Baseball’s Sick Obsession: Tommy John

Injuries are part of the game. Every team has to find a way through a tough break over the course of the 162 game season, but, have we ever seen an entire league be devastated like the MLB has from Tommy John Surgery this year?

Major League Baseball has seen 20 TJ surgeries already, as the second half is just under way. Since 2000, there have only been two seasons in which there were 20 or more TJ surgeries (20 in ’07 and 36 in ’12). The spike in 2012 was believed to be an oddity for one year, but with 20 in a little over half the year, the issue is more pressing than ever.

What’s even worse, is that it’s happening to some of the brightest young arms the game has to offer. Matt Harvey, Jose Fernandez, Patrick Corbin, and Matt Moore top the list of many other impressive talents that have succumbed to the season ending injury. It’s disappointing for GM’s, front office personnel, and the fans, more than anyone else. However, the game wasn’t always this way.

There is no “cure” to prevent this injury, but we can definitely come to our own conclusions. Many years ago, it was common for pitchers to throw 250-300 innings (sometimes even more) and have several complete games per season. Now, it is seen as a success if a pitcher makes it to 200. Here are some reasons why elbows are in need of serious maintenance.

1. It’s the baseball or bust mentality. From a young age, kids may enjoy playing more than one sport. However, once it’s determined that America’s Pastime is the way to go, all other sports become irrelevant. It’s baseball all four seasons instead of maybe just the summer time. Parents, who see a chance for a college scholarship, and coaches who see big league potential, make baseball the only game to know for some young athletes. What that does is place wear and tear on young elbows much quicker than if they were to play baseball less. Sure, when you’re a high school kid pitching however long coach says to, it doesn’t seem like much of an issue. However, the mileage the elbow picks up at a young age becomes an issue once some of these young hurlers reach the professional stage. If a kid has the talent to make it to the bigs, let him get there at his own pace. Let him play other sports when it’s the offseason and the elbow will thank you later.

2. The Tommy John success rate. So many pitchers have had TJ surgery and have came back without many issues. Sure, some have the surgery again, while others never recover from the initial operation, but because so many players have come back, the risk seems worth it. This is especially true for players at a young age. Stephen Strasburg had the surgery, and is still a top of the rotation starter for Washington. He is just one of the many examples of players that have made a successful return. Some players also come back from the surgery throwing harder. While the injury takes a great deal of time to recover, pushing it to the maximum effort seems okay, because you can be just as good after a visit to Dr. James Andrews.

3. Obsession with the “K.” Strikeouts are at an all time high. Players, coaches, and front office personnel alike, have become almost obsessed with punch outs. It’s also not much of a surprise pitchers are missing bats like never before. Players are throwing harder, getting more movement, and altering their deliveries just to get strikeouts. The art of pitching to contact seems lost. With detailed scouting reports, you can discover where a player likes the ball, at a certain time of the day, on a given day of the week, etc (catch my drift?). Consider this: Matt Harvey would throw his slider near 90 mph last season. A decade ago, most pitchers would throw their heater at the same velocity. Low and behold, Harvey will not pitch this season. Irony?–That’s up for debate, but you can certainly see the reason to worry. The Mets also decided to place lefty Jon Niese on the disabled list, because his velocity was down. Considering Niese has a sub three ERA, this seems a bit unnecessary. Sure, it’s great if you have a staff full of fireballers, but if they are over throwing just to get a better reading on the radar gun, their health is going to deteriorate. Coaching and scouting staffs need to realize it’s OK to pitch at 91 instead of 95. Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine made Hall of Fame careers living at that velocity. Jaime Moyer pitched into his late 40s barely touching 80 for goodness sake. If hurlers can control multiple pitches, get good movement, and keep the opposition off balance, then throwing high heat becomes irrelevant. There’s an old baseball phrase about throwing hard that went something like this… “95 will get you a shot.”

If you can throw hard great, some players just have the right physique. However, movement and deception will win just as many ball games. The obsession with the strikeout needs to end. If a pitcher can play to his strengths and master his craft, velocity won’t matter.

