The Mets’ mishandling of pitchers

met-aces-webIn 2016, the Mets had high hopes of riding their pitching staff back to the World Series. With a starting five of Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz and Bartolo Colon with Zack Wheeler expected to return in June, the team had every reason to be optimistic.

The 43-year-old Bartolo Colon has been the only pitcher to not miss a start. With most of their pitching staff on the shelf, the Mets are still making an amazing run at the playoffs.

Injuries happen, but have any other teams pitching staffs been decimated by injuries at this level? If the car is not working, it is time to look under the hood.

Harvey’s injury is the most concerning. Thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS) is a compression of blood vessels and/or nerves between the collarbone and the first rib, which can deaden an arm. Harvey underwent surgery for TOS, in which he had a rib removed. The expected recovery period is six months.

In 17 starts, Harvey had an uncharacteristic 4-10 record with a 4.86 ERA. In watching Harvey pitch this year, it was apparent that something was not right with him. His pitching woes were due to his injury. Why did it take a half season to determine that he was injured? The Mets should have been much more proactive in examining Harvey before he completed 17 starts. This is Harvey’s second major injury and only time will tell if he will regain his stature as a top ace. Pitchers with this type of an injury have had mixed results on coming back from it. TOS was the injury that finally ended the careers of Josh Beckett and Chris Carpenter. Jaime Garcia and Chris Young both returned from the injury. So the jury is out.

Matz has bone spurs in his elbow and a tight shoulder with a partial tear. deGrom is out with inflammation in his forearm, which is causing discomfort in his elbow. Syndergaard has had a great year, but has been troubled by bone spurs and arm fatigue.

So, after we open the hood, what are we finding? Colon is the only starting pitcher who does not throw between starts. It was reported that Colon suggested that Syndergaard back off throwing between starts.

Syndergaard and Matz were both kept in the rotation to pitch through their bone spurs. The problem with any human being who is in pain is that one adjusts to pain by altering the mechanics of the body to alleviate pain. Where could this be more damaging than with a major league pitcher? Change mechanics even slightly and one risks injury. describes possible causes of bone spurs as follows: “However, like the ulnar nerve problems, sometimes the root of the problem is looseness of the UCL. If the looseness of the UCL causes more play in the elbow joint, the bones collide more forcefully and the bone spurs grow rapidly. It is almost as if the body is trying to stabilize the elbow by growing more bone! So, if a pitcher has bone spurs in the elbow, the UCL must be evaluated. If the problem is stemming from the UCL, it must be reconstructed and the spurs removed. If the ligament is okay, then the spurs can be removed with a much faster recovery. Note that if a pitcher has bone spurs in the elbow this is sometimes a warning sign that problems with the UCL may be coming.”

“Steven Matz and Noah Syndergaard will continue pitching through discomfort caused by bone spurs in their elbows”, general manager Sandy Alderson said after a meeting in June. Why would Alderson take this position and potentially jeopardize the careers of both young pitchers?

The Mets need to completely reevaluate training and pitching regimens. Ray Ramirez has been the Mets trainer since 2004. Harvey, deGrom, Syndergaard and Matz are all hard throwing pitchers. As the game evolves and changes, regimens should be adjusted as well. Starting pitchers are pitching fewer and fewer innings every year. In a blog, CJ Nitkowski posed the thought of teams going to a six man rotation. Is this the answer? The answer may be complicated. What can’t be ignored are the red flags. Harvey, deGrom, Syndergaard and Matz all had red flags. The red lights were flashing and it appears that the Mets may have ignored the flashing lights. Ramirez received a masters degree in sports medicine from Long Island University in 1986. After all of these years, has Ramirez changed the pitching regimen or is he doing exactly what he has done 20 to 30 years ago? Ramirez has had his share of notoriety. In 2009, several Mets including Jose Reyes, Carlos Delgado, J.J. Putz, John Maine and Johan Santana all had season ending injuries.

For a team that has seen four of its young starters go down to injury, it sure appears as a distinct possibility that the Mets have mishandled the pitching staff.

The Mets may limp into the post season, but a bright shining spot light should be put on the Mets training staff in order to seriously evaluate current practices in order to prevent additional injuries and ruin the careers of promising young pitchers.

22 comments for “The Mets’ mishandling of pitchers

  1. Eraff
    September 10, 2016 at 10:05 am

    This is well crafted, but it’s Crapola.

    Ray Ramirez is incompetent because he graduated in 1986?

    Carlos Delgado…. JJ Putz….ha !!

    • Mike Walczak
      September 10, 2016 at 10:44 am

      Ramirez has 30 years experience and has had red flags pop up before. Yes we can question 30 years because maybe he hasn’t changed his methods and therefore could be hurting the staff. The goal is to get the team to evaluate what is going on. The scariest comment is Alderson saying that his pitchers will pitch through the pain.

