Finally, an example of quantitative science coinciding with qualitative!
A well-researched piece by Neil Paine (hat tip to Rob Neyer) suggests that “Last Year’s World Series Didn’t Wreck the Mets Rotation this Year.”
The story is in response to a New York Times article, in which Mets manager Terry Collins suggests that a reason for his team’s difficulties this season is due to his young starting pitchers extended workload in the 2015 postseason. According to Collins,
“We don’t make excuses here,” Mets Manager Terry Collins said. “But I’ve had too many guys that have managed deep into the postseason tell me that there is a residual effect. And a lot of times, it’s your pitching.”
Paine attacks this suggestion head-on with statistics showing that grueling playoffs don’t lead to pitching burnout. Paine’s determination came by researching playoff teams over the 20-year period of 1996-2016. Paine goes on the point out that this year, Mets pitchers are actually “wildly exceeding any reasonable expectations we might have assigned them before the campaign began.”
(Anyone who watches the Mets on a regular basis, or has access to the internet and can decipher a batting statistics table, knows the Mets’ true problem this year is their offense.)
This isn’t the first time Collins — or other Mets officials, such as Sandy Alderson — has pointed to 2015 as a reason for Mets pitchers to be under-performing and/or injured. We addressed, and busted, this myth in episode 3 of this season’s podcast — Why Jacob deGrom Lost Velocity. As mentioned in the episode, if a pitcher is still feeling any lingering effects from the previous season three or four months later, then there is an injury. And if there’s an injury, it should’ve been treated. If you are a professional pitcher, and your livelihood is predicated on your health, you don’t spend most of November, all of December, all of January, and the first week of February waiting for something to get better — you go to a doctor, find out what’s wrong, and get it fixed. Three to four months is plenty of time for a pitcher’s body to recover from a season (in fact, it’s too much, which is why pitchers should resume throwing after a short break — but that’s for another day).
Every New York Mets starter with a physical issue was discussed during this season of The Fix, and, in every case, the issue was traced to mechanical flaw (or flaws) in the pitching motion. As mentioned, deGrom’s diminished velocity was due to an injured lat muscle that occurred due to a flaw in his motion; Matt Harvey’s struggles with command early in the season were caused by imbalance resulting from his back foot leaving the ground at max external rotation and his thoracic outlet syndrome was the result of improperly applying corrections; the elbow bone spurs (and more recently, shoulder problems) suffered by Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz are attributed to improper follow-through. In every case of a pitcher — on any team — getting injured, there is a plausible explanation, and it almost always is related to a correctable mechanical flaw.
Some day, just as baseball embraced sabermetrics, MLB will come to accept the fact that HOW you do something is as crucial — if not more so — as how many times you do something. Assessing a pitcher’s workload is absolutely important, but not terribly helpful if you don’t take into consideration how he’s delivering the pitch.