Jose Fernandez is hurt, and Baseball Twitter is in tears. Jose Fernandez is hurt, and the Miami Marlins’ hope of contending this season is gone. Jose Fernandez is hurt, and everyone is sad.
Honestly, I’ve felt this way for a while, but if I thought Matt Harvey would be the peak of the phenomenon, Fernandez proved me wrong. I’m just way, way out of step with the echo chamber about this. I’m not sad. I’m not depressed by the loss of Jose Fernandez, and I wouldn’t be depressed by the loss of Clayton Kershaw. I’m not sad that Johan Santana fell off his Hall of Fame horse, or that Carlos Zambrano managed to stay healthy, but went bad.
If every pitcher got hurt or went bad within five years or so of their peak, I would be sad. If young pitchers constantly got hurt before they got the chance to make real money playing baseball, I would be sad. As it is, though, I’m coming to a very comfortable place with pitcher injuries. They are unfortunate. They are also inevitable, necessary and interesting. Without them, believe it or not, baseball would be worse.
It seems to me that the efficient violence, the sheer, shredding velocity of modern pitchers make injuries completely inevitable. Not every pitcher will get hurt, at least not catastrophically, but many of them will. Baseball has embraced the intensity of shorter outings, lightening workloads and training their hurlers to empty the tank in 110 pitches or less. That’s made every pitcher who takes the mound better, but it’s also made them more vulnerable.
That’s not the way I would probably do it. I would counsel more throwing between starts and relief appearances, more long-toss, more flat-ground, more pitching in games, even, but all at lower intensity. I would push pitchers to pace themselves, and never to maximize their effort. My pitchers would get hit much harder but hurt less often.
I’m not judging, though. One of the big-picture truths of the industry is that, because the season is so long and the potential for a single player to determine an entire season is so limited, risking attrition here and there in the name of improved performance is totally worth it. Teams have their risk spread around so well that they can afford to pursue this model without feeling the pain of each pitcher who goes down. As a result, their pitchers pitch as well as humanly possible. The injuries that happen are, in part, the cost of doing business.
To me, the fragility of baseball excellence is part of its beauty. It’s a shame when guys get hurt, but if no one got hurt, the game would be less interesting. The stories of Steve Avery, Gary Nolan, Mark Prior, even Chad Fox and Steve Blass, all are painful, but they’re fascinating, too. They lend color to the game. They create opportunities for heroism, for admirable perseverance in the face of adversity.
There aren’t that many things that make baseball important, that you can carry into real life when the game ends. Pitcher injuries, and the grace and determination with which the victims face them, allow us to see humanity in a game that the world increasingly treats like an exercise in robotics.
Kris Medlen choked up repeatedly during the first interview he did after he found out he would need a second Tommy John surgery. I welled up, too. I wouldn’t want to follow baseball in a world where that moment of shared agony was impossible, though. Baseball should be difficult, and for as long as the league chooses firepower over risk-management, pitchers should get hurt. I’m not sure why so much energy is spent bemoaning a perfectly natural part of the game.Next post: What’s Up With Chris Davis?
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