Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Thoughts on Tommy John Surgeries, Scoring, Strikeouts and Shifts

If you have been watching baseball this season, you may have noticed a couple trends.  One is the increase in number of pitchers who are having Tommy John surgery and the other is the amount of defensive shifts.  More unnoticed is the fact overall scoring continues to be down and strikeouts, up.
I am going to give some random thoughts on these topics and give a factor that is never discussed that may also be a reason in all the surgeries and strikeouts.  And shifting may be a good thing.  Like I said some thoughts only. I could be way off,  Just thinking out loud.

In the first two months of 2014 MLB season, there was been as many pitchers who are having Tommy John surgery as all of last season.  What is the cause of this epidemic?  No one really has the one right answer.  But experts believe the increase number of pitchers throwing harder at a younger age and them pitching year around are the biggest factors. Added weightlifting is also a factor. The more muscle tends to strain the ligaments more.  I don't know what can be done about preventing future surgeries.  MLB is studying this problem and hope to find a possible solution(s),  Logically, if we can make a mandate on number of pitches thrown a week and year and number of teams a pitcher plays on a year for the youth sounds like a good start.  But. what about Latin American kids? Hard to regulate there.  Speaking of international pitchers, there have been very few Japanese pitchers getting the surgery done.  Is the problem in Japan also? If not, should MLB look into their throwing programs?

MLB scoring is down to the lowest in almost 40 years.  That is before the designated hitter became a part of the league.  One reason, of course, is the number of specialized pitchers.  More relief pitchers are coming in for one inning at a time with harder and nastier stuff than ever before.  Thus making the job of the hitters much more difficult.   End result is more strikeouts, less scoring and pitchers give max effort all the time, which means Tommy John surgery is more likely.
Another factor in the high number of strikeouts is that we are coming out of the steroid era.  During this era, hitters no longer became embarrassed by striking out and went for home runs even on 2 strike counts.  Also, just about every batter now has a stance that can produce a home run more.  If you look at games from the early 80s and earlier, you will see many more opened, closed and crouched stances which results in more singles than home runs.
One possible factor that is never mentioned for these trends is that the ballparks are smaller than they were decades ago.  In present day baseball, just about every lineup has seven of the starting nine that are home run threats.  So, more hitters are going for home runs, striking out more and pitchers are using maximum effort more often.  What if the fences were moved back so far where only three or four hitters per lineup would be home run hitters?  Would the batters go for more single base hits? which could cut down on strikeouts and pitchers going under the knife.  Moving fences back and reducing home runs could hurt the game's popularity and it is not really feasible in actually getting done physically.

But one possible solution is being used already, the defensive shift.  Shifts are so common now that is used not only for the big sluggers but for everyone  Shifts are being used even with runners on base and changes from pitch to pitch.  Frankly, I think they have gotten out of hand, but if the numbers tell you something, it would probably be bad not to follow them.  It is now up to the batters to adjust to the shifts.   The hitters need to use all parts of the field and not just blindly hit into the shift every time.  When the hitters try use more of the field, they will become more disciplined.  This will likely reduce the number of strikeouts and scoring could possibly go up also.   I don't think it will have any affect on number of Tommy John surgeries. Two out of three ain't bad though.

It would be interesting to see how this shifting will play out.  At the end of the day, the ridiculous number of defensive shifts could be a good for the game.  Forcing the players to become better overall hitters and bringing some fundamentals back in the game.
I hope MLB finds some good data in the epidemic of Tommy John surgeries.  Even though most of the surgeries are deemed successful, it is never a good thing when a player has a surgery of any kind, especially the stars of the game.  Along with all the other baseball fans, I will be watching.

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