With no spring training games to follow, I remember distinctly reading the headline on my screen “Cubs’ Heuer Undergoes Tommy John Surgery.” My face unconsciously morphed into one of those thinking face emojis people send, myself included. I will state up front there is a fair amount of speculation in this piece.
Since MLB owners made the decision to use the bargaining strategy of a ‘lockout,’ the teams and players could have no contact. This meant Heuer, like every other member of the MLBPA, was on his own. A pretty important asset (arm) for the future couldn’t even contact his pitching coach, manager, trainer or team doctor. I distinctly remember reading the lockout “prevented injured players from seeking medical treatment from team doctors.”
Since Justin Steele is on paternity leave at the moment (good luck to him and his family), I wondered if Ross or Hottovy could have texted a pitcher if they became a father during those 99 days? Would a casual congratulations have been considered a major violation?
What I have been wondering for the four months is what impact the lockout had on pitching. I could remind readers of the injuries to the Cubs pitching staff, but this is a blog not a book. Labor negotiations are often very combative, having been involved in a few. Owners/management have more leverage to play hardball (pun intended) and in this case they made the decision to lock out players.
The term ‘unintended consequences’ comes to mind. Billionaire owners and belligerent lawyers lock the door, and in the 2020’s a team’s most precious commodity are pitchers’ arms. The back of baseball cards simply don’t look the same. The game has changed. You can’t call a human being who can throw a ball 100 miles per hour to a pinpoint location fragile, but when I hear a reliever pitched an inning the day before, an inning yesterday and isn’t available today, I roll my eyes.
Cubs are burning through arms at an alarming pace this season
The Cubs have already used one more starter than all of last year. They have more bullpen innings than any other major league team. This problem isn’t exclusively one for Wrigleyville I am sure, but there are so many missed innings and, with all due respect as these guys are trying, missed outs. Five arms with great expectations have not thrown a pitch for the team.
Last year, with all due respect, Rafael Ortega, Frank Schwindel and Patrick Wisdom were AAAA players who the Cubs gave a shot. This year, because of injuries, the pitching staff is seeing many guys cut from the same cloth, like Mark Leiter (31), Adrian Sampson (30) and Matt Swarmer (28), to name a few.
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With the incredible investment in things like pitch labs and the like, one would presume that pitchers were giving specific throwing and conditioning programs for the winter. Players also have agents, who are highly protective of their charges. I will confess, I am biased on the side of labor, but will forever wonder whether normal, less contentious negotiations may have resulted in fewer injuries, and better results from pitching. COVID already altered the progress of many players, both pitchers and hitters alike. Did the lockout exasperate that?