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Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Prior Abuse (an Open Letter)

This is an open letter both to Aaron Gleeman of The Hardball Times, whose pat article about Joe Mauer and Mark Prior I took issue with today, and to the Chicago Cubs organization, whose history of callous disregard for the arms of young pitchers employed by them is abominable. Gleeman's article annoyed me because of his history of attacking loose logic and shallow analysis in the mainstream baseball media (with particular attention to the ramblings of Joe Morgan, great player, poor thinker).

To: Aaron Gleeman
cc: Jim Hendry, Cubs GM

Aaron,

I think you're making an unwarranted assumption in your article on Joe Mauer and Mark Prior when you say
...the only thing that would really have changed if they had gone with Prior is that the state of Minnesota would be breathlessly awaiting daily -- no, make that hourly -- updates on an elbow instead of a knee.

That assumption being that the two players would have had those injuries occur even if the teams which drafted them had been reversed.

Kinda sounds like Joe Morgan logic there. A nice, pat, little statement made to wind up a nice, pat, little article that really says nothing at all. You know, kinda the way some people seem to talk just to feel their jaw muscles move? They'd get the same result from chewing bubblegum. Bubblegum's nice, and all. But the flavour goes out of it real quick.

It's true that we can't know for sure whether Mauer's and Prior's career paths and injury problems would have been different to this point if the Cubs had drafted Mauer and the Twins had drafted Prior.

However, given what we know from observation over the past few years about the difference in the approach the two clubs take in the handling of young pitchers (i.e. the Twins proceed with caution, and the Cubs ride 'em hard and put 'em away wet), I think a safer assumption — and the only one that should be made in this case — would not be that the Twins would have been better off drafting Prior, but that Prior would have been better off being drafted by the Twins.

Conversely, given the Cubs' history of abusing young arms (see stats below), I think we can assume that they would have been better off drafting Mauer, whose knee injury, while not surprizing in a catcher (all that bending and straightening behind the plate) is much more attributable to chance/bad luck than Prior's elbow problems. But we can't say that Mauer would have have been better off in that case.

Prior's problems were foreseeable and, in fact, as we both know, have been being predicted in various quarters of the media and the baseball blogosphere since he was called up to the majors in 2002 and his overuse by the Cubs organization began. Prior has averaged 107.1 pitches per game started in his career. You have to throw a lot of pitches in a lot of games to reach an average that high.

The abuse of the pitching arms of Prior and others in that organization is not solely the fault of Dusty Baker, who took over as the team's manager in 2003, though he certainly has contributed. It seems to be part of the organizational philosophy. A quick look at Kerry Wood's history, who had an amazing first year in the majors in 1998 while averaging 109.2 pitches per game started then, oddly enough, missed all of 1999 as he recovered from Tommy John surgery, shows us that.

Anway, here are the pitches per game started by season and some other stats (plus career totals) for Prior, Wood, and Carlos Zambrano of the Cubs, plus a few Twins' starters and couple of pitchers in other organizations. Of course, not all of them are strikeout pitchers, or pitchers of ace quality (at least one of them, Eric Milton, actively sucks on a game by game basis), but I think the numbers tell the tale well enough:

Mark Prior






Season TM #PIT #P/PA #P/IP #P/GS K/9 K/BB
2002 ChC 2034 4.19 17.5 107.1 11.34 3.87
2003 ChC 3402 3.94 16.1 113.4 10.43 4.9
2004 ChC 2061 4.04 17.5 98.1 10.54 2.9
Total -- 7497 4.03 16.8 107.1 10.7 3.9








Kerry Wood






Season TM #PIT #P/PA #P/IP #P/GS K/9 K/BB
1998 ChC 2838 4.06 17.1 109.2 12.58 2.74
2000 ChC 2390 3.96 17.4 103.9 8.67 1.52
2001 ChC 3019 4.08 17.4 107.8 11.2 2.36
2002 ChC 3384 3.78 15.9 102.5 9.14 2.24
2003 ChC 3545 4 16.8 110.8 11.35 2.66
2004 ChC 2222 3.73 15.9 101 9.24 2.82
Total -- 17398 3.94 16.7 106.1 10.43 2.36








Carlos Zambrano






Season TM #PIT #P/PA #P/IP #P/GS K/9 K/BB
2001 ChC 165 3.93 23.6 70 4.7 0.5
2002 ChC 1892 3.97 17.5 99.3 7.73 1.48
2003 ChC 3413 3.76 15.9 106.7 7.07 1.79
2004 ChC 3468 3.91 16.6 111.9 8.07 2.32
Total -- 8938 3.86 16.6 106.8 7.56 1.84








