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MLB has an injury epidemic. How can it be stopped?




Rob Manfred and Major League Baseball have a huge problem on their hands, and we aren’t even a month into the 2024 season. Pitching-related injuries and Tommy John surgeries have run rampant across the majors in recent years, but shoulder issues have affected some top flamethrowers as well this season


The MLBPA claims that the shortened pitch clock is to blame for the uptick in pitcher injuries, but there is no concrete evidence to support it, and the league has denied the claim multiple times. So what is causing this horrible epidemic in Major League Baseball?


 

2024 N.L. Cy Young favorite Spencer Strider just underwent a second Tommy John surgery.

Photo: Elsa / Getty Images


It seems like pitchers this year are dropping like flies due to arm concerns. Notable aces like Gerrit Cole, Spencer Strider and Shane Bieber have succumbed to elbow injuries. Other young stars like Eury Perez, Dustin May, and Felix Bautista will all miss 2024 while recovering from Tommy John. Last season, 4/5 of the Rays starting rotation had a season ending procedure done, either elbow or shoulder, which included ace Shane McClanahan, and budding star Drew Rasmussen. Last year also robbed us of seeing two Cy Young winners in Jacob deGrom and Sandy Alcantara from performing in a meaningful role in 2024.


Something clearly has to be done with the glaring issue of pitcher health and safety. While I am not a doctor or a surgeon, I unfortunately have dealt with similar issues with a UCL sprain and a flexor mass injury, so I do have experience and some knowledge on this subject. I believe it is much more complex than what people think.


In 2021, Manfred and MLB cracked down on pitchers using sticky stuff, and it worked quite well. With regular checks and harsh punishments, pitchers stopped using spider tack and whatnot, and offense boomed. Obviously, this midseason enforcement was not without its own issues. The baseballs were slick and hard to grip. Many pitchers didn’t use pine tar or spider tack to increase their spin rates to video game type numbers, but rather used a combination of sunscreen and rosin to be able to grip the baseball better. Tyler Glasnow, current Dodgers ace, then a Tampa Bay Ray, was the first to get hurt after the crackdown, and of course was enraged. In his very first start without using sunscreen and rosin, Glasnow tore his UCL. He argued that the balls were hard to grip, and he used sticky stuff to be able to grip and throw.


Now, almost three years later, similar issues are popping up again throughout the majors. Pitchers are getting hurt, and many are complaining about the baseballs again. Red Sox closer Kenley Jansen told Sean McAdam of Mass Live earlier this season, "Any balls that came, I just threw it back until I found a good ball. It's just brutal.” He also added on to this by explaining his teammates' views, "It's been an issue all year. I've been talking to a lot of my teammates and they feel the same way."


Jansen wasn’t the only reliever to complain about the balls, as Rays’ closer Pete Fairbanks spoke out before him after struggling with control in a game vs. the Rockies, "They were horrible. You can mark that down in all caps for me: horrible.” Other pitchers have voiced their opinions on the state of the balls that get used in the game as well, but you get the point; The baseballs are the glaring issue. 


The other part of the injury plague is the pitches themselves. Throwing a baseball overhead is already an unnatural position for your elbow and shoulder to be in. Adding in the velocity of 90-100 mph, the adrenaline and stress of being on the bump and that’s a recipe for disaster. Slick and ungraspable baseballs only make this worse, as then players will try to squeeze the ball harder in order to have more control, therefore stressing the arm even further. Along with increased demand for hard-throwing pitchers, teams now look for players that have movement on their pitches. Spin rate and axis tilts have taken over the development of pitchers, and the act of trying to make a pitch move more can be a huge stressor on the arm.

 

Commissioner of Baseball Rob Manfred has to step up in order to control the injury outbreak that baseball has with its pitchers.

Photo: David Shiery / MLB Photos via Getty


So what should MLB do? They can’t tell players to stop chasing velocity or movement, as they are trying to develop skills to win games and make money. In my eyes, the solution rests on Rob Manfred's shoulders. The condition of the baseballs needs to get better and more consistent game-to-game. If pitchers are trying too hard to just grip the ball they will get hurt more often than not. Otherwise, just let them use sticky stuff like the sunscreen and rosin method. Lower level substances like sunscreen and rosin have a minimal effect on spin rate and allow for the player to grip the ball better.


The bottom line, however, is that something has to happen to stop the unprecedented amount of pitchers getting hurt. It’s detrimental for the game, and if this happens for an extended period of time, fans will start to lose interest, which is the last thing the league needs. Change is necessary. 

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