This is probably the first Cup of jO's in about five years. When we first joined ESPN, we had a short post almost every morning chewing on the events of the previous day. Nothing intense, just a little jaunt. This morning I am thinking about two things: Paul Richards and Dylan Bundy.
Last night, the Orioles victory lifted Buck Showalter's win total past Paul Richards for him to take second place on the all time Orioles win list. Strangers, or infrequent visitors, of the site might be unaware of Paul Richards, but basically Richards established the infrastructure of the Baltimore Orioles. His tenure during the late fifties was not exactly one of on field success, but he created the infrastructure, teaching philosophies, and talent investment that created the dominating Orioles teams of the sixties and seventies. If you are a casual fan to the history of the Orioles, simply credit Richards with what you had thought Weaver had done. This is not to diminish what Weaver achieved because it takes a brave soul to have seen Richards wisdom through his failures, but Weaver was a devout follower of Richards. Anyway, it can be simply said that the Orioles Way was Richards Way.
Here is a batch of writing here at the Depot on Paul Richards that actually includes some notes on Dylan Bundy.
Speaking of Dylan Bundy, he did last night what talent evaluators has dreamed of for years and what Keith Law gave up on this preseason by not even listing Bundy among the club's organizational prospects. The controversy with Bundy has never been about his talent or stuff (please walk past the cutter discussion). It has been about his health and how exactly to bring along a pitcher who had put up only 60-some innings of professional ball from 2013 to 2015.
Off the bat, no one is 100% certain about arm injuries and rehabilitation. It has been a slow slog of medical innovation that is greatly hampered by strong desires to hide any beneficial medical information from competing organizations. Conventional wisdom borne out of the pitcher death spirals of the early 1900s was that young pitchers need years to build up muscle and bone structures to be able to be workhorses. The first five man rotations began popping up in the 1950s, became the norm in the 1970s with swingmen, and fully entrenched by the late 1980s. Bullpen specialization then rose to minimize impact of backend arms as well as to take advantage of specific matchups.
Also borne in the 1940s and 1950s were pitch count limits. Back then, they sat around 110 and the managers who used them tended to use them solely for pitchers under the age of 25. After half a century, firm 100 pitch counts were established even though that specific number is generic and somewhat arbitrary. The problem with pitch counts largely is that it is difficult to know whether a manager or pitching coach is accurately observing when a pitcher becomes tired, so it bluntly takes guesswork out of it. That largely is what most the arm fixes MLB has implemented: things that over time feel right.
The science, often due to the aforementioned proprietary drive of MLB clubs, is far from certain. It is fair to say that throwing a whole lot increases risk of arm injury. It is fair to say that based on studies in other sports that stamina is something that is built incrementally and is not an on/off type of switch. It is fair to say that other sports have established that switching from a short, daily event to a weekly long event increases injury risk. However, there is nothing to directly say that about pitching. And so, does it make sense to take a promising young pitcher with potentially dominating stuff and see whether or not he, individually, can defy the body of literature in other sports, and the strong implicatory information about baseball, and come out of this both unscathed and a high performer?
Back in Spring Training when Buck suggested that maybe Bundy will be starting in the second half, I scoffed. True, to do this to a non-prospect as Law's writing might suggest would be something worth a shrug, but Bundy has franchise altering potential. My view was simply have him as a late inning to multi-inning arm this year. Next year, have him entrenched as a long relief arm with swingman status in the second half. In 2018, pop him into the starting rotation. The Orioles skipped my first year suggestion and have ramped up swingman status to full starter. Again, my judgment was based on an abundance of caution, evidence, and expert opinion.
Is this current path for Bundy the right one? I do not know. It worries me because it is trailblazing, but done at such a small scale that it does not inform us much about any other arms in the future. What is worth more: a dominant 7 inning start or two dominant multi inning relief outings protecting leads? Right now, the start. In the future? Well, I do not know, but I feel more comfortable with the latter.