Roto Reading: Will Carroll's Saving the Pitcher
Will Carroll is an esteemed baseball journalist over at Baseball Prospectus. Carroll's focus is injury analysis, and he writes a daily column called Under The Knife. The column is an excellent read and I highly recommend it. Your fantasy team will surely benefit if you have the inside scoop on the severity of Adam Eaton's finger injury, for example. Some have called Carroll arrogant, but he's just self-assured. Who am I to judge? I call myself The Roto Authority after all.
Last year, Carroll came out with his first book, Saving The Pitcher. I have to say that I don't like the cover of this book. The concept is fine, showing how proper understanding of pitchers can aid both a child and Randy Johnson. But the white background and block letters look simplistic and aesthetically unpleasant. However, I think there's a saying out there about books and covers, and it applies to Saving The Pitcher.
Early in the book, Carroll points out some glaring differences between today's game and the version of baseball played before 1921. Before 1921, games were played with a single baseball. The ball would be severely warped and scuffed after nine innings. Plus, foreign substances were legal. Early pitchers didn't have to exert maximal effort, as shortstops weren't going deep from the eight hole all the time. Carroll successfully debunks the idea that modern pitchers are not tough. The section raises an interesting question: what can we learn from the throwback/aberration that is Livan Hernandez?
The third chapter was really the only part of the book I didn't enjoy. It's basically a history of athletic trainers and sports medicine, and it's somewhat dry.
After that, Carroll dives into pitching mechanics. He clearly knows his stuff. I learned that the rotation of the hips imparts the most energy on the ball. Something to keep in mind if I ever try Little League again. Carroll also outlined the importance of balance and consistency in a pitcher's windup. One simplified nugget is that a pitcher's velocity comes from his shoulder and his control from his elbow. This helps explain why control is always the last thing a pitcher recovers after Tommy John surgery.
The book is quite thorough in its discussion of pitching injuries. Carroll outlines the contrast between various maladies. He uses a collegue's interesting account of a labrum tear to describe just how harrowing that injury is. Few pitchers have returned to previous levels after labrum tears. Tommy John surgery, on the other hand, has many success stories. Recovery times are sometimes less than a year at this point. Carroll even covers blisters, many of which may have arisen from raised stitching on the baseball in 2002. As a Josh Beckett owner, this piqued my interest.
The book really makes you question the methods practiced by Major League Baseball teams. Carroll explains how every single pitch does damage to the arm. However, when thrown properly, curves and sliders should come at no greater cost than fastballs. This makes me question the Mariners' reluctance to allow Felix Hernandez to throw his slider in minor league contests. Instead, they should just ensure that he throws it with the same delivery as his fastball. I also realize now that a change in mechanics takes a very intense commitment - probably more than a year is needed. That's why I'm skeptical of the purported change in Kerry Wood's mechanics over the course of a month earlier this season.
Certainly one of the most intriguing parts of the book was the discussion of Daisuke Matsuzaka and the gyroball. The Japanese have perfected "double-spin mechanics" in order to make the baseball do things never before seen in this country. This section was so fascinating that I actually had to put the book down and research the gyroball, and you can read about that here.
Much of the book explains the conditioning cycle of a starting pitcher. Interestingly, Carroll advocates a return to the four-man rotation. Pitchers are basically ready to go on Day 4, and the idea would work if strict pitch counts were applied. Of course, the five-man rotation has been the way to do it since I was born, so don't expect a sea change.
The last part of the book is spent wallowing in statistics. Any fan of Baseball Prospectus will find many of these ideas familiar. The archaic method pitchers are evaluated based on their win totals, for example, is compared to the inequality of women in our culture. That is, both were firmly entrenched and both can now be considered ridiculous. Carroll gets into saves, pitch counts, and even makes up some stats. It's an easy read even if you're not statistically inclined. I'd like to hear more about velocity loss as a measure of pitcher fatigue - it makes a ton of sense.
Carroll closes the book with a call to arms of sorts. He suggests fans demand better and more information in the quest to save the pitcher. Carroll thinks that almost all pitching injuries are preventable.
For sure, coaches, fans, and players will all find Saving The Pitcher to be an engaging book. A greater understanding of pitching mechanics and injuries is something that any dedicated fantasy baseball owner should have in his toolbox. The book is only out in hardcover right now, and you can get it for around $12-16 from Amazon.