Thursday, April 24, 2008

OK, I can't imagine anyone's checking in anymore ...

... but, something actually came up that got me interested enough to write.

Jason over at It IS About the Money, Stupid, recently posted a sort-of rhetorical question: Why is it that pitchers today — particularly young ones — are getting Tommy John Surgery in such high numbers? Jason posits, as many have, that the efforts to help pitchers — restricted pitch counts, five-man rotations, etc. — might actually be the cause. I've heard this said often, and even written about it a little before in this space.

The problem with that idea — and I'm not criticizing Jason, simply offering a counter-point — is that it isn't taking into account one vital, fundamental difference between the "olden-days" when pitchers routinely threw complete games, and today:

It is way, way, way, way, way, way, way, WAY harder to pitch in today's game.

The last time I wrote about this, I challenged the self-reinforcing memory device that allows people to think that pitchers back in the day never got hurt. I wish I had the time to do a breakdown on the length of pitchers' careers in previous eras, but I've got my nose buried in the world of soccer statistics these days and don't really feel like making my brain and/or processor melt with even more Excel work. But I would be willing to bet cold, hard currency that pitchers, on the whole, experience longer careers now than they used to. It's sort of a sucker's bet, because there are so many developments in the game, particularly in the related fields of training and medical treatment, that it is virtually impossible that I'm on the wrong side of this. And the reason that such a counter-intuitive belief has persisted within many circles is because we tend to only remember those who did have long careers, and quickly forget the Jeff D'Amicos of the world who make an impact one season, and are gone a couple later.

However, for the sake of my argument, I can allow for the idea that injuries are more common today for pitchers. To simply hone in on the so-called "improvements" teams have made in pitcher handling as the possible cause of all this TJ surgery distress is missing the forest for the trees; the reason teams have hard pitch restrictions and five-man rotations is because they were adjusting to both the realities of pitcher attrition rates and the fact that, since the lowering of the mound, pitchers must pitch much better if they're to pitch effectively (say that sentence five times fast).

Here's what's changed since Bob Gibson's 1.12 ERA season in 1968, often cited as the single-greatest pitching season in the history of the sport:

• Mounds have been lowered four inches
• Balls have gone from being hand-wound to machine-wound, resulting in a tighter ball
• Balls are often swapped out after a few impacts with a bat, resulting in fewer "softened" balls
• Ballparks have become exponentially smaller, most notably w/r/t power alleys and foul territories
• Hitters have gotten bigger
• Hitters have gotten smarter, thanks in large part to video analysis
• Hitters are encouraged to work counts much more often
• The strike zone has gotten smaller

I'm probably leaving some things off the list, but that will do. Essentially, just about everything that's happened in the last 40 years has been almost virulently anti-pitcher. So, it's tougher to get an out than it's ever been in the history of baseball, if we're talking in broad strokes.

The next logical step is to assume that pitchers must exert more effort, on average, with each pitch than they would have 40 years ago. It's the effort per pitch — not necessarily the raw number of pitchers — that determines pitcher fatigue. And it's when pitchers continue to pitch while fatigued that leads to injuries, as Dr. James Andrews has said a million and a half times. The only reason things like Pitcher Abuse Points exist is because it's much easier to try and figure out a general number for a ceiling that can be applied to the average pitcher than it is trying to figure out a number for each individual pitcher. I'll bet, though, that the individual teams' pitch counts are much more nuanced and specific; coaches should be able to tell, based upon an individuals level of effort per pitch and stamina level, what number works for each pitcher on the staff. If they don't, they should probably be fired (you hear that Charlie Manuel, he who is attempting to end Cole Hamels' career?).

There are a lot of ancillary issues that are leading to the rise in TJ surgery, which is an increased ability to diagnose specific problems as opposed to nebulous terms like "tired arms," specialization at early ages for athletes, the Vanderbilt coaching staff and the 10-year-old curve ball. It doesn't hurt that the surgery is more available and affordable than it's ever been, which allows it to be an option for younger players who probably would have been forced to just give up the game after tearing a UCL in years past. Shit, there's something to be said about the correlation between advanced surgical procedures and the demise of knuckleballers, as many of those who turned to the world of constant manicuring did so as a result of a fastball-killing arm injury.

