrit Cole #45 of the New York Yankees poses for a portrait during the New York Yankees Photo Day at George M. Steinbrenner Field on February 21, 2024 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by New York Yankees/Getty Images)

The talk these days is pretty much all about technology and nothing about mechanics. Go back and check some recent interviews of some of these pitching gurus. It’s all about the widgets, the high-speed camera systems, the metrics and such and not about the actual mechanics of pitching.

“Mechanics fix cars,’’ we have been told by these wizards.

The owners fall for this gobbledygook nearly every time. But you know who didn’t fall for it, the Texas Rangers and Chris Young and Bruce Bochy and veteran pitching coach Mike Maddux. Real pitching, real mechanics of pitching enabled them to win the Rangers first-ever World Series last season.

I betcha Mike Maddux has some interesting, enlightening conversations about pitching with his brother Greg, too.

In most other organizations veteran baseball people and scouts have been pushed aside. Sure they still send scouts to see players they want them to see, but “just bring back the metrics, leave your opinions on the road.’’

The elitist front offices know so much better than true baseball men who even if they are fortunate enough to have a job in the game are not really listened to by those who make the critical decisions.

And has any of these new “experts’’ noticed that the harder these pitchers grip the baseball, the less control they have over their baseball health? Maybe these new wizards should talk to the likes of Leo Mazzone or Rick Peterson, whose pitchers didn’t get Tommy John surgery, or even Jack McKeon, whose brilliant long ago pitching coach Johnny Sain, a master of his craft, taught the art of pitching to so many pitchers.

Heck, go talk to Hall of Famer Jim Kaat or fellow Hall of Famer Greg Maddux. Talk to solid pitching coaches who have been pushed aside.

How did baseball manage to survive all those years before the Spin Doctors showed up?

These injuries usually don’t come on one pitch; like the fog, they creep in on little cat’s feet. 

This new way, new players on the pitching scene who only believe in weighted baseballs and max velocity and RPMs. Eventually, time and again, it all catches up to you. And also the fact that a lot of these pitchers with the way they are being taught as teenagers may already be damaged goods.

It’s only a matter of time before they break.

It’s already been a difficult spring training and the season is weeks away.

The two pitchers the Braves sent to the Mariners for Jarred Kelenic are both down with Tommy John surgery, one of those poor pitchers is having his second TJ. Orioles pitcher Kyle Bradish is making his way back from a sprained UCL and is now playing catch from 140 feet. The Mets Kodai Senga is sidelined with a shoulder strain. Baseball’s poster child for success Shohei Ohtani is coming back from a second elbow surgery and will not pitch.

These injuries usually don’t come on one pitch; like the fog, they creep in on little cat’s feet.

Just go to www.spotrac.com to see the list of pitching injuries from 2023 and the start of 2024 and it is truly frightening. While there, check out the amount of money that is sitting useless on the Injured List as well.

And here we are again, the Yankees are in trouble with injuries. The day after the news about Cole getting a series of MRIs came out, it was revealed that slugger Aaron Judge has some ab issues. Originally Araon Boone said Judge was going through “a little mid-spring kind of beat-up,’’ whatever that means.

Gerrit Cole was considered, in many ways, the perfect modern pitcher.  At the least the Yankees will have to be cautious with Cole and at the worst their season could be ruined. Even if he gets the green light to pitch, you can expect Judge and Cole to spend the rest of the spring basically in bubble wrap.

I asked a scout on Tuesday if he had noticed anything going on with Cole from a physical standpoint.

“The only thing I noticed,’’ the scout said, “is that he throws hard and he throws with a lot of effort to throw hard. He throws too many sliders. When you are trying to manipulate sliders and make them wider you crank the shit out of them at a high velocity, that is not a healthy thing to do for your elbow.’’

Aaron Judge #99 of the New York Yankees reacts during a 2024 Grapefruit League Spring Training game against the Toronto Blue Jays at TD Ballpark on March 08, 2024 in Dunedin, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

No it’s not but this generation of baseball loves sliders, loves sweepers, loves max velocity. Most of them love training with the weighted baseball, too.

How is that all working out?

You are probably squeezing the ball a little tighter to do all that cranking, correct?

“Yeah, yeah,’’ the scout said. “You squeeze the ball real tight, you are trying to create more spin. You are trying to create more of breaking balls. You know, to me, the curve ball is the best breaking ball. And it always was. The guys who had good curve balls struck out the most hitters. Nolan Ryan, Dwight Gooden, Roger Clemens, when he first signed, then he developed a split which made it even better, Bob Feller too. It’s so effective because it looks like a four-seam fastball out of your hand.’’

