The night before I was at Fenway, the Astros had hit five home runs in the second inning against Boston’s Nathan Eovaldi, who in 2021 allowed 15 homers in 182 1/3 innings while finishing fourth in the American League Cy Young Award voting. The next afternoon, around 2:30 pm on a clear, dry 65-degree day with a southwest wind blowing out toward Fenway Park’s famous Green Monster, balls were flying out as several Red Sox took early batting practice.
“Think the balls are a little different right now?” one player asked his teammates behind the batting cage. “These balls have been flying out of here the last two days. I’d love to have some scientist cut these open, and compare them to the balls we were using back in April. ”
A day’s drive from Fenway, a pitching coach was addressing his pitchers, and speaking to a subject that sometimes becomes as monotonous as talking about the weather in the Villages of Citrus Hills: the baseball. Its juicy-ness. Raised seams, lowered seams. Harder, softer. This is nothing new: In 1987, the year Matt Nokes hit 32 homers, Pitching coaches, players and amateur scientists were dropping them out of motel windows to see how they’d bounce.
This particular pitching coach told his pitchers, “do you really think the people at MLB are trying to change the way balls are made just because of the home run or run-scoring rate? They own Rawlings. They may experiment with the surface of the ball, but remember this – both teams are using the same balls. It’s crazy to think the New York office wants one team to benefit more than the team they’re playing. “
“Every city, every region is different,” the coach continued, in what essentially was a lecture on worrying about deliveries, command, scouting reports and grips rather than the balls, which they can not control. You think they notice that in Denver? Buck Showalter had to walk from his hotel to the ballpark Friday, May 20 in a snowstorm with temperatures in the low-to-mid 30s. It had been 81 the day before. Have a 10-day homestand in Coors and one night you think you’re playing in El Paso, another night you think it’s Portland, Maine.
“You play to win,” Showalter said, “in whatever weather the Lord gave you.”
In other words, as Tampa Bay pitching coach Kyle Snyder says, “I can not worry about speculation, about the ball, whatever. What we’re concerned with are preparation, delivery and recovery. “
Oakland pitching coach Scott Emerson: “When we’re down to 13 pitchers, over the long season we’re going to have to be very careful about injuries.”
Since A’s owner John Fisher set out to clear as much payroll as possible with no concern about the Oakland A’s on-field product, they had to move nearly 330 innings in Sean Manaea and Chris Bassitt, and Frankie Montas and his 179 1/3 innings will be gone too, in time. Cole Irvin was hurt early. Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, Starling Marte and Mark Canha are gone, no deposit, no return.
There are many factors in play, between making velocity programs more important than learning to pitch, leading to multiple operations by the age of 22, to misguided deliveries. Fractured seasons, beginning with 2020, stretching to the HO-scaled 2021 season, and this abbreviated spring training necessitated by the lockout and the belief that playing close to 162 was more important than the physical ramifications of building up pitchers. And, remember, players can only be optioned to the minors five times in a season, which will further add to the physical stress. In mid-May, several stories were justifiably written about how the Padres would utilize the depth of their starting pitching depth; on May 22, Mike Clevinger went on the injured list.
That same day the Brewers’ Freddy Peralta was put on the IL with shoulder weakness.
Coming off the 60-game 2020 season, Matthew Baker of MLB Network Research found that in 2021, 489 pitchers went on the IL – 424 for injuries, 65 for COVID-19. As of May 20, 2022, 196 pitchers had been on the injured list, 170 to injuries, 26 to COVID. Stretch this year numbers to a full-season schedule and at the present rate 764 pitchers will go on the injured list, 663 for injuries, 101 for COVID. Add that by May 20 there were 102 pitchers who’d been on the injured list both seasons. It does not take Dr. James Andrews to figure that there will be postseason slots determined by days on the IL. Perhaps next to ERA +, FIP, WHIP and SO / BB on Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs pitching stats line, we have DIL (Days on the Injured List).
A look at each division, spotlighting the pitchers on the IL.
National League East
Of course, one starts with the Mets. Two great pitchers, Matt Scherzer and Jacob deGrom, are out until close to midseason – hopefully. Face it, we do not really have a schedule on deGrom. They’ve had injuries to Tylor Megill, Taijuan Walker, Trevor May, and that list is through the quarter pole. They have built depth, but October may demand Scherzer and deGrom or another 120 innings acquired elsewhere, and when and if the A’s open the Montas auction, there will be 12-15 teams in it. The man barely makes $ 5 million and has two years before free agency. It’s not as easy as “scouting” him.
The Braves can get Michael Soroka back, and Alex Anthopoulos is always a deadline mover. The Phillies see the worst as being over for the Zack Wheeler / Zach Eflin / Corey Knebel group. The Marlins’ pitching is so good that if they can find a couple of veteran bats, they can be thinking postseason as they pass Labor Day.
National League Central
Jack Flaherty is the marquee name on the IL, and, when healthy, he can impact the Cardinals’ pursuit of October. The Cubs have dealt with IL stints for Marcus Stroman, David Robertson and Adbert Alzolay, and with the club’s ability to trade come July, they have to stay healthy. The key for the Brewers is to keep the depth of that staff healthy, weather the Peralta injury, and be ready to floor the accelerator post-Labor Day.
National League West
On the IL in the first half have been Clayton Kershaw, Dustin May, Victor Gonzalez, Caleb Ferguson, Blake Treinen, Andrew Heaney, Danny Duffy and Tommy Kahnle. The Giants have had Alex Cobb and Anthony DeSclafani sidelined.
