05 April 2016

The Arm, The Original Earl Weaver, And Dylan Bundy

Earlier in the day, I discussed Jeff Passan's new book, The Arm: Inside the billion-dollar mystery of the most valuable commodity in sports, and Dylan Bundy's short appearance in the book.  As noted then, the book tries to tackle the acknowledged elephant in the room: how does the industry stop all of these arm injuries.  Things have changed quite a bit over the past 150 years except for the fact that a great number of pitchers crash and burn.

My great great aunt has something in common with 20 year old pitchers in the 1930s.  While she was 75 years old, what she had in common was the same surgical procedure.  Her issue was arthritis and the medical world largely thought that arm injuries in baseball was actually an arthritic condition.  A popular perspective was that arthritis was caused by bad teeth.  The idea was that bad teeth leached poison into the blood stream and that the poison collected in and destroyed joints.  My great great aunt had a lovely set of teeth that she took great pride in as many her age had succumbed to cavities and other maladies.  Her teeth looked perfect, but with arthritis crippling her the doctors suggested pulling out all of her teeth.  It did nothing.  Likewise, many a young phenom whose arm died either in the minors or majors had their teeth removed for what now is obvious as no good reason.

One revolutionary thought about bringing up young pitchers was brought forward by Paul Richards, which is presented in the book, who was named the Orioles manager and general manager prior to the club's second season.  Richards was a product of the Branch Rickey legion of thought.  What became the Oriole Way was the same thing as Dodger Baseball, Cardinal Way, and a half dozen or so other organizational approaches to developing winning baseball teams.  Due to Weaver on Strategy, many erroneously think that the ideas he proclaims in there are his own ideas, but they are almost all Richards.  To some extent, many are also found elsewhere.  In other words, what you knew about the Oriole Way, well, you probably should forget it.

Anyway, the original Earl Weaver, Paul Richards, was actually the one who came up with the idea that rookie pitchers should be brought in slowly.  A rookie pitcher would first be brought into the bullpen to be introduced to the MLB game.  Then easing him into a swing starter role and, finally, into the rotation.  The idea was that by easing a player into the high effort, high leverage game that his arm would adjust, get use to the work load, and then be dependable as a 200+ IP arm year-in and year-out.

As opposed to Weaver, Richards actually did what he preached.  Each year in Chicago, he would stretch out his pitchers in that manner.  Mike Fornieles and Jack Harshman were both examples of that approach.  With the Orioles the framework was used for Milt Pappas, Jerry Walker, and Jack Fisher.  When he moved on to Houston, he continued this practice with Mike Cuellar, Dave Giusti, and Larry Dierker.  While Earl Weaver's team were largely known for picking up veteran retreads like Mike Cuellar.

Now, bringing this back to Dylan Bundy.  Without subscribing to Paul Richards' approach or the ideal that Earl Weaver spoke of but never truly implemented, the Orioles will be taking this route with Dylan Bundy.  Bundy was part of the final draft class that was permitted to sign Major League deals.  It was suggested at the time that by signing a MLB deal that the Orioles saved some money.  The club thought this was not much of a risk because as Bundy was, he was already rather close to being a MLB pitcher right out of high school.  He was not considered much of a risk to run out of options before he was ready to play.  Unfortunately, after his first taste of the Majors in 2012, he then found himself suffering injuries that limited him to 42 innings over three years.

The Orioles, concerned about keeping Bundy healthy and stretching out his stamina, will now ease him in.  Buck mentioned a similar Richards' approach.  Bundy would work relief in the first half and then at some point find himself starting a few times in the second half.  All of this would be done to target 2017 as his time to enter into the Orioles' rotation.

We shall see.


The Arm: Inside the Billion Dollar Mystery of the Most Valuable Commodity in Sports
by Jeff Passan
368 pp


Joel Bradley said...

Very good Jon! Anytime you mention the "Wizard of Waxahachie" you have my attention, having grown up in the little farming town 30 miles south of Dallas. Paul Richards was a real visionary and a fascinating baseball personality that interacted with baseball immortals from John McGraw and Connie Mack in the 1930's to Bill Veeck in the '70's. His book, "Modern Baseball Strategy" captures his strategies that are still studied by many front office people today. In fact, Dan Duquette made the book required reading for his staff shortly after taking over the O's five years ago. DD is well versed not only in today's sabremetric world but is a real student of the game as evidenced by his understanding of history and its impact on the game today.

In the era of 3 days rest for pitchers Richards believed in 4 days as optimum and worked with 5 man rotations instead of the popular 4 man. His term of easing pitchers into their MLB roles was "mopper-uppers", thus Dylan Bundy has been issued his official mop, let's hope he can use it without discomfort.

Unknown said...

Though he may have learned it from Richards, Weaver very much practiced what he preached: Scott McGregor, Dennis Martinez, Mike Flanagan, Storm Davis, and Sammy Stewart all spent most of their first year as swingmen and/or long relievers.

Jon Shepherd said...

Why do I disagree with that statement, David? Well, Richards had clear weaknesses on his staffs and yet kept to his approach. McGregor and Martinez was not going to push into the Palmer/May/Flanagan/Grimsley rotation. Those guys were set. All put in above average ERA performances for a starter and did not get injured. The others have similar stories. The reason why you see this type of movement restricted to the end of Weaver's career is a product of free agency. Prior to free agency, those guys would have largely stayed in the pen. Weaver and the Orioles had difficulty replacing their veteran pitchers because they refused to pay free agent prices, so turnover was much greater.

Unknown said...

I see what you're saying Jon, but not sure I agree with it. We'll never know whether Weaver would've rushed his young pitchers had his staffs not been so strong to begin with. But its an aspect that I hadn't considered till now.