Do the Mariners have a pitching problem?

Jeff · April 13, 2005 at 7:52 am · Filed Under Mariners 

Larry Stone looks at the previous week’s pitching stats and concludes that the arms have actually performed relatively well.

Stone admits that injuries are a serious concern, but cites some traditional performance numbers like ERA to make his case. Interesting to see WHIP listed as an indicator for the “stat-geeky.”

But one part of the article, unrelated to its main premise, actually shocked me.

Now the team is trying to figure out what to make of [Gil Meche’s] elbow problems, which he says have been contributory to his erratic start — twice unable to make it through five innings, and a 7.88 ERA.

While pitching coach Bryan Price said the Mariners will “honor” the fact he has tenderness, it is clear they believe he needs to learn to pitch through such discomfort.

“I’d hate for anybody to have to go through the year with any type of a chronic problem, soreness,” Price said. “Even if it wasn’t career-threatening, it’s still tedious, and it works people over mentally. You feel like you’re not going out there with your best stuff.

“But experienced pitchers understand they’re not going to go out there every time with their best stuff, and they still have to compete and give us a chance to win.”

There is a difference between ‘not going out with your best stuff’ and having an injury, though certainly the latter can lead to the former. After all the arm trouble Meche has had, I can’t believe they are still questioning his toughness in public like this.

When Meche told them he was hurt in 2001, they effectively told him to rub some dirt on it, suck it up, and so on. By the time the doctor found his rotator cuff problem, he was actually relieved that he had an injury, so he knew he wasn’t crazy.

I’m not a doctor, and even if I was, I haven’t examined Meche’s arm, so I don’t know whether there is anything structurally wrong with his elbow or not. But calling a guy out like that — especially after you’ve sniffed at his concerns once, with disastrous results — just seems to me uncalled for.


37 Responses to “Do the Mariners have a pitching problem?”

  1. Iron Tech on April 13th, 2005 8:27 am

    Given Meche’s injury history, one would think that the team would be extremely cautious with him. Yet to hear Price say what he said, I’m beginning to change my mind regarding the way the M’s treat their pitching staff. I didn’t want to believe that there was a problem in the way the organization handles the pitching staff — but I’m coming around. Sheesh!

  2. Steve on April 13th, 2005 8:30 am

    Every time I hear comments such as these, I always think back to J.R. Richard. When he said he wasn’t feeling well, people thought he was a whiner and wasn’t mentally tough.

  3. Xteve X on April 13th, 2005 8:32 am

    That was the one paragraph in that article that really jumped out at me too. You’d think with the pitching depth being thinner than single-ply Charmin they’d err on the side of caution here. Can’t wait to hear BP’s excuse if Meche has to have TJ surgery.

  4. anotherjeff on April 13th, 2005 8:40 am

    Thats kind of crazy. I can just see it now…..

    BP: Come on Felix. I know your Shoulder hurts, and your elbow is a little tender today, but we need you to suck it up like a veteran and learn to pitch through the pain.

    The only thing I know in spanish is cusswords, so the Kings reply will be left to your imaginations.

    I didnt want to believe it all either, but the number of prospects that have blown up their arms in this organization in startling.

  5. Avery on April 13th, 2005 9:05 am

    Time for Price to go.

  6. jm on April 13th, 2005 9:11 am

    Hey, for what it’s worth, we’ve heard this all before. The last time we heard it so loudly the subject was Carlos Guillen. They convinced everyone he wasn’t tough enough to be in the bigs, and all he did in response was take 2 advil before bed and play through tuburculosis!

    He did get tough, though, I’ll give them that.


  7. forgotten schmo on April 13th, 2005 9:26 am

    The JR Richard comment was brillant.

    Price really needs to go. He is a nice guy but he has not shown the ability to fix pitchers and help them through the tough times.

    Athletes are often like sports cars in that no two are the same and their bodies can be high maintainence with no two being the same. Meche has an established history of knowing his body and detecting something is not right early. That alone should generate caution. Go back to the video and compare is there something different at all in the mechanics generating this pain, he’s clearly not pitching at his best, why? Why whine about something minor now? Docs have missed before on this guy so double check the elbow and run an extra test or two. Work with your player. If after all that you think its much to do about nothing then give him a push, fine but not during the second week of the season to a guy who has shown he’s been right when the doc was wrong before.

  8. chris w on April 13th, 2005 9:28 am

    This might call for a letter-writing campaign. I have assumed that (a) there is some sort of organizational problem with the treatment of young pitchers; but that (b) the Ms are well aware there is a problem and are taking steps to address it. I’m beginning to doubt the Ms have even realized there’s a problem. So…

    How do we let them know? Do we write letters? Nasty emails? Do we send copies of articles and books that address these issues to Brian Price and cc upper management?

