Hitting For The Cycle: Doctoring Baseballs, Tommy John Surgeries, Defensive Shifts, And Reliever Awards

Single: A Major League Pitcher’s Guide to Doctoring a Baseball by Dirk Hayhurst (Deadspin)

For those of you who are already familiar with the writing of former MLB Pitcher Dirk Hayhurst, this article will come as zero shock to you as he has a penchant for sharing inside information. In the wake of the Michael Pineda pine-tar-on-the-hand issue (and to some extent Craig Kimbrel’s amazingly stained hat), Hayhurst shares all the secrets that an MLB pitcher can use to get additional grip on the baseball.

It’s commonly known throughout the baseball universe that a vast majority of pitchers doctor the ball in some way, which is why no one from the Red Sox (or Nationals) bothered to ask the umpires to check on the foreign substance. They knew full well the other team could do the same to them. It’s an interesting article, because it openly acknowledges even more hypocrisy from Major League Baseball – they’ll go after long-term PEDs users but will turn a blind eye when you try to make an immediate impact by illegally doctoring a baseball.

To those of you out there that think that doctoring the baseball is fine because “everybody’s doing it”, I leave you with my money quote of the piece:

Quote: “Sure, pitchers will say that it’s all about getting a grip, and it most certainly is. But you wouldn’t believe what a professional player can do with that increased, unnatural grip.”

Double: Dr. James Andrews on Increase in TJ Surgery by Mike Ferrin (SiriusXM Radio)

We are going to go in a bit of a different direction with this next piece. It is an audio clip from the world-renowned surgeon Dr. James Andrews. Last week, Dr. Andrews appeared on MLB Network Radio with Mike Ferrin to discuss what appears to be a year with markedly more Tommy John surgeries than ever before. If you are able to get past the sheer shock of Andrews’ accent, you’ll hear Andrews talk about the possible reasons behind the drastic increase in this knockout surgery.

Not only are professional baseball pitchers throwing harder than ever, but kids are throwing harder than ever. Andrews says that he is seeing more and more pitchers under the age of 16 throw the ball 90+MPH when their bodies, specifically their Ulnar Collateral Ligaments, aren’t matured enough to handle that kind of torque; the velocity threshold for greatest risk of UCL injury is only 80-85 mph!

Sadly, this isn’t the only cause for the staggering number of Tommy John surgeries amongst 15-25 year old pitchers; it’s the fact that there is no offseason. These days, if you want to get drafted out of high school or get recruited to play college ball, you must play in showcase after showcase, play year-round travel ball, as well as play for your high school team. The sheer number of innings combined with both developing bodies and improper coaching (don’t even have time to get into this chestnut right now) is a massive factor in the horrifying trend of young pitchers getting injured.

Quote: “Radar gun is the problem”

Triple: This Week in Bunting to Beat the Shift by Ben Lindbergh (Baseball Prospectus)

In the very first iteration of Hitting for the Cycle, we featured a separate piece by Ben Lindbergh on defensive shifts and now he is back for more. Continuing the work that we focused on then, Lindbergh pledges to the reader that he will highlight every bunt attempt to beat the shift for the rest of the season.

Normally, a piece such as this would focus solely on the events in question, but he takes it a step deeper by bringing some historical context into the fold. For instance, in the past 2 years, 56 of 90 bunts against the shift went for a hit – an astronomical number that proves exactly the true worth of the shift-beating bunt. And if you’re looking for any Nationals context here, Garrett Jones of the Miami Marlins is one of two (out of three) hitters who have successfully beaten the shift via bunt in 2014 – he did so last Tuesday night at Nationals Park.

Note: This will be a weekly column at BP – enjoy!

Quote: “At that success rate, it makes sense for any hitter who can get a bunt down to do so with the bases empty”

Home Run: Kissing the Rolaids Relief Award Goodbye by Rob Neyer (FoxSports)

The Rolaids Relief Award is (was) perhaps the best possible sponsorship for any professional athletic event/award. I’m looking at you Bowl! This award, the first piece of hardware won by any Nationals player (Cordero in ’05), no longer exists.

Rob Neyer goes through the creation history, the legacy, and downfall of this ridiculous fire helmet adorned award. What is most incredible about baseball up until now is that there has only been one award for MLB relievers, the aforementioned Rolaids Relief Award, but it has never been given much prominence outside of a few years in the 1980s. And in recent years, it hasn’t even been accompanied by any physical hardware! Like it or lump it, baseball has changed and the role of the reliever is here to stay –saves included. It’s about time that relievers get their own award, which they will in 2014 thanks to two new awards: the Trevor Hoffman Award for Best NL Reliever and the Mariano Rivera Award for Best AL Reliever.

Quote: “Granted, the Relief Man Award might not have seemed so important if your favorite relief pitcher wasn’t winning it every year.”


About Craig MacHenry

Writer for The Nats Blog and co-host of Nats Talk On The Go podcast