Moore latest casualty of unpredictable injuries
Rays pitcher likely to be No. 13 on Tommy John patient list since start of spring
Chris Sale and Matt Moore were born three months apart and have each made 61 regular-season starts in the Major Leagues.
But as Sale is preparing for start No. 62 in Chicago on Friday, Moore is contemplating what to do about his torn ulnar collateral ligament, an injury likely to make him the 13th pitcher on a Major League roster to receive Tommy John surgery since the start of Spring Training.
Juxtaposing these two lefties against each other serves to illustrate the big-picture point about pitcher injuries:
We know enough to know we don't know enough.
It's not just the long-established policies on pitch counts and innings limits that have, by and large, gone unrewarded. It's also the increasingly sophisticated tabulation of pitches thrown in bullpen and warmup sessions and winter workouts and the advanced mindfulness of mechanics.
To date, all of it has meant bupkis to the bottom line. The unfortunate truth is that today's pitchers are little more than guinea pigs in an industry that, in spite of good data and better intentions, has not done a thing to decrease the number of DL days.
Sale and Moore are elemental examples in the unpredictability of it all.
Moore's arm action has always appeared effortless, his mechanics sound. And that goes back to his amateur days in Albuquerque, N.M., where then-Rays scout Jack Powell first took note of Moore in the state playoffs after Moore's junior year in high school, kept on his trail that summer in the Connie Mack League, went to a number of his winter basketball games and eventually convinced Tampa Bay to take him in the eighth round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft.
"He was a well-oiled machine," Powell remembers. "The arm was clean, it was fast, everything was fluid. There were no indicators, no red flags that there would be any problems."
Sale, on the other hand, has been scrutinized not just for his beanpole frame but for his supposedly doomed delivery -- the ol' "inverted W" and stress on the shoulder blade portending pending disaster -- from the very beginning. Perhaps wanting to get full bang for their bonus buck, the White Sox sped his ascension to the big league bullpen. Then, in 2012, they stretched Sale out as a starter, only to move him back to the bullpen because of the aforementioned injury concerns a month into the season. They only switched him back to the rotation after Sale pleaded his case to then-general manager Kenny Williams and underwent a clean MRI.
Two years later, Sale has further established himself as one of the top starting arms in the sport. And while the injury concerns persist, you can't note the Tommy John epidemic going on elsewhere and seriously consider him any more of a risk than anybody else.
Fact is, they're all risky, which is why Sale and Moore both look wise for having signed supposedly team-friendly extensions early in their careers. It's also why Max Scherzer turning his back on a $144 million guarantee was such a bold strategy in the current climate, where it seems we can't go a week without hearing about a guy paying a visit to Dr. James Andrews.
Andrews, by the way, has his own theory on how to curb the pitcher injury plague, and it's one every parent of an amateur athlete ought to note.
"The big risk factor is year-round baseball," Andrews told MLB Network Radio earlier this week. "These kids are not just throwing year-round, they're competing year-round, and they don't have any time for recovery."
Andrews went on to cite the usual suspects -- poor mechanics and throwing breaking balls at an early age -- as precursors to future problems. And the radar gun, he said, is a villainous temptress all its own, noting that high schoolers exceeding 85 mph with their fastballs are exceeding the "developmental properties" of the human body at that age.
For all we know, maybe that's what put Moore, who was sitting at 89-91 mph his senior year and topped out at 95, on the slow but steady track toward Tommy John surgery.
It's purely guesswork, though. Moore endured both velocity decline and elbow soreness that required a DL stint last summer, so the sight of him grabbing his elbow in Kansas City earlier this week wasn't a total shock. Perhaps those once-pristine mechanics went wayward as he tried to get the velo back and maintain his status as a front-line starter on the loaded Rays, or perhaps not.
"You never know," Powell said. "I know Matt, I know his work ethic. We talked over the offseason, and he felt great. He felt great in Spring Training. You just never know."
That's the unsatisfying conclusion the industry has reached. It would be nice to see more organizations take an open-minded approach to arm training and conditioning, if only to try something different when so many old "solutions" have gone unrewarded. But even then, it would be years before we'd have any statistical evidence that the issue was meaningfully addressed.
For now, all we have is an alarming number of casualties in this young 2014 season. Moore is the latest, and his loss is a damaging blow to a Tampa Bay team many of us consider a legitimate World Series contender.
It brings to mind a good piece of advice uttered by the late, great Warren Zevon: "Enjoy every sandwich."
Or in this case, enjoy every Chris Sale start.