  9. Matt Williams on April 13th, 2005 9:32 am

    How much further before this stuff crosses the line into assault or harrassment/abuse? It’s bad enough he would have that attitude, but to share it with the press is horrible.

  10. Jeff Sullivan on April 13th, 2005 9:36 am

    Less Price, more Rafael Chaves, please.

  11. Dave on April 13th, 2005 9:40 am

    Hey, I know everyone loves Rafael Chaves, and the pitchers love him, but let’s not forget that the guys he’s worked with are blowing out their arms just as fast as the ones BP is working with.

  12. Jeff Nye on April 13th, 2005 9:54 am

    Okay, another newbie-ish question that might help clarify this argument for some of our more casual folks.

    What things that a pitching coach has control over could be affecting the young Mariners pitchers’ durability to this extreme? I think that just taking a look at the past injury history of Mariners pitchers, particularly the young ones, indicates that there probably is a problem of some sort…

    But what are the things that Price might be doing wrong or causing them to do wrong?

  13. pensive on April 13th, 2005 10:10 am

    Could not believe when I read article early this morning..At least it helps shed some light on that elusive question “why M’s young pitchers suffer so many serious injuries”..
    Remember Meche diagnosted with dead arm for lack of comprehensive medical findings; so have to wonder abit about Medical staff. Especially with all the diagnostic tools today.

    Perhaps this attitude has something to do with Rett Johnson release as promising as he was (is).

    Agree with all. Time for Brian Price to join Melvin.

  14. J.R. on April 13th, 2005 10:12 am

    anotherjeff – “The only thing I know in spanish is cusswords, so the Kings reply will be left to your imaginations.”

    I think you have the spanish vocabulary to pull off an acurate reply.

  15. forgotten schmo on April 13th, 2005 10:15 am

    What is Price doing right? In the long run, the year the M’s only used 5 starters all year may be a negative for the M’s.

    The M’s also need better docs at diagnosing arm problems. They do great at managing legs but seem to be a bit off when dealing with arms.

  16. dw on April 13th, 2005 10:21 am

    There’s a systemic problem with the M’s and young arms, and it’s not just Bryan Price. Almost all those torn labrums happened in the minors. Price is a symptom of the problem, not the problem itself. I’m not defending him, but his idiotic statements are part of this “play through pain” idiotthink.

    I have three questions rattling in my head.

    1. Has anyone compared the M’s injury patterns with other organizations to see if a pitcher in the M’s system really does have a higher chance of injury than if he played in a different system?

    2. What can be done? Say we designate for unemployment every pitching coach in the system. Who do we hire? What do we look for? Is there anyone out there who has experience with these injuries and how to avoid them?

    3. Might the problem be not one of training? 50 years ago, pitchers didn’t have the four pitch arsenal, hitters didn’t spend a lot of time fouling off balls and weren’t into off-season training programs, and the average starter threw more innings but fewer pitches per inning. Also, the mound was higher, and there were 14 fewer teams. Might we be seeing something more sinister than bad coaching? Are the changes in the game pushing more and more pitchers to the physiological redline? And if so, should the rules of the game be altered to fix the problem?

    Again, I’m not saying there isn’t a problem in the M’s system, and I’m not defending Bryan Price. There is something wrong, and it’s well past time for something to be done about it.

  17. ChrisK on April 13th, 2005 10:21 am

    Does anybody have any data on the injury rate of M’s pitchers vs. other teams? If there’s a case to be made (and the perception is that there is), then we’ve got a real problem on our hands. And if the M’s don’t track this kind of data themselves, we’re in REALLY bad shape.

  18. Jeff Sullivan on April 13th, 2005 10:27 am

    Maybe we don’t need a pitching coach at all.

    I mean, hey, the pitchers made it to the Majors, so they probably have a pretty good idea of what to do.

  19. Steve on April 13th, 2005 10:33 am

    re #17:

    Does anybody have any data on the injury rate of M’s pitchers vs. other teams?

    ChrisK: that is an excellent question. Before we can begin to discuss this reasonably, we need to know how the Ms comapare with other teams.

    I’m not aware of any collected data, at least none publicly available. From what info I have collected it seems that Oakland has a much lower attrition rate. That may be more the result of Oakland drafting few high school pitchers. When the pitchers you draft are primarily college pitchers, you avoid many of the high risk years for pitchers.