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A Note to the Three Stooges-Fred, Jeff, and Saul

2014 was supposed to be the year. We’re a week and a half into this young season and Mets fans have little reason to believe this year will be different from the past 5. Okay, Matt Harvey won’t pitch this year–a major setback. But would his presence really make the difference between mediocrity and breathing October air? The payroll remains the same. No solution was reached about shortstop or first, and the bullpen remains a mystery. Even if the Mets caught a few breaks (that will be the day), it still looks a daunting task to reach the coveted 90 win plateau General Manager Sandy Alderson targeted this offseason.

You read that right in the first paragraph–the payroll remains mostly the same. Despite Alderson bragging about how the team was one of the top spenders this past offseason, the Mets payroll is actually slightly less than the $90 million they were at last season. The Mets didn’t add payroll, they simply reinvested money that was no longer owed to Johan Santana and Jason Bay. The contracts Curtis Granderson, Bartolo Colon, and Chris Young received, is the majority lump some of money that came off the books.

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Even if the Mets didn’t add payroll, they did make moves in the offseason. So, are they actually any better? Not really. Curtis Granderson is being heralded as a major upgrade in the outfield. Marlon Byrd played very well before he was traded to Pittsburgh in August, and Granderson projects to equal his production, maybe surpassing it by just a little. This was not a significant upgrade by any means. It is a minor upgrade at best compared to the numbers Byrd put up last season.

Now, the saga that is known as Ruben Tejada. The incumbent shortstop has fallen out of favor with the organization and with fans, so his exit looked eminent. It has not happened–at least not yet–and for good reason believe it or not. Stephen Drew is the obvious choice to replace, but Alderson has not given in to the usually overpriced demands of agent Scott Boras. The free agent market for shortstop next offseason is very strong, and Alderson could make a move then. Although another year with Tejada could be rough, it could be beneficial in the long run with big names like Hanley Ramirez and Asdrubal Cabrera set to become free agents in the winter of 2015.

Trade Davis, kick the tires on Duda. Get rid of at least one of them. That was the plea of most Met fans before the season started, and in typical Mets fashion, neither gets moved. However, Alderson has a plan. Yes, Davis and Duda have been disappointments, but there is still hope at this position. If either has a strong first half, a late July trade could be a very realistic option. If not, one of the two may stick around for another year or two. As painful as that sounds, it makes sense. Last year’s first round draft pick Dominic Smith is already one of the organizations top prospects, and it is just a matter of time before he exits the minors for Flushing. Until then, we might be stuck with the unknown of Duda and Davis.

Chris Young has yet to play this season, and has always been injury plagued, and an inconsistent performer when healthy. Bartolo Colon will not produce Harvey like numbers this season. That’s just unfathomable. So, how has the team improved?

The formula for success in baseball changes over decades. For many years quality starting pitching, timely hitting, and strong defense won championships. Heck, that formula still works today (we don’t see it as often, though). The 90s and early 2000s was the era of PED’s and the longball. Now that PED’s have significantly decreased (or so we think), what is the recipe for success? For one things certain, you need starting pitching to win ball games. That’s been true for as long as the game has been played. And with the current starters and elite prospects the Mets posses, it’s a luxury many teams do not have. Moving on, batting seems to be better than it was before the PED era, but not as good since the era ended not too long ago. Depth in the batting order, rather than a few MVP caliber players seems to be the trend. So what does that leave out as a vital aspect of the game in the modern championship formula?

Oh, how could we forget…THE BULLPEN.

Go back to last season and watch the Cardinals and the Red Sox. Most of the arms that came out of their ‘pens threw very hard. Late game cheddar has become crucial to getting K’s in big situations. Just watch Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal work. It’s very difficult for the opposition to connect with his 95+ mph heater. He is just one example of the many arms that help postseason teams in the late innings.

The Mets haven’t had a legitimately solid bullpen since 2006–the last time they made the playoffs. Irony? I think not.

