Via Tom Verducci -
What used to be an injury of attrition (Tommy John was 32 and had thrown more than 2,000 major league innings before his groundbreaking surgery) has become an injury of too much too soon — too much velocity and too much stress. The average age of the 22 major league pitchers to need Tommy John surgery this year is just 23.4 years old.
Wait, it gets worse: A study out just this month in the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons found that year-round play in the amateur market has contributed to a 10-fold increase in Tommy John surgeries for youth pitchers.
What can be done? It’s time for Major League Baseball to lower the mound — and for the entire amateur market to follow its lead. When I took part in an MLB Network roundtable discussion last week on the epidemic of Tommy John surgeries, what struck me as most profound was the statement of fact by both Mets team physician Dr. David Altchek and biomechanics expert and former pitcher Tom House that the greater the slope of the mound the greater the forces that are applied to the arm. Reduce the height of the mound and you reduce the forces upon the arm.
It makes perfect sense. What makes no sense is that 13-year-old kids are pitching off the same size mound as major league pitchers. Little Leaguers should be throwing off flat ground. (What’s the first step for pitchers as they come back from injury? They throw off flat ground. Why? It’s less strenuous.)
There happens to be another compelling reason to lower the mound besides saving the elbows of pitchers: the game needs offense. People, especially inside the game, are not paying nearly enough attention to how the game has been bastardized in just the past five years by the increase in velocity and the specialization of bullpens. Games are getting longer and longer with less and less action — a terrible combination in any era, but especially this one in which commerce and culture move at a quickened pace. The proliferation of pitching changes (men standing around killing time, pitchers warming up after they just spent the past 15 minutes warming up) and strikeouts are harming the pace of action more than anything else.
Strikeouts are up for a ninth straight year. Singles have reached an all-time low. But what is happening in the late innings of games is a particularly insidious problem. Offense dries up to absurdly low levels and the ball doesn’t even get put into play enough. The long endgame is about managers bringing in one hard-throwing specialist after another in the eternal quest to gain the platoon advantage and keep the ball out of play. Some teams are using eight-man bullpens and clamoring for a 26-man roster so they can add yet another arm. This trend must stop.
Most every sport increases action and drama as the game draws near to its end; football teams can go to a hurry-up offense, hockey teams can pull their goalie, basketball teams can shoot more three-pointers . . . but the closer baseball games get to their conclusion the more they slow down and the less likely teams are to get a hit, which makes the excitement of the comeback less likely.
Let’s use the National League as an example. From the seventh through ninth innings, nearly one out of every four at-bats ends in a strikeout (24.1%). In those innings, batters are hitting .232.
Now here’s the context you need to know about that batting average. The worst hitting in the league’s history occurred in 1908, when batters hit .239 for the season. So what is happening in today’s game is that the late innings have turned into a brand of offensive baseball that is worse than the deadest of the Deadball Era years.
The overall MLB average in innings 7-9 is .240; only three full seasons ever have been worse: 1888, 1908 and 1968 — the year hitting was so bad it prompted MLB to lower the mound. Scoring immediately shot up 19 percent.
It’s time to act again. We have reached a convergence of the biggest on-field problems affecting baseball: the increase in strikeouts, the drag on offense and pace of play caused by increased bullpen usage and the epidemic of Tommy John surgeries on young pitchers. All of those problems can be addressed by lowering the mound. Baseball shouldn’t wait for more young stars to blow out their elbows before deciding to do something about it.
I still cannot believe that it’s the mound which is causing arm and offense issues in MLB. It’s the same mound that they used in the 1970′s, 1980′s, and 1990′s, right? There’s more to all this than just the mound…