But the bottom line is that the rise in TJ surgery isn't because pitchers don't train to throw 150 pitches per game or 300 innings a season any longer; they don't do those things anymore because, if they did, it would probably result in an even more TJ surgeries. As far as I can tell, arguments like this come down to figuring out where in the chain of causality one wishes to begin his or her inquest. Starting at the increase of TJ surgery is, I believe, about three or four links too far up the chain.

Thanks, Jason, for writing something that got me thinking.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Reason number 23,367 that NASCAR sucks.

As the latest in the ever-increasing number of reasons to turn your racing attentions elsewhere, this article serves as a paragon of inept, completely out-of-touch journalism. A stark contrast to this guy, who has been put on blast for actually relating an informed, accurate take on a topic, Blount's premise is fundamentally asinine and laughably wrong.

What Blount (and the complaining drivers, for that matter) doesn't seem to grasp is that NASCAR, unlike, say, F1, is a sport that prides itself upon uniformity, simplicity, and antiquity.

I mean, NASCAR, still uses pushrod motors! Pushrod! No one even produces cars with pushrod (no camshaft(s)) motors anymore! Is anyone really surprised that a sport that not only embraces, but champions outdated and inferior technology would not be receptive to change? Forget about those fancy fuel injectors, Poindexter, that shit's for pussies. And don't even start trying to push that non-oval-tracks-make-for-more-interesting-races bullshit; I ain't had enough Milwaukee's Best tonight to get roped into that conversation. Give me a chaw, boy, and a knife to whittle this switch!
Aaaaaaaand, we're back.... It should not be lost on anyone that all of the kvetching over the pushrod-using, carburated, breadbox of a vehicle is taking place over a vehicle once dubbed the 'Car of Tomorrow'. Aside from helping us understand the definition of the word 'irony', that little tidbit should serve as the codex of the NASCAR world: spitefully ignorant, intentionally backward, and complaining all the way.

Aerodynamics?! They're complaining about aerodynamics?! Sweet Enola Gay, son! I only finished 3 semesters as an aero before switching to physics, but here's a quick primer on some astute observations that I have made whilst pondering this issue:


are more aerodynamically sound than this:

For the Flying Spaghetti Monster's sake, even the rearview mirrors have been engineered and wind-tunnel tested on the F1 cars!
P.S - This is completely off-topic, but why is texting (on standard keypad phones, anyway) so popular? Does anyone realize that we have essentially reverted back to Morse code? What's up with that, people?

I wish this were the last word on Lute Olson

But I know it's not going to be.

I don't know how much more I'm going to be posting, and this doesn't exactly qualify as breaking news here. But considering I've spent no small amount of time baiting columnists in this space — even this particular one once or twice, though I've always done so with some hesitation, because I know Greg a little and respect him very much — I wanted to take the opportunity to present a columnist not only writing/doing something good, but brave.

For those who may not know, Olson blackballed Hansen for quite a few years after the city's leading sportswriter had the temerity to call out Olson and the program for letting a player sit in jail (I believe this is the story, but I could be wrong). Olson's megalomania is no recent development; he's been pulling this shit for years. And, after what appeared to be a heartfelt burying of the hatchet with Greg a couple of years back -- lore has it that the patch-up came at the request of Lute's now-late wife, Bobbi, under whose well-deserved halo Lute has lived to this day -- it appears Lute thinks there's cause enough to draw arms again. That's sad, because Greg's one of those writers who only grudgingly gets into it with those he covers. That's not to say he's a sycophant — he's certainly not, as this column proves (as do dozens of others through the years) — but he is clearly more attuned to the kind of column writing that makes people better fans of a program, as opposed to better critics. Furthermore, just about any time Greg actually decides to write something even remotely strident, he gets fucking killed by readers (read the comments after the Olson column, but be sure to take a couple of Advil first). Yeah, maybe the Mariottis of the world get it worse, but they actually deserve it. Greg Hansen has spent the last two-plus decades giving big-league coverage, in terms of the quality of his writing and the respect/gravity he affords his subjects, to the world's biggest college town. He deserves, at the least, a poorly populated e-mail inbox on column days.

I'm actually getting angrier about this as I write, which means that I'm reaching the point where I'll probably just start throwing bombs at Tucson. But I don't want to. I'm exhausted by the entire Lute Olson situation -- he really is the grinch that stole college basketball, at least for me -- and I'm not really interested in slamming my former home because I still like a lot of things about Tucson.

But, seriously, I have no idea how anyone with a shred of intelligence can still be a fan of this program as long as Shakes is at the helm.