Yes, the Mets did posses the best lineup in the league that year, but their starting pitching was average at best. Tom Glavine had a nice year but was no all star. Orlando Hernandez pitched decently before getting hurt. John Maine and Oliver Perez (imagine that) were two postseason starters. Yes, John Maine and Oliver Perez. Steve Trachsel won 15 games with an ERA near 4.50.

Let’s go over the arms in the 06 ‘pen. Closer Billy Wagner–one of the hardest throwers in the league. Guillermo Mota, Roberto Hernandez, Aaron Heilman, Duaner Sanchez (first half only) all threw hard. Pedro Felliciano and Darren Oliver were soft tossers, but lefty specialists. Chad Bradford did not throw hard but his submarine style made him effective. That bullpen was the best in the league.

Now, look whose in the ‘pen. John Lannan, a soft tossing lefty, Carlos Torres, who does not throw hard, Scott Rice, another soft tossing lefty, not to mention Kyle Farnsworth and Jose Valverde who have decent velocity, but not anywhere close to where they once did. Gonzalez German and Jeruys Familia bring gas but are very inexperienced. Vic Black, who was primed to be the set up man in the pre-season, was sent down because he was very ineffective this spring. Josh Edgin, who has good velocity from the left side, found a fate similar to Black’s. This bullpen has the experience in the wrong places and velocity that doesn’t know where it’s going.

Now, this is where it really gets frustrating. The Mets bullpen has been in the bottom half of the league ever since the 2007 season. The Mets payroll remains largely unchanged, so that means that didn’t really invest into an area of need, while looking for cheap internal options. That plan looks like a nightmare thus far, as the bullpen has looked shaky (generous wording here) thus far. What could have been done this winter? Veterans Ronald Bellisario and Matt Thornton signed for about 3 million each on 1 year deals. It’s time to open the checkbook, and pay for surgery, because the Met bullpen has been broken for the past 7 years.

The overall feeling of the 2014 season is one all too familiar: disappointing. It feels like nothing has changed, despite the new faces in different positions. We sit here and wait, as the Mets continue to try to sell us on Noah Syndergaard, Rafael Montero, and the other talented Met farmhands. What they are selling, I’m not buying. They did the exact same thing last year with Harvey and Wheeler. Don’t get me wrong–I love the young staff that’s taking shape. It has the potential to be one of the league’s best for many years. However, what good is that starting pitching with a lineup that can’t support it, and a bullpen that can’t hold a lead?

This team needs a better shortstop, consistent first base play, another quality outfielder, and an above average bullpen. The Wilpons are losing money each season as ticket prices, concessions, and parking, have been on the decline since Citi Field’s inaugural season. Why should we be confident they will make the proper changes, with a payroll that can’t grow? It’s time to sell the team, but that isn’t likely unless the next commissioner forces a sale of the team.

With a young, and potentially dominant rotation on the horizon, 2015 looks like the year. But wait–didn’t we say that last year? Even with a healthy Harvey, it seems that not much else will change. WIth the Wilpons still in power, Met fans everywhere are waking up in the same nightmare.

Richard Sherman

As great as the NFC title game between Seattle and San Francisco was this past weekend, Richard Sherman’s mouth managed to steal headlines. The aftermath of his tirade has brought about many varying reactions. There are several angles fans, players, and media members have taken regarding Sherman’s rant (which you can view again, here)

Some reactions were fair and deserving, however some were downright ridiculous. So, let’s make sense of Sherman, his comments, and future implications.

Firstly, Sherman proclaimed he is the best cornerback in the league. When you’re named to the All Pro’s first team and lead the league in interceptions, you have bragging rights. (Oh, and making the game winning play to send your team to the SuperBowl doesn’t hurt either). When victorious, you have a right to be proud of what you have accomplished, because it would be impossible for anyone to refute what is fact. However there is a big difference between proclaiming victory and belittling a formidable opponent.

Michael Crabtree isn’t Jerry Rice but he is respected for his craft and has performed well in this league. So maybe he said or did something to Sherman that he felt was disrespectful in the past. Even if that was the case, let your play do the talking and save the ranting for the locker room instead of national television. Win with class, lose with class.

