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Pitching Injuries and Overuse

   by Al McMordie - 06/20/2009





When wagering on baseball, pay extra attention to pitchers who are coming off injury stints and ones off starts where they threw a lot of pitches. The Red Sox just put Daisuke Matsuzaka on the DL, his second stint already this season. The first time he came off was May 22nd after not pitching for six weeks and he was not sharp in a 5-3 loss to the Mets, giving up 4 runs in 5 innings. Boston lost at home, something they rarely do.

Pitchers are creatures of habit and throwing every 5 days is important for many reasons. Arm strength needs to be built up to maintain velocity and throwing regularly to real hitters is essential because of control. Finding the corners of the strike zone is not easy. It takes regular practice and a disruption to the routine can be detrimental. Even too much rest can be bad as it can disrupt a pitcher’s control.

We see this often with pitchers coming off arm trouble. One of the best stories of this season has been Florida ace Josh Johnson, finding a groove after missing over a year while rehabbing. Remember that Johnson was an ace in 2006, a young guy with dominating stuff. Johnson was 12-7 with a 3.10 ERA in his 2006 rookie season. However, he had shoulder trouble in spring training the next year. When he made his first two starts of the 2007 season, he got pounded, with a 14.85 ERA surrendering 15 runs, 11 earned, in 6 2/3 innings. Yet, betting lines were looking at him based on his previous season, offering excellent go-against value.

After getting battered two straight starts since coming off the DL, the Twins tagged him for eight hits and seven runs in three innings. “The slider wasn't very good,'' said Johnson at the time. He had given up nine hits and four earned runs in 3 2/3 innings in his season debut against the White Sox. “It was inconsistency -- that's pretty much what it comes down to. It's still early for me, but I still have to go out there and get outs.'' He never did fine a groove – until rehabbing over a year and coming back strong this season.

Keep tabs on all the Toronto Blue Jay starting pitchers who have gone on the DL and are expected back soon, including ace Roy Halladay. Mariners left-hander Erik Bedard missed his last start with shoulder inflammation and is on the 15-day disabled list. The 30-year-old Bedard, 5-2 with a 2.47 earned-run average in 11 starts, has not pitched since June 7, another ace to watch when he returns.

Another example is when a pitcher, particularly an aging one, has to throw more pitches than normal. Two years ago 40-year old Curt Schilling pitched a complete game at Oakland, one where he lost a no-hit bid with two outs in the ninth. He wanted it, of course, and really put forth the extra effort in the eighth and ninth to try and get the no-no.

That’s a lot to ask of a 40-year old pitcher, even one with his credentials. Schilling was then bombed his next two starts, despite being a favorite of -140 and -275! He then went on the 15-day DL after taking an MRI. No damage was found, but it’s reasonable to assume that turning it up a notch while going nine innings had something to do with it. It was Schilling’s first complete game in three years.

A pitcher being overused, throwing a lot of pitches, or taking it up a notch like Schilling did is important for sports bettors to pay close attention to, especially with older pitchers. Veterans like Randy Johnson, Andy Pettitte, Livan Hernandez and Roy Oswalt have a lot of wear and tear on their frames and are often favorites because of their name recognition. With pitch counts in such high regard these days, anything altering a routine can tax the 40+ arm and have consequences the next start.

It can even happen to young pitchers. Angels righty Jered Weaver was a dominating pitcher in 2006, winning his first nine decisions as a rookie and finished 11-2 with a 2.56 ERA in 19 starts. He didn’t make his first start of 2007 until April 17, coming off the disabled list after recovering from biceps tendinitis in his throwing arm. He did not pitch for the Angels all spring. So what happened in his first two starts? Losses of 4-1 and 9-5, allowing 11 runs in 7 innings.

Weaver threw 70 pitches in 1 2/3 innings and retired only five of the 14 batters he faced in his second start after coming off the disabled list. The right-hander was charged with seven runs -- five earned -- and seven hits. He said after that loss, "Everything feels good. I don't blame anything on what happened because of anything physical. I just couldn't get any of my off-speed pitches over for strikes, and it showed. You're not going to have a very good night when you don't have your secondary stuff working for you."

See? Throwing to major league hitters takes more than rest and arm strength. It takes timing, locating your pitches, finding a groove. Even the mental aspect comes into play, trying to figure out what the batter thinks is coming, and then trying to trick him. There is a lot to the art of pitching. Being sharp, healthy and on a regular routine is usually needed for a pitcher to be at their best. And those that aren’t, can be overvalued by oddsmakers. Good luck, as always...Al McMordie.

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