    The Cincinatti Reds appear to have had 20 pitchers go under the knife of their doc, Tim Kremchek, in 2002 and 2003. I’m pretty sure that’s a higher rate than the Mariners have done.

  20. Ralph Malph on April 13th, 2005 10:35 am

    Gil’s going to be a free agent after this year, so I hope he has the balls to stand up for himself — and to see his own doctor if the team won’t deal with this.

  21. Jeff Sullivan on April 13th, 2005 10:38 am

    Unless I’m completely missing something, Meche isn’t a free agent until 2006.

  22. Evan on April 13th, 2005 10:52 am

    But he is eligible for arbitration at the end of the season, and will likely get expensive. I don’t expect the M’s to keep him, thus making him a free agent.

  23. DMZ on April 13th, 2005 10:59 am

    He’s eligible for arb now, which is part of why he’s currently expensive.

    I believe, though I have no evidence in front of me and freely admit that I’m talking out of my butt, that he’s a FA at the end of this year.

  24. John in L.A. on April 13th, 2005 11:33 am

    I’m really glad I wasn’t the only one upset by that article.

    It’s really reprehensible to even imply that someone is being a baby about pain unless you have VERY good evidence that that is the case. In Meche’s case they have good evidence the other way.

    And, frankly, Price’s argument, dumb anyway, is really dumb when two paragraphs earlier the article was talking about how the injuries WERE effecting his performance.

    Playing through pain could apply to someone pitching well but wanting to sit out… it patently doesn’t apply to someone putting out a 7.88 era. This isn’t Schilling’s bloody ankle.

    Playing through pain does no one any good if it just means almost an earned run per inning.

    Unless Price’s point is that he is pitching poorly because he is babying his elbow. And that is a very dangerous stance for a pitching coach to take… “Oh, it’ll be fine! Put all the stress on it you can! Let it rip! Don’t trust your body.” Bah.

  25. Shawn McLaughlin on April 13th, 2005 12:30 pm

    Is anyone else starting to wish Hargrove had lobbied a little harder in the off-season for his preferred pitching coach? (Mark Wiley, who seems to be doing a bang-up job with the Marlins vaunted and injury-prone staff so far during his short tenure with the club).

  26. Pete Livengood on April 13th, 2005 2:19 pm

    Amen, Jeff.

    There is no doubt that BP should be criticized for calling out his pitcher publicly like this (and given Meche’s injury history, even doing so privately is *highly* questionable), but I find myself agreeing more with commenters who see this as more the fault of the M’s medical staff. I’m sure BP wouldn’t be making these comments if their doctors weren’t telling him there is nothing wrong with Meche. Assuming there is (and I do), this is far from the first time they’ve missed something — even just with Meche.

  27. Bat on April 13th, 2005 6:15 pm

    I wonder if the fundamentals are broken in the organization when it comes to physically preparing young pitchers for the rigors of professional baseball. I would imagine we could pick up on Roger Clemen’s techniques for getting prepared between seasons, and between starts. Supposely it is an impressive workout regimen.

  28. Bela Txadux on April 13th, 2005 11:21 pm

    Stone’s article and a shower of related comments from various organization media shills (Dave Valle, Times lead columnist) point to one valid concern with Meche—which masks a serious organizational problem with _faulty medical diagnosis_ in my view.

    I have a great deal or respect for Bryan Price, as I’ve said before on this blog over the winter. He has several years of experience with Gil Meche at the major league level, and was a roving instructor when Gil was in the minors: BP knows how Gil’s head works a great deal better than I do, or than any of us here do to the best of my knowledge. Bryan thinks that Gil doesn’t cope well with adversity, and that is a valid point here. Price was on record in the last week or so in another article speaking to the fact that Meche needs to find a way to pitch through the challenge inning while limiting the damage: this is a major issue with Meche, and I say that as someone who has always liked him, and been a booster for him on this blog. 2B, 2B, E-6, HR, groundout, 2B—we’ve seen lines like that for Gil over and over again. He’s cruising along, then when he hits a bad spot he can’t pitch through it but gets worse instead of better. Price has talked about how Meche needs to avoid the big inning; so far Price is right and Meche is still getting it wrong on this (whatever the reason, more on that below). Meche is also on record saying “He thinks too much,” and multiple quotes from friends, teammates and coaches make the same point: Gil dwells on problems on the mound, and can’t get out of a rut and grit his way to a money pitch. In this regard, it seems that Price, the FO, the team’s media pets, and one presumes a sizeable segment of the fanbase are totally out of patience with Meche, and there is a valid problem there in my view. I don’t know that it’s a question of ‘maturity’ as the team has rather vindictively painted it, as much as temperment (and medical history), but Gil buckles at crunch time far more often than he buckles down, and that’s on him.