Trash talking is welcomed to an extent in this league. It’s fun for fans and intensifies rivalries. However, draw a line that shows you still respect your opponent. San Francisco was 12-4 and played a closely contested game down to the last minute. They even beat Seattle once in the regular season. Give credit where it’s due and be gracious.

Next, comes an unfortunate angle taken by some ignorant and extremist people. There were those that associated the manner in which Sherman ranted as having to do with his race. The racist comments that were found on various social media platforms are downright audacious. (Those comments you can search for yourself, as this piece is trying to stay PG-rated). What if a white player would have said the same things? What does that make him? Sherman was in the heat of the moment and lost his cool. It is unfortunate that a professional was unable to exhibit any humility or grace in victory. At the same time, it does not make him any less of human being or have anything to do with his race. He was actually very calm when interviewed later in the postgame. To associate Sherman’s tirade with the fact that he is black is not only irrelevant, but immoral (don’t act like you’ve never lost your cool before).

Sherman is known for being outspoken. One of the more polarizing figures in the game, he is a media delight. So, credit Fox for having the courage to interview Sherman right after the game. They knew his emotions were running high and his adrenaline was through the roof. This resulted in one of the most famous rants in recent memory (also credit Fox for taking the camera off Sherman before he said something worthy of a fine from Mr. Goodell). Although Sherman’s comments were disrespectful towards his opponent, he refrained from using any curse words, and kept it PG. It was just overly aggressive and uncalled for.

So what have we learned? Richard Sherman is an elite player who helped his team when they needed him most. He did not act the way he did because of his ethnicity. He simply let his emotions get the better of him. He deserves criticism for showing zero class and became a villain in the process. His actions that were locker room material made for a national sports controversy. He is going to have live with a bad boy image. However something tells me that with earning a trip to the SuperBowl, he could care less. Let’s see what he has to say in another two weeks in New Jersey.

Offseason Outlook: 2014 New York Mets

Okay, I’m growing tired of the Mets ownership/front office not being willing to spend, after claiming they would have money to afford players this offseason. Well, aren’t we all in the same boat? The losing culture has gotten old, and the rebuilding strategy has run its course.

We as Mets fans, deserve to see a better on field product. However, despite this negativity, we must remain patient, as hard as that is to do given the circumstances. Met fans have been given poor reputations due to their ignorance. So, let’s sort out the facts:

First and foremost, the Wilpons are to blame for the poor player quality the team has been accustomed to over the past several seasons. General Manager Sandy Alderson wants to spend money for a big market team with small market budget. The Wilpons have been recovering from financial loss due to the Bernie Madoff scandal, and from the overbearing contracts of Johan Santana and Jason Bay. Lawsuit has been settled, contracts set to expire, so there’s money to be spent, right? Wrong.

The free agent market is inflating in price as the player quality has decreased in quantity. The top free agents this offseason are guys like Sin-Soo Choo and Jacoby Ellsbury. They are both asking for contracts over 100m. We saw Johnny Peralta get a whopping 4yr/53m deal already. This money for average to slightly above average talents is ludicrous. Alderson knows that, and won’t overpay for a player that won’t likely return the investment. The aforementioned players are all at least 30 in age and have either and injury/PED case in the past. That isn’t worth the risk.

Met fans wan’t to see a big name get signed. They would like a Curtis Granderson or Nelson Cruz, who are also asking to be overpaid. The fanbase longs for new faces with high expectations. However, as the market has inflated, the Wilpons did not anticipate the price increase and are left with their collective pants around their ankles. They and GM Alderson both know they either can’t afford them, or would be wasting money. The longer ownership waits, the increase in pressure from the fanbase rises.

So, what’s next? Does the front office cave under pressure and hand a massive contract to an average player? The answer, is somewhat complex; Alderson is patient enough to wait for prices to fall or for a trade to open up. The Wilpons are not as patient but too insecure and frugal to let Alderson spend.