Johan Santana






Season TM #PIT #P/PA #P/IP #P/GS K/9 K/BB
2000 Min 1535 3.86 17.8 85 6.7 1.19
2001 Min 708 3.63 16.5 78 5.77 1.75
2002 Min 1843 4.08 17.1 92.5 11.38 2.8
2003 Min 2536 3.94 16.1 95.3 9.61 3.6
2004 Min 3427 3.89 15 100.8 10.46 4.91
Total -- 10049 3.91 16.1 95.7 9.56 3.01








Kyle Lohse






Season TM #PIT #P/PA #P/IP #P/GS K/9 K/BB
2001 Min 1516 3.77 16.8 88.3 6.38 2.21
2002 Min 2981 3.81 16.6 95.8 6.18 1.77
2003 Min 3044 3.58 15.1 92.2 5.82 2.89
2004 Min 3330 3.77 17.2 97.5 5.15 1.46
Total -- 10871 3.73 16.3 94.2 5.8 1.95








Joe Mays






Season TM #PIT #P/PA #P/IP #P/GS K/9 K/BB
1999 Min 2771 3.71 16.2 93.7 6.05 1.72
2000 Min 2666 3.69 16.7 92.6 5.73 1.52
2001 Min 3426 3.58 14.7 100.8 4.74 1.92
2002 Min 1520 3.64 16 89.4 3.59 1.52
2003 Min 2006 3.48 15.4 81.9 3.46 1.28
Total -- 12389 3.62 15.7 92.8 4.87 1.63








Brad Radke






Season TM #PIT #P/PA #P/IP #P/GS K/9 K/BB
1995 Min 2802 3.63 15.5 98.4 3.73 1.6
1996 Min 3528 3.63 15.2 100.8 5.74 2.6
1997 Min 3539 3.58 14.8 101.1 6.53 3.63
1998 Min 3392 3.75 15.9 106 6.15 3.4
1999 Min 3208 3.53 14.7 97.2 4.98 2.75
2000 Min 3524 3.6 15.6 103.6 5.6 2.77
2001 Min 3168 3.45 14 96 5.46 5.27
2002 Min 1731 3.53 14.7 82.4 4.72 3.1
2003 Min 3130 3.52 14.8 94.8 5.09 4.29
2004 Min 3341 3.71 15.3 98.3 5.86 5.5
Total -- 31363 3.6 15 98.5 5.46 3.25








Carlos Silva






Season TM #PIT #P/PA #P/IP #P/GS K/9 K/BB
2004 Min 2895 3.33 14.3 87.7 3.37 2.17
Total -- 5514 3.45 14.7 87.3 3.97 1.76








Eric Milton






Season TM #PIT #P/PA #P/IP #P/GS K/9 K/BB
1998 Min 3018 3.91 17.5 94.3 5.59 1.53
1999 Min 3377 3.94 16.4 99.3 7.11 2.59
2000 Min 3240 3.82 16.2 98.2 7.2 3.64
2001 Min 3536 3.75 16.1 102.8 6.4 2.57
2002 Min 2712 3.84 15.9 93.5 6.37 4.03
2003 Min 239 3.62 14.1 79.7 3.71 7
2004 Phi 3439 3.99 17.1 101.1 7.21 2.15
Total -- 19561 3.87 16.5 98.1 6.64 2.55








Jake Peavy






Season TM #PIT #P/PA #P/IP #P/GS K/9 K/BB
2002 SD 1627 3.78 16.8 95.7 8.29 2.73
2003 SD 3226 3.9 16.6 100.8 7.21 1.9
2004 SD 2686 3.87 16.2 99.5 9.36 3.26
Total -- 7539 3.86 16.5 99.2 8.22 2.49








Oliver Perez






Season TM #PIT #P/PA #P/IP #P/GS K/9 K/BB
2002 SD 1521 3.93 16.9 100.1 9.4 1.96
2003 Pit 401 3.78 17.4 80.2 9.39 2
2003 SD 1911 4.04 18.6 100.6 10.16 1.8
2003 -- 2312 3.99 18.3 96.3 10.02 1.83
2004 Pit 3135 3.89 16 104.5 10.97 2.95
Total -- 6968 3.93 16.9 100.7 10.34 2.3


2 comments:

dylan said...

So I got Prior in the last round of my draft John. Then about ten minutes later the story of his elbow inflamation broke.

MackJohnny said...

Ouch! Well, he's a tough kid, Dylan. And with a lot of luck, this elbow thing may be only a minor footnote to his season. I doubt that, given the number of pitches he's thrown in his short career, though I hope I'm wrong.

I do think that if handled cautiously from now on he'll have a long, illustrious career --- even if he ends up going under the knife this season.

Of course that doesn't help your roto team this season. Try AJ Burnett, or Josh Beckett. They should provide good K numbers. Burnett's already had surgery, but the cyborg Jeff Torborg, who was responsible for his abuse, is long gone from the Marlins. I think Burnett will break out big this season.