By Ryan Mayer, CBS Local Sports
The baseball world erupted in debate over the course of the past week over New York Mets starting pitcher Matt Harvey and the supposed innings limit that he is under for this season after coming back from Tommy John surgery. The team and Harvey’s agent Scott Boras appear to be in disagreement over whether the limit of 180 innings was previously agreed upon as a hard cap or as Mets GM Sandy Alderson described it a “soft guideline”.
On the whole, the situation is still ongoing as the Mets have said that the team will likely skip a couple of Harvey’s starts in order to keep him close to that limit. Harvey himself stated in a Players Tribune post that he will pitch in the playoffs.
Overall, the entire scenario has devolved into a PR disaster for both the team and player as an otherwise very good Mets season is being overshadowed by bickering between the team’s ace (or at least his agent) and the front office.
This isn’t the first time and it won’t be the last time that we have this conversation about innings limits for a pitcher coming off TJ surgery. We had it a couple of years ago when the Washington Nationals controversially decided to shut down Stephen Strasburg in the midst of a playoff push. The exact same scenario played out except for the fact that in this case the team imposed without question a hard limit on innings trying to look out for their star’s health.
That’s not to say the Mets are doing the wrong thing or not looking out for Harvey. It’s also not meant as a shot at Harvey for trying to make sure he has an extended career in baseball. I don’t blame either party for looking out for their own best interests. The Mets are looking to make a deep playoff run and presumably, Matt Harvey would play a huge role in that. Harvey wants to make sure that his next contract compensates him as an ace and to do that he’ll have to remain healthy. The point of both of these stories, and the arguments that are bound to pop up in coming years, is that we have no clue as to exactly whether or not these innings limits actually help.
This fact was pointed out on twitter over the weekend.
Those four pitchers, all All-Stars like Harvey, came back following Tommy John and appeared to perform fine after throwing more than 180 innings in those seasons. Wainwright for his part, weighed in on the Harvey situation in a New York Times piece with this particularly telling quote:
“It’s all speculation, right? No one knows the exact number, what that is. Everyone’s different. But if anything, you err on the side of caution with him. He’s so great, and he’s got such great talent,” said Wainwright.
That’s the truth. For as much as we know about the human body we still don’t know what the exact threshold is for what causes these injuries and what makes a pitcher more susceptible to them. Sure, we have our theories, which have led to a rise in the prominence of acceptable pitch counts, but innings wise we have no idea. Even innings themselves come in different varieties. There are those that are high stress (close games, men on base in scoring positions, etc.) and those that are a breeze.
On top of all of that uncertainty, there’s also one other factor to consider when breaking down Harvey’s situation or those of Michael Pineda, Zach Wheeler, etc. Those four pitchers mentioned in the tweet above (Tim Hudson, Chris Carpenter, Wainwright, and Lackey) each were 29 or older when they had Tommy John surgery. Harvey had his at the ripe old age of 24. Pineda was 23. Wheeler at age 25 went down before this season started.
How does Tommy John surgery affect pitchers that have it at a younger age? Like the innings limit itself we don’t know. We will start to get an idea in coming years as we have seen the largest number of surgeries come on younger pitchers than ever before. But, at this point, we still don’t know what the proper protocol is because there simply isn’t enough data.
I understand the firestorm that the Harvey story has caused here in New York and really what this story would cause anywhere in the country. Fans want to see their team win and having their ace shut down when in the midst of a playoff race would be maddening for anyone. However, in your consternation, remember that teams and players both are wading into waters that are still murky.
Ryan Mayer is an Associate Producer for CBS Local Sports. Ryan lives in NY but comes from Philly and life as a Philly sports fan has made him cynical. Anywhere sports are being discussed, that’s where you’ll find him. Agree/Disagree? Thoughts, comments, complaints? Email or tweet him.