Keep watch on how far the “elite” pitching prospects drop during Thursday’s draft. If they do, Dr. James Andrews could be a key reason.
In May, the Andrews Institute issued a position paper that outlined his team’s findings after years of their own research into the likely causes and misconceptions that currently surround the Ulnar Collateral Ligament injury and the Tommy John surgery itself.
On yesterday’s Braves’ Radio Network broadcast of the Braves/Marlins series finale, commentators Don Sutton and Jim Powell discussed the paper and the implications that might result – particularly with respect to the upcoming draft this week.
Their thoughts included these:
- Teams might be inclined to dig a lot deeper into the playing history of the top pitchers: how many teams have they been on, are they year-round players, how many years have they been playing regularly, and how many other – different – positions did they play.
- Teams might be inclined to search for “athletes” rather than kids who are specifically pitchers. In this context, they discussed multi-sport stars in high school who did not play baseball year-round, but kept up their conditioning by playing other sports as well.
- Don specifically mentioned swimmers as a possible future group to “draw” pitchers from, given their tendency to have the best upper-body conditioning, though neither broadcaster knew of any teams that were looking in this direction.
The Andrews report mentioned numerous factors that they have observed as eventual causes for the UCL injury, and several factors they identified as “myths” as well:
- Early throwing of the curve ball: not a factor
- Mound height: not a factor
- Latin American pitchers: no less injury prone in this day and age
- Causes: excessive full-effort pitching, lack of time to heal.
- Andrews’ research has shown that the amount of competitive pitching and pitching while fatigued are strongly linked to injury. Other risk factors may include pitching on multiple teams, pitching year-round, playing catcher when not pitching, poor pitching mechanics, and poor physical conditioning.
All of this throws cold water on the ‘travel teams’, ‘showcases’, and ‘area code teams’ that have emerged over the past couple of decades – which have not incoincidentally matches up well with what Andrews calls the “epidemic” of UCL injuries in young pitchers. The count keeps changing weekly, but we are now roughly at forty such injury reports in the professional leagues so far this year – easily the highest on record to this point in the season.
The FalloutNow comes the time for reaction: the amateur draft starts on Thursday. What will clubs do… if anything?
Will teams want to pay top dollar for pitchers who – if you believe Dr. Andrews – are basically a ticking time bomb whose elbow is simply waiting to explode? Do alternate draft options such as a Monte Harrison (a pitcher and wide receiver) or Justus Sheffield (another 2-sport star) suddenly shoot up the board? Will teams pay more attention to the depth of the pitching resume of players they are about to select?
That same Justus Sheffield, for instance, actually de-enrolled from high school to participate in a showcase event to avoid rules in Tennessee against the practice. This was done, of course, to enhance his visibility to scouts. Was that a wise idea? Dr. Andrews would say “no”, but the lure of draft bonus dollars is high, and that’s why a lot of these kids (and their parents) are making these choices – oblivious to the extent of future ramifications.
There’s one thing that can change this culture: teams that start rewarding the athletes – not the pitchers.
Thursday’s draft could be very interesting if that starts happening. Trouble is, with so many that have followed the “new normal” of young pitcher over-use, it may be difficult to see teams shy away from that. We’ll have to watch closely.