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Look for this dilemma to end either during or shortly after the winter meetings in mid-December. If the Mets are going to acquire new talent, it’s most likely to come via a trade. With a plethora of young pitching and decent interest in starters like Ike Davis, Daniel Murphy, and Dillon Gee, there are many trade possibilities. Yes, the possibility of a free agent splash also remains, but a trade is most likely.

So, this is my message for you, fellow Met fans: hang in there. The winter meetings are quickly approaching and Alderson can engage in numerous trade talks. Although we would like Roberto Clemente to walk onto right field on opening day, we must stay realistic. There are going to be changes, just let Sandy work.

The Spurs Are Marching…Where?

It’s been almost three months since the start of English Premier League. Tottenham Hotspur had some of the most questions to answer so far, and now have almost as many remaining.

Gareth Bale is gone, many new players are in, and the team isn’t where it wants to be. Tied for fifth, but in seventh by goal differential, it is clear that the team has trouble finding the back of the net. So what’s the issue?

Manager Andre Villas Boas has consistently gone with a 4-2-3-1. In theory, this formation is primed for scoring, but he isn’t using players in their proper roles.

Roberto Soldado was acquired from Valencia as a proven striker, but has struggled to this point for several reasons. The formation AVB uses calls for wingers to service Soldado inside the 18, where he is most deadly from. Playing Andros Townsend out right does not fit this formula. He is left footed and looks to cut in and shoot from distance far too much. Leading the league in shots does not get Soldado service. He is a talented youngster getting forward, but is better of as a sub in the second half when the squad could use energy. Playing Aaron Lennon out right would allow a natural winger to send more balls in towards Soldado.

Instead AVB likes to play Lennon on the left, which makes no sense. He is a dribbler and a crosser. So, playing him on a side where he has to use his weaker foot to send balls into the box isn’t nearly as effective.

Erik Lamela is the most expensive signing in club history. He is a natural winger who can play on either side. He needs much more experience adapting to the BPL, but with Spurs struggling to score goals, it’s time he’s given a chance to prove himself. Lamela’s pace and agility is something worth trying to create more chances for Soldado.

Who plays off the striker as the attacking mid is also an issue. Is it Lewis Holtby, Christian Erkisen, or Gylfi Siggurdson? Holtby has great energy and a fantastic work rate, but features better as a substitute when the game lacks pace. Eriksen is a clever passer but needs to adapt better to the English game. Siggy has a powerful right foot but isn’t as creative as Eriksen.

This is something for Villas Boas to decide as the season progresses. It’s still just mid-November, but we have seen what dropping a single point means in this league. There is still time for improvement and a run at the ever so coveted top 4. However, the clock’s ticking.

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MLB Instant Replay Proposal: The Good, Bad, and the Ugly.

Recently Major League Baseball proposed a major upgrade to the current instant replay system. Currently, home run indecision is the only thing reviewable. Under the new policy, replay could be used for just about everything except balls and strikes, or if a batter is hit by a pitch. Managers would receive 3 challenges–one from innings1 through 6, and two after the 7th inning. Challenges won will be retained. Major breakthrough or unnecessary tampering with America’s past time? Choose your side.

Expansion of instant replay makes a world of sense for several reasons. First off, it allows for the right call (cue all the old school fans who say human error makes the game more intriguing) to be made. Too many times we have seen a close out/safe call or a fair/foul decision that decides a game. Some people will argue mistakes are what makes baseball unique, but where are those people when their team gets a call unfairly enforced against them? Imagine how Atlanta Braves fans felt after that infamous pop fly call in a one game wild card playoff vs. St Louis last season? That one decision altered an entire 162 game body of work. More importantly, athletes whose performances are adequate deserve to receive the proper benefit of the play. No exceptions–what’s fair is fair.

A second reason why instant replay can help–the egotistical personalities of umpires. Too many times do we see long tenured umps make decisions based on their opinions or biases. Players who argue with umps often have calls go against them. Umpires who have been in the game long enough think their wisdom overrules the objectivity needed for the proper call. Some umpires have become infamous for their inconsistency. Earlier this summer former Braves star Chipper Jones tweeted out against long tenured umpire Angel Hernandez. (The tweets are still up on Jones’s account from July 5. https://twitter.com/RealCJ10). Not only would instant replay eliminate biased decisions, it would keep umpires honest. The more calls they mess up, the more their job is at risk.

