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Bill James: Pitchers Today Are Healthier


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From Dave Schoenfield at ESPN (quoting from BillJamesOnline):

Speaking of James, he had a fascinating study on BillJamesonline (pay). He went back to the 1950s and studied consecutive starts made by starting pitchers. As he writes, it's not a perfect study because of factors that couldn't be completely adjusted for; for example, a rainout can create a gap between starts that's not actually meant to be a gap, or maybe a starter makes a relief appearance between starts. Anyway, he tracked the ongoing leaderboards for consecutive starts made under the rules he set up. He writes:

"But here is the point I wanted to make ... now that I made you read 25 pages of lead up just to make this point, but ... people talk about injuries to pitchers as if this were a new phenomenon; more and more pitchers every year are getting hurt. Well, maybe.

"But this study shows that the number of pitchers staying in rotation for years and years without any injury or interruption is clearly higher than it has ever been. A record was set in 2012, broken in 2013, broken in 2014. I don't want to make too much out of that; the record is based on just ten pitchers out of a population of 150. But there is certainly some indication that injuries to starting pitchers may not, in fact, be increasing."

I would go far as to suggest that an additional reason for the decline in run scoring isn't just the increased size of the strike zone but pitchers staying healthier than a generation ago. Healthier pitchers are better pitchers. (Yes, even with the long list of Tommy John surgeries this season.)


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I believe this. There are a huge amount of pitchers having Tommy John surgery now, but that is because of the advancement of modern medicine. It's not as big of a risk now. Doctors and trainers are keeping them healthier now. Back then, they pitched through injuries until it ended their careers. This article points out the obvious. Modern medicine.

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I think this makes sense because we're relatively early in the standardization of roles. Baseball existed for about 100 years before there was even a consensus that regular schedules for starters was a good thing. Casey Stengel was still using his ace, Whitey, in relief half a dozen times a year up until about 1960. Doubleheaders and rainouts meant that many, or most, pitchers deviated from a 3-day rest schedule constantly. And it wasn't until the late 70s that managers started applying strategies to limit the workloads of relievers, and it was still in flux by the 90s. Sports medicine didn't really exist until the mid 1970s, either.

But the counter to this was max-effort. It's only been the last 20-30 years that most pitchers threw max effort most of the time.

In general evolution goes forward, not back. So you'd expect fewer injuries, I'd expect strategies and tactics to eventually converge on an ever-rising line towards more health and more effectiveness.

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