I truly hope you won’t ask me at whom this rant is aimed, because I have no idea. Undoubtedly, teams don’t want their pitchers to get hurt, pitchers don’t want to get hurt, training staffs are doing everything they can to keep pitchers healthy. Nonetheless, allow me to vent because jumping across the internet and through my computer to stop me is probably not an option.
I get it: pitching is really bad for you. “Ask your doctor if pitching a baseball is right for you.” “No, son, it isn’t.” Still, seemingly every season starts the same way now: A team is assembled, fans strive to get excited about the squad that has been built, and then a bunch of other people take the mound.
It’s almost as if it’s pointless to build a rotation, because after carefully making sure your depth is 10 starting pitchers deep, you will open the season randomly throwing #2, #4, #5, #7, and #9 out there. “Hey, let’s trade for Paul Blackburn so that Daniel Gossett can start. Let’s draft A.J. Puk so that we can call up Brett Anderson...”
It’s a league wide epidemic. In the span of several weeks, a rotation initially to be led by Kendall Graveman, Sean Manaea, Andrew Triggs, Daniel Mengden, Paul Blackburn, and Jharel Cotton has already been whittled down to Graveman, Manaea, and Triggs — all of whom have missed time due to injury each of the last 2 seasons. Puk? Biceps soreness. Frankie Montas? Shoulder pain. Grant Holmes? Shoulder. Dang, we probably should have held on to Jesse Hahn. Oh wait, he’s injured too, anyway.
So the rotation is gutted, and the depth behind it is gutted even more. So for all the careful planning that went into trades, the draft, and free agent signings, the rotation will be “not the guys we envisioned but they’re the ones currently healthy, for now.”
That takes away the enjoyment not only of a season, but also the off-season of planning and analyzing those plans, because ultimately it’s just a game of “who’s left standing” and that group tends to be pretty random in its skill level/place on a depth chart.
I remain truly fascinated, and bewildered, by the stark contrast between pitchers of the ‘70s and pitchers of today. “Pitchers today get hurt more because they throw harder,” goes one narrative, failing to explain casualties like Blackburn. “It’s the increased use of the slider,” says another meme, overlooking casualties like Cotton. Are we to presume that the stuff Rollie Fingers used to dominate batters 40 years ago would get lit up by today’s hitters? Because I do not believe that is the case.
Nothing I have seen or heard really adequately explains why a norm of 4-man rotations and 240 IP seasons has given way to a generation that seemingly cannot throw consecutive 180 IP seasons without collapsing. But something has to give because season after season in which teams prepare one roster only to scramble and settle for another is unrewarding for all.
I get that the A’s rotation, when there were no known injury issues, was tenuous, and I was excitedly looking forward to seeing whether that group could step up just enough, and just long enough for the next wave (Puk, Holmes) to rise before a couple incumbents fell. Now it’s just the usual “Try to get through April and have a SP who can go each day,” including pitchers who were supposed to start at AAA, pitchers who were only signed out of panicky desperation — and who knows how bad it will get, considering this is just the damage we know of as of March 22nd?
Something has to give, and I do not have the foggiest idea of what that could be. But until we can get back to a place where the incidence of pitcher injuries is somewhere left of “completely insane,” it’s just not a good situation for baseball — not for fans, not for pitchers, not for anyone. Please, someone with a silver bullet or magic elixir step up and solve this problem. Because this is putting me on the mental DL.