Instant replay expansion does have some negative sides to it, however. Given a manager can challenge a call twice from the 7th inning on, managers could intentionally challenge obvious decisions in an effort to create time for relief pitcher to warm up.

We must also remember this is still just a proposal. It could be shot down completely, or amended for the better. The owners, players association, and umpires association all have to vote on it.

There’s a very realistic chance this gets passed or at least amended and then passed. Fans have been pressing for replay expansion and the media has the power to scrutinize umpiring.

Once Bud Selig sees a problem with an aspect of his league’s image, he’ll do what’s necessary to fix it. Consider the PED scandals and the negative reputation MLB is acquiring. When Selig realized that didn’t make his league look good, he did, and is  still doing everything he can to clean it up and improve MLB’s identity. (That might be too little too late, but that’s an argument for another day).

I have a few issues with the proposal. Maybe one challenge from the 7th through 9th innings and an additional challenge awarded if the game enters extra innings is more reasonable. Additionally, challenges should not be retained if the manager is correct or not. This would make the managers strategically use their challenges instead of trying to waste time.

We can only hope all parties with a voice in this debate make the right call for America’s pastime.

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The Soap Opera Known as A-roid

Over the past few months, Alex Rodriguez has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. The Biogenesis clinic, his rehab assignments, and possible suspensions have been closely associated with his name.

The past week took the cake, though. Now, it seems like things are getting personal with Rodriguez and General Manager Brian Cashman. Here’s how things have unfolded, and what it all means. This is coming from a life long Mets fan, so getting to watch this drama unfold from an unbiased eye will give you a clear picture of what’s really going down.

First, Ryan Braun was suspended for the rest of the season. He was the first big name to be linked with biogenesis that received a suspension. Numerous reports indicated that A-rod’s suspension would soon follow. Rodriguez has not been suspended yet, and claims he is healthy and ready to play.

After completing his rehab stint, a Yankees physician (Christopher Ahmad) told Rodriguez he had a mild quad injury and will need to go on another 5 game rehab assignment. Here’s the catch: A-rod doesn’t really have a quad injury. GM Brian Cashman, in all likely-hood, told the doctor to create a phantom injury to keep Rodriguez off the field. Why? A-rod is aging, not half the player he once was, and a clubhouse distraction. The Yankees don’t want to pay him, and are hoping the suspension he faces will allow them to claim insurance on the remainder of Rodriguez’s contract and save the team a large portion of his remaining 4 years and $96 million he is still owed. Most importantly, the Yankees are doing all they can to stall until MLB decides to suspend A-rod.

Rodriguez then went to get a second opinion on his quad from another orthopedist Michael Gross, who believes A-rod is ready to play. The Yankees claimed he had no clearance to seek a second medical opinion and are considering taking action. Why did Rodriguez seek a second opinion without the Yankees permission? Because the Yankees probably wouldn’t have allowed him to see another doctor and Rodriguez knows that.

The lack of trust between the two sides is growing. It’s also quite evident, after this past week’s interview between Rodriguez and radio host Mike Francesa. When asked if he trusted the Yankees, Rodriguez stated, “I’d rather not get into that.”

Now, numerous media reports have claimed that Rodriguez will soon be suspended for life unless he takes some sort of deal from MLB. It is not official yet, but the short rehab assignment A-rod is on means more games he will be playing away from the major league level.

This is all a shame. A-rod being linked with PED’s again is obviously damaging for his reputation and the credibility of Major League Baseball. However, the Yankees offense has struggled so much this season, they could use A-rod’s bat in the lineup. But they are more concerned with getting out of the near $100 million they owe Rodriguez. It’s going to be an ugly, ugly end for one side, maybe even both. But for the the next few weeks, we will wait, as only time can tell.

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