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Pitching Injuries Are Up and There’s Plenty of Blame Everywhere

Pitching Injuries Are Up and There’s Plenty of Blame Everywhere

Some blame the pitch clock, some say it’s the ban on sticky substances, but many seem to forget pitchers are simply throwing out their arms...with their organizations’ help.

In case you haven’t heard (but it’s a huge story this early in the 2024 season), an alarming number of pitchers are already sidelined this season for arm injuries. Some have already been lost for the entire year.

Here’s a look at the casualty list of who’s out of their team’s rotation:

Add to that list the following names:

Want more names?

Some have been out for part of the past few seasons and are hoping to return this season.

Injuries happen to the best of them.

Max Axisa, a writer for CBS Sports, calls it an epidemic. He pointed out in an article that in 2023, 34% of pitchers who took the mound in an MLB game had undergone Tommy John surgery at some point in their careers. That number has gone up incrementally over the past four years.

As fans, all we know is that we’re hearing that one of our starters in going on the IL (injured list) for 15 days or more. At worst, we hear they’re going out for an indefinite time.

The worst news we can hear—and we’re hearing it more and more—is that our best starter is out for the season and is about to undergo Tommy John surgery. Or, in many instances, the pitcher we’re waiting on to return to the team and the mound won’t be coming back as fast as the team had hoped for.

Plenty of finger-pointing, but no one accepting responsibility.

There are a handful of theories on what’s causing all of this now, but it’s not as if arm injuries are new to the game. Especially over the past five seasons, pitchers have been dropping all over the League.

But before you consider the usual suspects—what might be the causes—just about everybody will agree on one thing: The entire game has changed dramatically from what it once was, and perhaps pitchers today are just expected to perform differently from what was expected in years and decades past.

So here we are in April 2024, and this is what players, MLB and the Players Association are saying is causing this “arms crisis”: the need to speed up the game.

It’s the pitch clock...maybe.

All fans know that in 2023 the pitch clock was introduced to help speed up the game, which it did. Games were both shorter and more exciting.

However, pitchers were complaining about the new pitch-clock rule even before the season started. Their view, and the view of the coaching staffs, is that pitchers need more time between pitches to recover. It’s possible that the time limit is a contributing factor.

However, it is way too soon to say that the pitch clock either causes injuries generally or is the reason for the spike in arm troubles this season. The Players Association is making a lot of noise about it. Tony Clark, executive director of the MLBPA, took aim at the pitch clock early this season, saying “our concerns about the health impacts of reduced recovery time have only intensified.”

The Commissioner’s Office fired back, perhaps accurately, that this view ignores the reality of the significant long-term trend, over multiple decades, of velocity and spin increases that are “highly correlated with arm injuries.”

Let’s play the blame game.

Players don’t really like the bickering that’s going on because it doesn’t help.

“I’m just frustrated it’s a combative issue,” Yankees starter Gerrit Cole said. “We have a (problem) here and we need to get on the same page to at least try and fix it.”

Cole takes a bigger-picture approach, saying the pitch clock “could have negatively impacted” pitchers, but that only time will prove that true or false. He reminds everyone that the crackdown on foreign substances also seems to have hurt pitchers a lot. He also admits that the pressure to throw harder and get more even more spin on the ball could be elements.

Ya think?

He’s been there, done that.

Justin Verlander, the 41-year-old pitching legend and current Houston Astros ace, tried to put everything in perspective. He’s worth listening to: Not only is he a three-time American League Cy Young Award winner, but he also made just one start in 2020 and missed all of the 2021 season because of Tommy John surgery.

Verlander calls the growing number of arm injuries happening to pitchers across the Majors a pandemic. In short, they’ve been dropping like flies so early into the 2024 season.

His perspective is also valuable because he’s been pitching during the time when analytics seemed to take control of pitching philosophies. Here’s what Verlander said recently about the rash of injuries:

“I think the game has changed a lot. It would be easiest to blame the pitch clock. In reality, everything has a little bit of influence. The biggest thing is the style of pitching has changed so mucheveryone is throwing as hard as they possibly can and spinning the ball as hard as they possibly can. It’s a double-edged sword.”

Verlander’s tone took a serious turn, as he added this:

“I don't know how we rewind the clock. The trickle-down [of throwing hard] permeates all the way to Little League. I just hope that we don’t wait too long. It’s a pandemic and it’s going to take years to work itself out.”

Indeed, the game has changed. Some say for the better, but pitchers would probably not agree.