    That said, the Ms have f***ed Meche over so many times medically that at this point I hope he leaves as a free agent for the sake of whatever prosepect of a career path is left to him, because THIS team has handled and is handling him with reckless disregard for his health. When the Ms drafted Meche, they only got him because he had arm problems at the time, and so fell several slots in the first round. If I’m recalling rightly from past news capsules, Meche was reluctant to push his arm in his first year in the organization, and that’s when the ‘crybaby’ tag first go hung on him—despite the fact that he really did have a bad arm when he arrived and _was_ pitching hurt, no BS—AND THE ORGANIZATION KNEW IT. But the organization decided that it was the player who was at fault, not their own groupthink; the team didn’t like his ‘attitude.’ By the time Gil made the 25-man out of camp in ’01, he definitely came with the ‘won’t pitch through pain’ necklace. When his labrum finally gave out, as it would appear to have been doing slowly since he was drafted, the team all but told him it was in his head; crapped all over him, as Jeff said to start this thread. Evidently, they didn’t even bother to test his injury adequately—just had him ‘rest,’ remember that—because it wasn’t until _after_ the season, that they finally diagnosed him with a blown labrum, and he had his first surgery. He came back, but the arm still hurt. Again, the team told him to pitch through it and stop being such a baby. His arm still hurt. Finally he convinced the team to do another exam—and he had another surgery. Again, Gil was right, and all the bright minds of the M’s organization were nothing but spite and feathers. Gil was barely a year past that surgery when BoMel pushed him to a high inning total in ’03, “because he’s a big strong guy, the team needs him, and he need’s to learn ‘to deal with adversity.'” In camp ’04, Gil’s control was terrible. Now it’s arguable that Gil’s control is _never_ good, but it’s unarguable that Gil was coming off a high inning total soon after his second surger, that he has a bunch of scar tissue in his shoulder, that he has trouble staying loose in cold weather, and the team should have taken some minimal care with him at the start of ’04 rather than simply telling him ‘to grow up.’ This year, Gil _and_ Price both admit, now, that Gil pitched with triceps tendenitis (at least) all through the ST just ended. Then come north to 40 degrees and raining, Gil can’t stay loose, and when his arm tightens up after 3-4 innings he “had no feel for the ball, no location, and no bite to his pitches,” Meche’s own words in the paper, i.e. he can’t get his stiff arm to extend fully in the cold and he’s short arming the ball so everythings hanging and sailing. And he’s also risking a major injury throwing like that if he can’t extend his arm. The team’s response? “Grow up!” “Big strong guy should be good for 140 pitches a game.” {Dave Valle, I could have jumped through the radio and punched the guy} “Need’s to realize that he’ll have to pitch with pain at times.” In short, the team not only _will_ not listen to him, THEY JUST DON’T CARE. He can blow out his arm as far as their concerned, as long as he proves to them he’s some kind of man.

    Gil Meche is a worry wort, and this has undermined his performance, and fixated the organization’s assessment of him. The M’s have seriously, repeatedly, and I may say invariably misdiagnosed his medical condition, and are past the point of being cut any slack because, as a group, they have less than zero credibility on their assessments and handling of Gil Meche. The team is wrong on Meche—because that is their track record. I seriously hope Gil Meche tells them to stuff it, in private. They’re poison for him.

  29. Bela Txadux on April 13th, 2005 11:52 pm

    As a follow-on for #28, does the M’s organization ruin pitchers at an excessive rate. That’s . . . hard to say. But also not the point. There is a serious, inaccurate, malignant groupthink problem with how this organization deal with injured players period: that’s the point.

    Speaking of pitchers, drafting heavily for pitchers is a good way to have a lot of injured guys at the top of a team’s depth chart. Take a look at Kansas City. Just like the Ms, they went to pitching dominated drafts. Virtually all of their guys came down with bad arms, and very, very few have had any kind of career. I don’t count Affeldt and Greineke, yet, and they’re lucky in a way that they made the big league club so fast: they may get better medical attention. Remember Adam Loewen [spelling?]? Greg Miller? Edwin Jackson? Almost any Giants pitching prospect before Lowery?? Army injuries throughout, some major, some only enough to derail their progress. Steve in #19 above mentions the Reds organization and it’s body count; not pretty, either. Pitchers break down, as Dave says, but it’s all too true.

