Mark PriorWhen Kerry Wood tied Roger Clemen’s 20 strikeouts in a game record, I was in awe. It was only his fifth start, he only gave up one hit and issued no walks. In fact according to Bill James’ game score, it was the highest game score ever for a nine inning game. I thought he could be the next Roger Clemens. Now after many injuries Kerry Wood is a pretty effective closer for the Chicago Cubs, unfortunately too fragile to be a starter.

However when Mark Prior appeared on the scene he was even better. I thought he was a sure fire Hall of Famer. Now he is going under the knife again and his career could be over. Buster Olney said:

His season is over, and it may be that we won’t see the right-hander — a pitcher of such extraordinary talent, and early accomplishment — in a big-league game ever again.

When I first read about this I found myself angry at Dusty Baker. Dusty Baker, with his high pitch counts, ruined the careers of two potential Hall of Famers. Yet he continues to find employment while at least one career is completely ruined.

However after doing some research I found that though conventional wisdom believes that Dusty Baker did destroy the Hall of Fame careers of Mark Prior and Kerry Wood, the experts are divided about this.

The Hardball Times published an article titled Dusty Baker and Pitch Counts. In this article David Gassko argued that Dusty Baker did not hurt the careers of Mark Prior and Kerry Wood.

… Dusty Baker added 3.09 pitches to each start, or about 100 pitches a season. Basically, pitching for Dusty was the equivalent of making an extra start—probably not a killer.

On the other hand, The Baseball Analysts published an article titled Prior and Wood: Dusty Track Records. In it Rich Lederer argued that the incredible high pitch counts Prior and Wood had to endure during the months of September and October in 2003 significantly hurt them.

As shown, Prior and Wood have never been the same, pitching fewer and fewer innings and with less effectiveness than ever. The franchise pitchers have been battling one injury after another the past three-and-a-half years.

.. While it’s unfair to blame Baker for all of Wood’s and Prior’s problems, I believe Dusty should have refrained from riding his stars as hard as he did in what can now be described not only as the early fall of 2003 but of their careers as well.

I expected Rob Neyer to also find fault with Dusty Baker but in his article, The unknown about pitch counts, he made a good point.

There’s no simple rule. Baker forced Prior and Wood to throw a lot of pitches, and they got hurt. A completely different culture forced Daisuke Matsuzaka to throw a million pitches when he was a teenager, and he didn’t get hurt. There’s still so much we don’t know.

Interestingly enough Daisuke Matsuzaka just went on the disabled list with right shoulder fatigue, a few weeks after Rob Neyer mentioned him. Maybe pitching in the 21st century Major Leagues is just incredibly difficult as Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus wrote in this New York Times article, Why 100 Pitches Don’t Go as Far as They Used To. Joe Sheehan basically argues that because hitters are so much better now the job of pitchers is much more difficult.

In 1976, 101 regulars — players with 400 or more plate appearances — slugged below .400. In 1986, just 61 players slugged below .400. Last year, with four more teams and 40 more regulars added since 1986, only 52 players were below the .400 mark. In the modern game, every player with a bat in his hands is a threat to be giving the third-base coach a high-five a few seconds later.

2 Responses to “Mark Prior’s career might be over”

Mark wrote a comment on June 7, 2008

I believe that Nolan Ryan said that a player should never go above 200 innings before turning 25. After turning 25, a player can ratchet up the innings to 250 or higher.

It appears with Wood he first eclipsed the 200 inning mark right about the time he turned 25. Wood has still been able to pitch another 200+ inning the following year when he was 26, and still is a function pitcher these days as a closer.

Prior, on the other hand pitched only once over 200 innings and he was 23 when that happened. That was also the only year that Prior had ever pitched above 200 innings.

Other reference points:

Tom Glavine – 200 innings first when 24
Roger Clemens – 200 innings first when 24
Greg Maddux – 200 innings first when 24
John Smoltz – 200 innings first when 22 (has the most arm trouble out of the three great Atlanta pitchers)
Nolan Ryan – 280+ innings first when 25, 300+ many times after, 150 innings the year before 280.

Some food for thought. Maybe I should work for ESPN?

seonghuhn wrote a comment on June 8, 2008

Excellent analysis Mark! You should work for ESPN though I don’t think they’ll pay you as much as your current job. 🙂

Care to comment?