Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Does high quality equal damaged goods?

Jose Fernandez in 2013-14: 16-8, 2.25 in 224 innings.
The Miami Marlins put Jose Fernandez, their marvelous 21-year-old pitcher, on the disabled list Monday, and Tommy John surgery is expected.

It's difficult to find fault with how the Marlins handled the phenom. Fernandez made just 28 starts last season as a 20-year-old. Mike Redmond, the former Twins catcher who manages the Fish, never let the kid throw even 110 pitches in a game, and shut him down in mid September.

This year was more of the same. But Fernandez threw a career-high 114 pitches on May 4, then spluttered Friday with a noticeable loss of velocity. And now he is presumably headed for a surgical table and the time-consuming rehab that accompanies ligament replacement.

Earlier this year, noted orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews granted an interview in which he remarked on the rapid increase in Tommy John surgeries among high school pitchers. He said the basic problem is that teenagers are throwing too hard for too long. An 18-year-old's arm isn't ready to handle the strain of a 95-mph fastball, he said, and also needs lengthy breaks from pitching. But many of the top prep pitchers now play baseball only, and never break out of a routine of regular mound work to, say, spend a winter playing basketball.

On Monday, on the heels of the Fernandez news, Baseball America's J.J. Cooper tweeted:

It's been asserted that every high-drafted prep pitcher has already sustained some arm damage before he signs. That's a daunting concept for a scouting director trying to get the most bang for his buck — that the bigger the arm, the more likely the damage.

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