With all of NatsTown anxiously awaiting the results of Stephen Strasburg's second MRI, the baseball world is weighing in on what they think might be wrong with Strasburg, (SI.com's Will Carroll's video on the Flexor Tendon), the inevitability of injuries to pitchers, (SI.com's Joe Posnanski's article entitled, "All Too Familar"), and the many reasons why Sirius/XM and MASN host Rob Dibble's comments on Strasburg's toughness weren't well-received, (SBNation.com's Jon Bois' Rob Dibble Trading Card). Mr. Posnanski's article was especially interesting to me because it tried to put Strasburg's struggles into context, considering the history of injuries to can't miss arms in a slightly different way than the many articles before his which have examined the top pitching prospects who've failed to have long, successful careers in the Majors. What Mr. Posnanski discovers, and notes in the title of his article, is that the developing story of Stephen Strasburg's arm issues is all too familiar. Pitchers Get Hurt as he puts it. The SI.com senior writer was kind enough to answer a few questions I had for him after reading his article, his answers can be found below...
Federal Baseball (FB): I've been focused on Strasburg's changeup as a potential cause of his problems since he wasn't able to use it often in college; it was the one new (and violent) pitch he added to his repertoire; and happened to be the pitch he was throwing when he was injured. Do you have any sense of whether the pitchers you mention in the article who didn't make it/were injured have suffered from an increase in the volume of pitches a pro throws; additions to their pitch selection which are necessary to compete in the Majors or changes to their mechanics? Any common threads?
SI.com's Joe Posnanski: Well, I think the increase in volume of pitches certainly could play a role ... that seems to be the common feeling. But I think you're on to something here. There's just so much strain on a pitcher's arm when pitching at the highest level. Every pitch has to be so precise and so violent to be successful. You can't take a pitch or two off. You don't get hitters out with mediocre pitches very often. Sometimes, a great pitch doesn't even get a hitter out. And even a pitcher like Strasburg with some of the greatest stuff of any young pitcher in baseball history has to throw his change-up a lot more often.
So I think that strain, game in and game out, 100 ferocious pitches every day, definitely takes its toll on pitchers. I know that the Nationals were extremely careful with Strasburg -- too careful, I heard from some people. I think that's the one thing that is hard for people to understand: Some stuff isn't easily explained. I think it's human nature to always want to find a reason -- someone or something to blame. I don't know why Strasburg has had some injury issues here. But it's certainly possible that the reason is simply: Pitchers get hurt.
FB: You write in the article that the Nats have, "done everything shy of putting [Strasburg] in a Brink’s truck to protect him," but they're inevitably going to face criticism if his injury ends up being a serious one. Having looked at all the pitchers in the article who did and didn't make it, should the Nats take the blame or is it just a matter of luck which pitchers avoid injury?
SI.com's Joe Posnanski: "Well, yes, they will take blame no matter what. That's just the reality of the world. Stephen Strasburg is one of the great pitching prospects ever, and if he gets hurt on the Nationals watch (and on their dime) there's no way around the blame game. And I suppose it's possible that the Nationals do deserve some of the blame, I don't really know. But to me that's the point. I don't really know and I'm not sure anyone else does either. As far as I know, the Nationals took into account absolutely everything we know about pitchers and injuries and incorporated that into their Strasburg plan. We could get a study tomorrow that shows that everything they did was 100% wrong -- I mean, it wasn't that long ago that the Dodgers thought the best way to handle Sandy Koufax's arm trouble was to have him throw 150 pitches at a spring training game. But I do think the Nationals did the best they could, and as I say: Pitchers get hurt."
FB: The injury to Strasburg has brought up a lot of discussion about how a pitcher can determine whether he's experiencing the pain inherent in pitching at this level or has suffered an injury. How much (if at all) has the culture amongst pros changed from some of the early examples you cite til now so that a young pitcher can tell coaches he thinks there's an issue rather than "toughing it out"?
SI.com's Joe Posnanski: "The culture is completely turned around -- but my sense of it is that's for the better. It seems to me as someone who could not have gotten into medical school even to visit that the risk for long-term injury is greater the longer a pitcher throws with pain. I write quite a bit about the harrowing story of Gary Nolan in my book about the 1975 Reds -- he had Strasburg-like stuff at 18, and was dominating in the big leagues then. His arm started hurting, the Reds said it was in his imagination -- they said "Look at Bob Gibson! You don't think he's hurting?' -- and he pitched through, and pitched through, and he missed two years and was never the same. At one point it got so pathetic, the Reds sent him to a dentist who extracted a tooth and said THAT would fix his shoulder problem.
"So, I think it's probably good for pitchers who feel pain to be honest and up front about it. In the end, at least in my view, nobody can judge for anybody else how much pain is too much. But I do think that there are many stories about players who 'toughed it out' -- and it ended up costing them a big part of their careers."
FB: How many of the pitchers you looked at pre-1974 and Tommy John surgery could have continued their careers if they'd been pitching after the surgery was developed?
SI.com's Joe Posnanski: "There's no doubt that some pitchers with Tommy John surgery might have rebounded and had good careers -- but it's impossible to know for sure. A lot goes into great pitching. But I think the main point for me is that pitching is a necessarily violent and harmful act to the body. The elbow ... the shoulder ... the back ... the knees. It takes its toll. And that's a big reason (not the only reason, of course, but a big reason) why there are so many young men with great arms and great stuff and so few great pitchers."
FB: If you're the Nationals, do you put Strasburg back on the mound this year so his development continues or shut him down and start again next Spring?
SI.com's Joe Posnanski: "Well, I don't know all the details ... but assuming there's any risk at all, and I think that's a fair assumption, I see no reason to pitch him again this year. He's thrown 125 innings or so including the minor leagues anyway, right? You wouldn't have him throw too many more innings even if he was completely healthy, I don't think. I would hope that the doctors and trainers and scientists would give the Nationals the best advice on how to handle Strasburg the rest of the year."
Thanks, Mr. Posnanski.