  2. Rich
    September 10, 2016 at 10:10 am

    I think the article may have a point–and maybe we should look at that moron TC and his staff as well….

    • Mike Walczak
      September 10, 2016 at 10:41 am

      Yes Rich, that is what needs to happen. We have too much talent to waste because of mismanagement.

  3. September 10, 2016 at 11:21 am

    This article has loads of merit. When 5 of the 6 starters have issues, yesiree, Houston, there is a problem. Once upon a time, Mets had Fab 4 starters in Isringhausen, Pulsipher, Wilson, etc and they ‘blew up’ as well.
    Pretty much only Izzy made a career by going to the bullpen. This cannot happen again. Mets need to research this issue find solutions and fix it, new trainers, new regimen, whatever. Further mismanagement in this arena could cost the team a decade of losing and problems before recovery …what does that cost ? Heck, if Mets make the WC and have to shut down DeGrom and Matz in the process to be 100% next year, that is a helluva season and room for optimism next year along with Wheeler and Harvey comebacks. By the way, Mets must keep Colon for insurance, not to mention his overall consistency and clubhouse presence.

    Editor’s Note – Please do not capitalize words in your post, as that is a violation of our Comment Policy.

    • Mike Walczak
      September 10, 2016 at 2:41 pm

      Ramirez was in the training staff back then as well.

  4. September 10, 2016 at 12:57 pm

    How about the Dodgers?

    “So Scott Kazmir hits the disabled list with neck inflammation, and (Brett) Anderson gets laid up with a blister. That brings the Dodgers’ total number of starting pitchers currently on the DL to seven. Seven! Also on the DL along with Kazmir and Anderson are Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-Jun Ryu, Brandon McCarthy, Rich Hill and Alex Wood. Seven!”

    • Name
      September 10, 2016 at 2:02 pm

      Not sure how many of those you can really attribute to this year.

      Ryu was trying to come back from a major issue from Sep 2014 that cost him all of last year.
      They knew when they traded for Rich Hill that he was damaged goods.
      McCarthy and Anderson are both habitually injured pitchers who in their combined 15 years of service time have had about 3 healthy seasons between them.

      Still, that leaves 3 guys lost – Kershaw, Wood and Kazmir, which is still a lot and more than the Mets.

      Despite not being 100%, Noah has missed just 1 start and deGrom about 2 (if you take out the paternity leave). That doesn’t qualify as injuries to me (and neither has hit the DL either, if you want to use that as a measuring stick)
      Then you have Matz who you can put in the habitually injured category, which really leaves Harvey as the only true guy lost to an unforseen injury.

      • Mike Walczak
        September 10, 2016 at 3:03 pm

        Five starters, four with elbow, arm and shoulder problems. The only healthy one is a 43 year old veteran. Alderson says two of them will “pitch through the pain.” Why risk their health and careers? It is just plain dumb and irresponsible. Time to find out why this is happening.

    • Mike Walczak
      September 10, 2016 at 2:53 pm

      Then the Dodgers should examine their process as well. The game has changed. Players are bigger and stronger than they were years ago. Pitchers pitch fewer innings per start than years ago. Many starters even on a good day will pitch only 6-7 innings. What they are probably doing differently than their predecesors is throwing harder for fewer innings and putting more stress on their anatomy. Old time pitchers were expected to pitch nine innings and had to have more of a pace to get through nine. There are many trainers in the majors who have been trainers for decades. How many of them have adapted to the game? It’s time for a change.

  5. adam
    September 10, 2016 at 3:00 pm

    The biggest issue from what I have read is poor mechanics. Chris O’Leary at the beginning of the year said all their younger starters have high injury risk.

    To be fair it is an issue throughout baseball and it is sad.

  6. Jimmy P
    September 10, 2016 at 4:03 pm

    Everyone in baseball is seeking ways to keep pitchers healthy. You act as if you are the first guy to come up with the idea.

    And your outrage over the idea of pitching through pain strikes me as wildly naive. Pitching, like love, hurts.

    Bob Ojeda wrote a great piece for the NY Times some years back. I believe it was titled, “My Left Arm.” Worth a read.

    • Mike Walczak
      September 10, 2016 at 4:30 pm

      I am not the first guy to come up with the idea. I am suggesting that pitching through pain is not wise especially when your pitchers are young and have a great upside. Just look at Harvey. He was not himself all year. It took them 17 starts to figure it out. Why ? Hey, why not, let’s have them pitch through pain and become Mark Prior. Is it one pitcher with problems ? No, it’s four and all in the same year. Wouldn’t you agree that if there is a problem, it should be addressed? So, let’s evaluate what is going on.

