Are The Orioles doing the right thing in shutting down Matusz and Tillman? Or is another team making a terrible mistake?
So it has come down the pipe that the Orioles are goign to shut down Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman after 2 or 3 more starts, and that Brad Bergesen will not be returning at all this year ( information on that courtesy of the Baltimore Sun ). At first read, it sounds like the prudent thing to do. It sounds like the smart thing to do. But is it the right thing to do?
In the current issue of ESPN the Magazine (you have to be an Insider to read the online link, or you could pick up a copy on newsstands now), there is an article about Texas Rangers GM Nolan Ryan and his disregarding pitch counts and coddling young pitchers and their arms, and how it has helped lead them to being in the thick of the pennant race this year.
I am a fan of the game, and a great admirer of both Orioles GM Andy MacPhail and Ryan. And I do not think I am qualified to say one is right and one is wrong. There are obviously arguments for both.
All you have to say to anyone who belittles pitch counts and being cautious with young arms is two names: Kerry Wood and Mark Prior. Chicago Cubs manager Dusty Baker rode them hard, and rode them all the way to about 4 outs from the World Series. But they were two of the biggest names and brightest young stars of the game, and they have never been the same since that season (2003 if I recall correctly). Both have battled multiple injuries and changes of scenery.
But at the same time, looking at the results of the Rangers this year it is hard to argue with the thought of “this is what we did for 100 years in this game”. Teams limiting their pitchers to 100 pitches and 120 ft. for long toss (it could be argued) doesn't allow the pitchers to build up the arm strength needed to pitch effectively and to build up the muscle memory needed to keep the arms from getting injured. The Rangers have not had any more injuries to their staff than other teams (according to the ESPN article the team has used 22 pitchers this year, which is right at the major league average), and they have improved from a bottom of the game ERA (5.37 in 2008, worst in the majors) to 4th in the American League and 9th overall (4.27 at the start of the game on 9/1/09). And since Ryan pitched in the majors for 27 years, he should know a thing or two about how to keep yourself hale and healthy (even if he is somehow a genetic freak of nature to be 40+ years old and throwing 90+ with late movement on his fastball, preperation and training regimen had to be a major factor).
So what is the right call? My brain says that Andy MacPhail has been making all the right moves, and I am not the one who is qualified to question his tactics (and since he was with the Cubs in 2003 when Baker took the future of the franchise and quite probably caused them to stop being said future, he might be a little more cautious than most, with good reason). But it is hard to say that Ryan is wrong when the pitchers themselves are speaking out in favor of the changes (including long time veterans like Kevin Millwood, who was much more used to the MacPhail plan than the Ryan plan in his major league career).
All I can hope is that it works out for the Orioles. But we won't know for a few years if it was the right call.
About the Author
Written by Ron Burr
Ron is a lifelong resident of Maryland and has been a passionate player and fan of sports for as long as he can remember. When he is not watching the games or explaining to his lovely wife why he is cursing at the television, he runs an improv/sketch comedy troupe, Drop Three. He can't hit a curveball or run a sub 4.5 40 yard dash, but he knows the games and loves talking about it with anyone. Differing opinions are welcome and encouraged!