    But that’s not the point. Take Chris Snelling. Let’s forget his knee, he did have a major injury after all. Let’s talk about his wrist. He tore it up playing in Wisconsin, but I believe that he returned before the season was over. He’d injured it when he was young back Down Under, keep in mind. After all the work he does to get back to the bigs, in camp ’04 he snaps ‘something’ in the wrist (I never really did hear the diagnosis). He get’s a cast and six weeks ‘to rest and rehab.’ The cast comes off in April, he goes in for an assessment—and the find more extensive damage that requires surgery, and at least SIXTEEN WEEKS MORE RECOVERY, due in large part to lingering structural problems from the first wrist injury when he was a kid, or so I read in the paper. In other words, it wasn’t until the _THIRD_ assessment that the Ms organization made of his wrist that someone correctly diagnosed the structural problems with his wrist. Before that, they wrapped some tape on it and told Snelling how much they needed him back.

    The other canary in the methane factory that is the Ms player development program is Carlos Guillen. Now, clearly Carlos is the kind of guy, physically, who breaks down often, and heals slowly, just like Pokey Reese, or for a more famous guy Eric Davis of the Reds. (Carlos is hurt now, not at all to my surprise, and I doubt that the Tiges will be happy with that multi-year they game him. Carlos, like Pokey, should get two years at a time, max, to limit a team’s exposure to his downside). The Ms solution to Guillen’s fragility, which does not look to be a matter of conditioning as much as genetics? To blame the player. “Won’t play with pain.” Etc., etc., bloody etc. I won’t recap more, but it is obvious that they did this, and ran him off the team. The organizaiton is doing the same thing with Meche now.

    . . . But the point is that this is the Ms organizational culture for dealing with player injuries. To blame the _player_. And to me, this is why they so frequently misdiagnose injuries to the severe detriment of their prospects. The kneejerk response in the organization is to blame the player for not gutting it out. They seldom do this so openly as is happening with Meche now; I think it’s more a matter of rewarding ‘gamers’ and giving the cold shoulder or ‘show-me’ treatment to guys who speak up about “not being right.” I don’t know that the medical folks for the Ms are any less competent than the staff of other teams, but I don’t think they are really to blame. It’s that group think in the player development department somewhere, to blame the player and cold-shoulder him into shutting up—until his body blows up with the real, nagging, undiagnosed, or diagnosed but underplayed injury. This is why the Ms seem to invariably underannounce injuries initially, I think, as has been spoken to on this blog more than a few times: The organizational groupthink is “This guy isn’t hurt (bad). I mean, we’d be in _trouble_ if he was hurt bad. So he’s not hurt (bad), just a little rehab, and some grit, and we’ll be right as, ahh HE’LL be right as rain.” To me, this is how this organization’s ‘leadership’ talks themselves and their players out of honestly, accurately dealing with real injuries, and so fail to treat or program for said damage until the injury blows up into a major one.

    It’s not that the Ms break down their pitchers at an excessive rate. It’s that they refuse to accept the reality of the injuries which do happen, and so refuse to deal with injuries in general, and blame players who are hurt, so that each injury is underdiagnosed in consequence and has a chance to get as far out of hand as it can. That’s not abuse so much as it is group self-delusion—but it’s the players who suffer the consequences.

  30. Lou on April 14th, 2005 2:16 am

    According to the linked article, the Mariners rested Meche. Where is the “rub dirt on it and suck it up”?.

    I don’t recall the Mariners forcing players to play through injuries.

  31. John in L.A. on April 14th, 2005 2:28 am

    God, I love your posts, Bela.

  32. Paul Weaver on April 14th, 2005 12:12 pm

    #30, Lou – the “rest” is that they pushed his start back a day.

    Very comprehensive Bela.

    One wonders how much better the team would be if a few of those potential stars were diagnosed and treated properly.
    I even wonder conversely if there are a few pitchers that actually are fit enough to pitch those 40 start, 300+ inning seasons like they did in the 70’s.

  33. roger tang on April 14th, 2005 3:11 pm

    Gee, Bela, that’s a solidly logical deduction to make, given what we know about organizational think, the M’s philosophy and the available evidence.

    It just looks like they not only misdiagnose, but they consistently take the most optimistic view of the injury AND the treatment for it.

  34. Lou on April 14th, 2005 5:26 pm

    I don’t see any evidence at all. Just conjectures and assumptions. All in so many words.

  35. Bela Txadux on April 14th, 2005 8:44 pm

    Hey, I’m not always right, but I do have my say. : )

  36. Lou on April 14th, 2005 8:56 pm

    No offense intended.

  37. roger tang on April 14th, 2005 11:21 pm

    Well, I think for MECHE, at least, the Ms medical treatment is suspect. Not conclusive, but it’s certainly evidence….