Hitting For The Cycle: Arm Injuries, Shifts, Concussions, And Hank The Dog

This is a new feature we will be doing this season where Craig MacHenry (co-host on Nats Talk on the Go) goes through the best of the best baseball writing for the past week – highlighting national stories while giving them some Nationals perspective. This is Hitting for the Cycle.

Single: Glut of recent arm injuries highlights baseball's struggle to find answers by Jeff Passan (Yahoo! Sports)

It has been 40 years since Dr. Frank Jobe performed the first ever UCL Replacement procedure on a pitcher who, despite winning over 200 games in his long career, is best known for this surgery: Tommy John. In this piece, Passan spends some time with MLB pitchers Daniel Hudson and Todd Coffey as they recover from the dreaded Tommy John surgery. One of the more interesting and relevant nuggets of this story is that Hudson one of four pitchers (out of the 1,200 that Dr. James Andrews has performed) that has had two Tommy John procedures.

As this story breaks we are faced with a troubling reality, where in the past week not one but THREE MLB pitchers have gone down with their second UCL tear. Kris Medlen will undergo his second UCL surgery in three and a half years, Jarrod Parker will have his second in four and a half years, and Brandon Beachy will (most-likely) have his second in as many years.

With the Nationals garnering thousands of pounds of internet ink on their handling of Stephen Strasburg, it should be noted that they have several pitchers who have undergone the same procedure (Zimmermann, Giolito, Solis, and Garcia to name a few). It’s a scary time to be a Tommy John survivor, this piece brilliantly shows why.

Quote: “Nothing goes smoothly with the pitching arm. It is an enigma dipped in lighter fluid and struck by a match”

Double: Learning to Beat the Big, Bad Shift by Ben Lindburgh (Grantland)

This offseason was a huge one for the hometown club – new manager, new coaches, new strategies, and new expectations. One of the most interesting hires is going to be filling a role that hasn’t previously existed within the Nationals Organization – and for that Williams turned to his friend Mark Weidemaier for the new position Defensive Coordinator and Advance Coach. Things will look quite a bit different on the diamond this year as the Nationals are planning on experimenting with defensive shifts for the first time.

In this article which just appeared on ESPN offshoot Grantland, Ben Lindburgh (also of Baseball Prospectus) spends his time making the case that this is the year where we find out whether hitters have gotten to a point where they are capable of adjusting to the shift. Since 2011 defensive shifts have increased across MLB by a staggeringly high number (doubling from 2011 to 2012 and another +77% increase from 2012 to 2013). The piece focuses on some of the major shift candidates throughout the league (those dead pull hitters that refuse to change) and postulates how hitters can adjust their swings or approach to “beat the shift”; Carlos Pena utilizing the bunt or Adam Dunn learning to go the other way both to modest success.

Look for this cat and mouse game to increase for the Nationals in 2014 as pitcher-hitter-defense oneupsmanship reaches new heights.

Quote: “Hitters have a choice. Those who swallow their pride and fight back by bunting or slapping the ball toward a hole should flourish despite the shift.”

Triple: Mike Matheny wishes he'd done more by Jayson Stark (ESPN)

Another one of the many changes made to baseball this offseason is the “elimination” of home plate collisions. I put elimination is quotations because this is merely a half-assed attempt to get rid of the dangerous and injurious plays as it doesn’t actually ban the collisions (as originally lobbied) but only bans them “when the catcher isn’t already holding the ball”. Essentially, collisions are fine if the catcher already has the ball.

As exciting as these plays are (see: Pete Rose vs. Ray Fosse) they are equally as dangerous (see: Buster Posey and Sandy Leon). In Stark’s piece on espn.com, he speaks with current Cardinals Manager Mike Matheny who suffered the effects of post-concussion syndrome throughout his career; when he “aged 50 years in the blink of an eye”. This will be another new wrinkle throughout baseball this year, keep an eye out for catcher collisions and the public discourse afterwards – but first read Matheny’s thoughts in this brilliantly focused piece.

Quote: “[I] never missed a game because of a concussion. Even the next day, it was no big deal. Until you get that last one, when your brain doesn't run anymore.”

Home Run: Hank the Dog arrives in Milwaukee and is greeted by hundreds of fans, even the mayor by Mike Oz (Big League Stew)

The story of Hank the Dog is one of the best pieces of marketing and community outreach from a professional sports organization that we have seen in the past few years. In Arizona the Milwaukee Brewers had a stray dog running around their complex, so they took him in and launched him into stardom. He has run with the Sausages, been featured on all major sports websites and shows, “made the team”, been given a jersey (number K-9), and a position on the field (Rover).

It deserves to be said that not only have the Brewers rescued a dog in need but they have hosted numerous promotions at their spring training complex during games where you can get your picture taken with Hank for a monetary donation to the local animal shelter. Also announced within the piece is the fact that a portion of the proceeds of their new Hank line of merchandise will be going to the Wisconsin Human Society. This story is light-hearted and will easily warm your heart for this awesome little dog. Well done, Brewers!

Quote: “The team is giving a portion of the proceeds to the Wisconsin Humane Society, so that other stray dogs might be as lucky as Hank to find new homes.”

Joe Drugan

About Joe Drugan

Joe is the Managing Editor of The Nats Blog and host of the Nats Talk On The Go podcast. He's been blogging about the Nationals since 2010 and with The Nats Blog since 2011.