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Take 2: What’s with all these baseball elbow injuries?

Published: Saturday, July 12, 2014 6:46 p.m. CST

The injuries keep coming. This week, it’s Yankees ace Masahiro Tanaka who will miss time with an elbow injury, adding him to a list of top MLB pitchers such as Jose Fernandez and Matt Harvey who are out with elbow injuries. Sports editor Jon Styf and reporter Mike DeFabo discuss:

Styf: It’s to the point where you can’t trust pitching talent at all. I think the Cubs are right, load up on hitting talent and then sign pitchers with talent who didn’t pan out quickly. Scott Feldman, Jason Hammel and Jake Arrieta come to mind. Dan Straily is similar. The hitters, guys like Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber, are just safer bets.

DeFabo: I agree that it’s safer to go with a hitter. But at the same time, almost all of the batting statistics are down. Now more than ever in recent years, it’s become a pitcher-dominated game. If you truly want to compete, you have to stock up on quality young arms and just expect that you will lose a couple each year.

Styf: You mean guys like Pirates’ Jameson Taillon and Gerrit Cole? I hear you and couldn’t agree more that teams need pitching, I just think that the Cubs are smart to recognize what they have and that maybe having a top-tier pitching prospect isn’t worth as much as scouts think it is. There is just so much margin for error and risk of injury with young arms that maybe investing in a veteran not named Edwin Jackson who doesn’t require an Edwin Jackson contract might be a better option for rotation spots 3 through 5.

DeFabo: Don’t forget that veteran pitchers aren’t immune to injury, either. Tanaka is the perfect example. He’s pitched professionally in Japan since 2007, and now he’s going on the DL. In some ways it’s an even bigger loss than some young pitcher, since he’s making $155 million over 7 years. 

Styf: That was a nod to SI.com’s report where Max Scherzer said agent Scott Boras looked into it and found that the incidence of elbow injuries are higher for young pitchers than those with four to nine years of MLB service. He was saying he was taking less of a risk than a younger pitcher while turning down the Tigers’ massive contract extension offer. He also bought insurance against injury in case it does happen. I’m guessing the rates for those will skyrocket after this season.

DeFabo: I think that says a lot about the way young pitchers are handled these days. In the big leagues, when you get to 100 pitches, you’re pulled. But I’ve seen 16 and 17-year-old kids throw as many as 140 pitches, take a day off and then throw 75 or 100 more. That’s insane. An MLB manager would be run out of town if he did that.

Styf: No doubt. And kids play on multiple teams and those coaches don’t always communicate who is throwing how often and when. Or they’re pitching one game and playing shortstop the next and throwing the ball a ton there. But, as Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Passan pointed out on Thursday, there are still too many questions and not enough answers. Teams invest a ton in pitching but don’t invest a ton in finding out why pitchers are getting hurt at skyrocketing rates. 

DeFabo: The whole concussion issue has some parents reconsidering the cost of playing football. Now with the rash or arm injuries, they need to start thinking about if it’s worth it to have little Jimmy pitch. Derek Jeter said in his biography that he threw 90 mph in high school, but his dad didn’t let him step on a mound. When I have kids, I’m not going to let them pitch. Then again, I’m also not letting them play for the Yankees.

Styf: Maybe we all should just play soccer, like a Naperville Sun column suggested this week. That would solve everything, right?

DeFabo: Or badminton. I hear the injury rate is pretty low with that one.

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