Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Future Phil

There's a little something for both sides of the "Phil Hughes Too Soon" debate today as our young warrior made his second Major League start, looking to impress his bosses. The 20-year old phenom did just that by tossing 6.1 innings of no hit baseball against a very nice Rangers lineup. Everything we'd been hearing from the Yankees regulars about what they'd seen from Hughes was in evidence as he baffled the Texas lineup with electric stuff. Fuel to the fire for the "he's ready" crowd.

Pop goes the weasel.

On an 0-2 pitch to Mark Teixeira, Hughes overextended his front leg trying to drop a tough curve on the big first baseman and popped his hamstring. MRIs pending, he will be out a month to 6 weeks. Tough break for the man of the hour. Fuel to the fire for the "too soon" crowd.

Check out Will Carroll at Baseball Prospectus today for his take on the situation. I had a short e-mail exchange with him earlier and I tend to agree with his point of view, that Hughes showed he was ready. He was throwing a no hitter against a good team and demonstrated to everyone in the administration of the club and everyone in the Evil Empire that the kid is for real and he's for real in a now kind of way. The injury was unforeseeable, unless you believe that we should have known that the training staff in the Bronx has been borderline to outright incompetent with the hamstring injuries to Mussina, Wang, and Matsui already this year, at which point you need to wonder if a mass firing of that team is in the making. He popped a hammy in his landing leg. He didn't blow out an elbow, strain a shoulder or a back, or otherwise compromise his future. The fears of a structural injury which would forever alter his pitching mechanics were not realized. While the injury is unfortunate, it's something that has happened to 3 other veterans on the team. It's not a direct result of his age or his lack of conditioning.

A final point on this situation. The training routines are almost completely different, but we can learn something about young pitchers and their ability to dominate from a young age by looking at the Japanese. Daisuke Matsuzaka started his pro career at 18 and famously struck out Ichiro 3 consecutive times in their first matchup. He went on to win the Sawamura Award at the tender age of 21. Currently, Yu Darvish has 2 and a half pro seasons under his belt in Japan and is still only 20. He has 5 straight complete games to begin the season this year after a ran shortened opening day. Darvish has all the physical tools and he throws 122 pitches a game. He's as strong and mechanically sound in the 9th as he is in the 1st. He is the best pitcher in Japan now, and would likely still be competing for that honor even if Matsuzaka was still playing for Seibu.

It's not a directly related point, but it does go to show that we baby pitchers a lot. They can handle it if we train them properly. In the end, there's probably a happier medium between the routines in the two countries, but the fact remains that age and lack of experience against tough competition is a myth. Hughes injury may or may not have been prevented by either a longer stay at AAA or a more aggressive training routine, but I'm on the side that says he was ready a week ago, he was ready today, and he'll be ready when he comes off the DL in a month or two. We have our loaded weapon and we'll be able to use it in the stretch run.

2 comments:

randy ladd said...

from will carrol's " saving the pitcher " pg 93
"aside from pitching, there is almost no other physical activity that does not cause a profound outward body change. some have argued that pitching is not an unnatural act; in fact,this lack of change has been argued to be the result of pitching, or at the very least throwing, being one of the more natural acts there is. in his book"the throwing madonna", william h. calvin,of the university of washington argues that the act of hunting with thrown stones helped develop the brain and prepared it for language while this is quite a leap, it does help explain why throwing is so natural for many. calvin even calls muscle sequencing the" fastball effect". "

i believe that the reason that the japanese have so much success with a heavy regimen of throwing is that they tap into the neural circuitry that calvin talks about in his book .
i've been playing around with this since 1996( after discovering calvin's book) in sarasota florida using my own daily throwing as an experiment. i'm the one who told will carrol about calvin in an email a few years ago.
what my idea was is that if we're hardwired to throw and if velocity was the driver of the natural selection that made the bigger brain as calvin says, then training at full speed would unlock the natural ability to throw hard that calvin says is locked away in our neural machinery.
so almost every day for the past eleven years i've thrown at full velocity. not for accuracy, but pure velocity. the result after all these years is i can't make my arm hurt . my conclusion is that there is something to calvin's theory.
rob neyer recently that pitching development geeks( hie term) are going to replace stat geeks as the new big thing. i think the new developmental geeks are going to find that throwing is natural as calvin says. calvin's ideas would be as good a place as any for the developmental geeks to start. he's a serious scientist.
the japanese system of throwing a lot most definitely seems to be an improvement on the american system. it's in keeping with the idea that throwing is natural.

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