American League East
Without further injuries, Gerrit Cole, Nestor Cortes, Jameson Taillon, Jordon Montgomery and Luis Severino could turn out to be the best rotation in the league. They have two of the best 6-8 inning guys in the game in Mike King and Clay Holmes in front of Aroldis Chapman, and add Miguel Castro and Jonathan Loaisiga. The IL is long; Luis Gil could be a significant loss, with Chad Green, Zack Britton and Domingo German out. They have the system and the money to make one or two impactful acquisitions. If you’re in this division, think about Holmes, King and Castro, then remember Brian Cashman traded for all three as if they were items on room service.
The Yankees are hardly alone; the Blue Jays had Hyun Jin Ryu on the IL early, and Nate Pearson has been back on, as they wait for his health and pitchability to catch up to his promise. Boston has no idea when they will get Chris Sale back and what exactly they will get in him; what they do know is the effort he’ll deliver. Chaim Bloom will try to deal for a closer or late-inning reliever, and in the final four months they will see if Garrett Whitlock and Tanner Houck can be a regular starter or closer, then bring in Josh Winckowski, Kutter Crawford, Connor Seabold and / or Brandon Walter. Or perhaps Matt Barnes can find what put him in the All-Star Game last season. They have two eye-poppers in Bryan Mata, throwing 99-100 with a nasty slider off Tommy John Surgery, and Brayan Bello, their best pitching prospect. New Englanders of a certain age lie back, listen to The Lovin ‘Spoonful’s “Daydream,” watch Mata and Bello on video and dream of Frankie Rodriguez back in 2002.
Tampa Bay is yet another team with names on the injured list that could make a September charge. On the IL, likely for the season, are Tyler Glasnow, Brendan McKay and Robinson Chirinos. In spring training, two projected stars, Shane Baz and Luis Patino, went down with bone chips and an oblique issue, respectively, and both should be back in June. Pete Fairbanks, a quality reliever, had a severe lat pull. Recently Andrew Kitteridge, also very good, had a back issue. Soon they’ll add Luke Bard, off a hip operation, and Ben Bowden, whose career medical chart would make for a CBS soap opera. They hope Corey Kluber stays off the IL, but Shane McLanahan – who Snyder and Kevin Kiermaier pledge will win a Cy Young Award – and Drew Rasmussen are a power 1-2 combination, while Jeffrey Springs is converting to a starter and his ability to miss bats has convinced them he’s legit. The Rays’ list of “next up” candidates is endless, so if you see Colby White coming out of the bullpen or Taj Bradley starting a game, do not be surprised.
American League Central
The two teams who have lost the most to the IL… are Chicago and Minnesota.
The White Sox have lost Lance Lynn, Lucas Giolito, Joe Kelly, Aaron Bummer, Garrett Crochet, Codi Heuer and Ryan Burr. The Twins have been without Chris Paddack, Jorge Alcala, Bailey Ober, Kenta Maeda, Sonny Gray and Danny Coulombe at points. The Guardians have had Cal Quantrill and James Karinchack on the IL. The Tigers have been decimated: Eduardo Rodriguez, Casey Mize, Matt Manning, Tyler Alexander, Spencer Turnbull, Michael Pineda, Andrew Chafin. It makes this season a rickety bridge to where they’re headed, and could make 2023 another bridge year, albeit stronger than 2002.
American League West
This isn’t too complicated a division, although the Astros, Angels and Mariners are all postseason threats. Houston likely needs Ryan Pressley and Jake Odorizzi off the IL. The Mariners need Paul Sewald pitching as he did last season. Logan Gilbert, George Kirby, Robbie Ray, Chris Flexen and Marco Gonzales make up a deep, flexible rotation, and they’re healthy. Their need isn’t physical rehab, it’s a couple of reliever trades by Jerry DiPoto, who loves to make deals.
The injuries to so many pitchers and the expansion of the playoffs means more teams will be trying to trade for pitching, and fewer teams will be sellers. “The cost is going to be very high in terms of expected returns,” says Boston’s Bloom. Another general manager suggests richer contenders could outbid a smaller-market team going for the same pitcher by eating salary. Do the Reds want to keep Luis Castillo and Tyler Mahle to provide soft landings for Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo? They might talk seriously with a team willing to pick up a big chunk of the $ 32 million Joey Votto is owed in 2023-24, between his $ 25 million 2023 base salary and 2024 buyout. A Canadian future Hall of Famer in Toronto on Rogers Network? Not bad. If the Red Sox are still at single-digit homers out of their first basemen as they roll into Wrigley the last weekend of June and Triston Casas is still batting under .250 in Worcester? What do they do then?
“Think about that list of potential pitchers on the injured list – what was it… close to 800?” said one AL GM. We are not close to the Heartbreak Hill of August, which we did not have in the 60-game season. Young pitchers will feel the effects of losing so many innings in 2020. We’ve barely had spring training the last two years. Then there are the minor injuries that pitchers could not take to their clubs in December and January. Sellers must scout Double A the way you scout potential playoff teams in September. This September there may be quite a few Double-A arms pitching in the big leagues.
Chase Silseth was in Double A before his successful start for the Angels last week, nine-and-a-half months after being drafted in the 11th round. Sandy Koufax, Catfish Hunter, Lew Krausse, Eddie Bane, Pete Broberg, Moe Drabowsky, Jim Abbott and Johnny Antonelli all made their professional debuts in the big leagues.
Could someone be drafted in July and make his debut in the ALCS?
Oh, that’s right, seven of the 10 highest-rated college pitchers in the July draft have had, or are about to have, Tommy John surgery.
(Top photo of Eovaldi: Maddie Malhotra / Boston Red Sox / Getty Images)