Geez, are you trying to tell us there was tunneling long before the term tunneling took on a magical life if its own? Amazing.

There was thinking in baseball before Nerds.

“When you manipulate, just your wrist and your fingers, as opposed to cranking the shit out of it, to me, the slider that was taught when I signed as a kid, is what a cutter is now; which is just manipulating the ball with a little bit of finger pressure. You have a small break.

“But now they are trying to get bigger breaks,’’ he continued. “So you are trying to manipulate the ball even more. The more you manipulate the ball, you do stuff to your tendons, muscles and things in your elbow that is not healthy.’’

And you do it over and over and over and over again.

Sometimes you break.

“We are throwing more breaking balls than we’ve ever thrown,’’ he added of the pitching injury epidemic.

I countered with: Why not throw more changeups?

“Yeah, the changeup is a great pitch,’’ he said.

Then the baseball man offered this, something he was reminded of recently when he spoke to a former player he once coached.

“He told me he always remembered me telling him that your fastball and your changeup are basically six to eight different pitches,’’ he said. “Because you can move your fastball in and out, up and down. You could throw a two-seamer, a four-seamer, and your BP fastball and you could throw a changeup in and away. So now off of two pitches that are very healthy for your arm, there’s no manipulation, there is just staying behind the ball, you’re manipulating a hitter, moving his eyes in and out, up and down, moving his body frontward and backward off of speed, you have all these different things that you can do off of those two pitches.’’

That’s the art of pitching that has been lost because that whole concept he just explained is lost on so many people in charge of the game today, in charge of player development today, in charge of teams today.

That concept has been replaced by spin, constant max velocity and the training use of weighted baseballs to “develop’’ pitchers.

As I often say here, there are no shortcuts. You become a better pitcher by being an artful pitcher even if you have a Roger Clemens-like fastball. Unfortunately, pitchers are caught in this new web of pitching intrigue. The simple has given way to the complicated but you know who is not playing along with the new way? Pitching elbows and shoulders are not playing along with the new way.

Now it is all one big science experiment from 60 feet six inches. Trust the science.

“They have no idea,’’ our pitching man said of those running the pitching show. “Sometimes if you take a little bit off your fastball, now it’s an 88-mph sinker and the hitter rolls over it. It’s weak contact. There is nothing wrong with weak contact if we have guys who are capable of playing defense behind us.’’

Weak contact is not weak. There is strength in weak contact. Manipulate the baseball, not your elbow. That’s all pitching.

Just to be clear, this is a baseball problem. It’s not any one team’s problem. And when I hear so-called experts proclaim that Tommy John surgery now is pretty much part of the game, I cringe. It should not be, something is drastically wrong if you believe that – and even if you don’t believe it but say it because the people in charge are pushing that narrative.

Wake up, Baseball. And not just Major League Baseball.

Someone who knows a lot more about all this than me, former pitcher Justin Orenduff, founder at DVS Baseball, noted: “Recent data reveals a staggering 172 percent increase in the likelihood of major throwing arm injuries among pitchers born after 1995, attributed to the prevalent injury-prone pitching culture … This shift prompts reflection on the factors contributing to this drastic change.’’

Orenduff goes on to note that various factors contribute to all this, including:

Emphasis on fastball velocity.

Structure and year-round business model of Travel Baseball.

Proliferation of Showcase Baseball, organization and tournaments.

Adoption of technology for capturing pitch metrics.

Influence of strength and conditioning programs.

I can’t emphasize enough that pitching and baseball is so much more than metrics.

“If the industry really cared,’’ our baseball man said, “they would put together an educational program for parents and kids.’’

Great point.

“You ask Greg Maddux to be in charge of it, and Jim Kaat, two Hall of Fame pitchers’’ he said, another excellent point. “Stop being a slave to pitching velocity and exit velocity, be a slave to performance, being a good pitcher, putting the ball in play.’’

Baseball has a lot to think about going forward but my guess is they won’t think about it all all; the rulers of the game and those in charge of teams will continue to be mesmerized by metrics and widgets and shiny objects and not care – and more importantly, not understand – what really has to be done to slow the onslaught of injuries.

First things first: Quit pushing out knowledgeable baseball people. This injury epidemic is on you, Baseball. Own it.

Then maybe you can fix it.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

Comments
  • If more pitchers went back to a real windup with arms going over the head, there would be fewer arms injuries…no matter the velocity. Windups “loosen” and keep the shoulder “greased” so to speak and also gets the arm in a better position at front foot landing.

    March 14, 2024
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