      • cosmokramer
        September 10, 2016 at 5:14 pm

        This is certainly an interesting conundrum. Dusty Baker got a lot of heat because of how many pitches he would let both Mark Prior (6’5″ 230lbs) and Kerry Wood (6’5″ 210lbs) throw, especially in 2003, and many people think he ruined their careers. I think this is a big reason why managers are reluctant to push pitchers past 100 pitches per start these days.

        On the other hand, you had guys like Cy Young (6’2″ 210lbs) throw 300-400 innings per year back in the day. You had Nolan Ryan (6’2″ 170lbs) throwing a 100.9mph fastball in 1974 and he pitched more than 5,300 innings in his career.

        And then you’ve got Bartolo Colon (listed at 5’11” 285lbs), the 43 year old who hasn’t missed a start and has logged over 3,000 innings in his career. It might just come down to “each individual is different,” but I think you may be onto something when you noted that Colon doesn’t throw in between starts. I doubt guys like Cy Young or Nolan Ryan threw on off days very often, if at all.

        • Mike Walczak
          September 10, 2016 at 9:00 pm

          So, throwing in between starts has probably been around for decades. That goes back to the trainer. Does a heart surgeon perform surgeries they way that he did 30 years ago ? No, he doesn’t, because improvements have been made. Ill bet a steak that nobody on the Mets management has even questioned Ramirez on how the pitchers are being trained. They just accept things as they are. Time to change.

      • Name
        September 10, 2016 at 5:31 pm

        “It took them 17 starts to figure it out. Why ?”

        This seems to be your go-to prime example. But what proof do you have that he “suffered” this injury before day 1? Why couldn’t he have “suffered” this on start #15? And I’m putting quotes around suffered because his condition is likely a result over a long period of time rather than because of a singular moment, like breaking a bone or pulling a hamstring.

        Unless your solution is to have an MRI everyday, if the player doesn’t complain, you can’t force them to go see the doctor.

        “Wouldn’t you agree that if there is a problem, it should be addressed?”

        As pointed out above, hundreds of thousands of people are already trying to address the problem. Unlike what you think, it’s not as easy as you’re making it out to be.

      • Chris F
        September 10, 2016 at 5:44 pm

        With the speed of news and everything this is a difficult issue to address, because now every scrape and blister is tweet worthy, if not article-to-write worthy.

        At face value, all over this place you will see me err on the side of caution, particularly with pitchers and injuries that clearly are not solved by a week off. So for example, I think it was a huge mistake keep throwing Matz out there when clearly his injury was limiting him “considerably”. He is too important of a piece, as is Syndergaard, to trash for the hope of a game 163. We saw the same with the Cespedes and Lagares injuries…keep dragging them out there despite clearly playing serious pain, and with deleterious results.

        The flip side is that players make it up to the show and will play until an underlying injury becomes a season ender. Everyone knows that there is the next-new-thing (ask Harvey) just waiting for an opportunity. Baseball is a rough sport, and players regularly play through pain. Ask Ronnie or BobbyO…they have both said pitching with pain is just part of the deal. Finding how to determine serious unjury from daily “soreness” is the million dollar question.

        I saw that Strasburg said today that he is uncertain if he can pitch in October.

  7. Eraff
    September 10, 2016 at 6:38 pm

    In 4 seasons from 2006-2009, Bartolo pitched less than 300 innings. He looked like he was cooked….. He didn’t even pitch in 2010!

    He miraculously came back with a new arm in 2011…. the amazing part is that nobody talks about it!!! I’m sure it was His native sun that healed him.

    Pitchers are Humpty-Dumpties.

    • Mike Walczak
      September 10, 2016 at 9:08 pm

      I think that Colon took some time off to gain some weight. Just kidding. Part of the problem is that 162 games is grueling. 162 games divided by 6 months = 27 games a month plus travel. Even for pitchers. On their days off, maybe starters should go home and prepare rather than traveling with the team and sitting on the bench. Example, Syndergaard pitches on a Thursday. After the game, he flies back to NY. Prepares Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Flies to the next city on Monday night and pitches on Tuesday.

      • Mike Walczak
        September 10, 2016 at 9:16 pm

        By the way, there should e real Las Vegas odds and a weigh in. Is Colon over or under 300.

  8. Eraff
    September 10, 2016 at 6:45 pm

    Here’s Young Bartolo…with his First Right Arm

  9. Mike Walczak
    September 10, 2016 at 9:21 pm

    Here is content from Wiki on Mark Prior.

    (After the 2006 season)

    In the offseason, the Cubs reported that Prior suffered from a “loose shoulder” which could lead to injuries and meant he had to do more conditioning work.


    After one start in the minors, in which he gave up three runs and got the win, Prior had James Andrews, a noted orthopedic surgeon perform exploratory surgery on his right shoulder, which showed Prior to have structural damage.

    I am telling you, these teams and trainers don’t know what they are doing.

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