Skip to main content

Under The Knife: Benefits of long toss promising, in need of results


As Albert Chen reported this week, the benefits of new type of long toss are gaining converts in the majors, as seen in the work done with Baltimore's Dylan Bundy and Arizona's Trevor Bauer. While Brewers pitching coach Mike Maddux talks about doing long toss, it's far different than theRon Wolforth-designed programs that Bauer and Bundy espouse. Back in the 1990s, pitching guru Tom House and Nolan Ryan had things at 180 feet (and remember, Ryan didn't regularly long toss until he was later in his career.) Wolforth, Alan Jaeger, and others see their pitchers go 300-400 feet regularly and there are tales of those who go farther. Jaeger is right that certain distances equal certain speeds, based on the research of Dr. Michael Axe. Thing is, the research is largely based on children.

We only have one good study on the biomechanics of long toss, and the results there are mixed. It is unclear whether the same muscles are being used in the long toss motion or how they translate to the normal pitching motion. With Rick Peterson in Baltimore, I have a feeling he might have gotten out his proprietary cameras and gotten some data he can't share publicly on Bundy this spring.

Still, it's a concern that these two uber-prospects are being made into the poster children for the technique. If both succeed, there will be copies. If one fails, people will cluck, especially if there's an injury. (Some will look at Bauer's delivery and see Tim Lincecum, while others will point out the "inverted W" at 1:25 mark of this video.) There are a lot more pitchers out there who have used the same techniques, like Barry Zito, Shawn Marcum, Mike Montgomery, and a ton of other prospects you've never heard of. There are players like Matt Parris, who can do some amazing things on YouTube, but never did them against upper level competition. Same with China McCarney, who throws with astounding distance and velocity, but couldn't make it back from injury. I can't wait to see Bauer and Bundy pitch at upper levels, but I'd be just as excited if we could figure out how to save the rest of this generation from the 1 in 9 chance of losing a year to Tommy John surgery, or worse.

Long toss is going to continue to be controversial until we get two things: successful major leaguers and solid scientific research. The first could be coming a lot sooner than people thought, and the latter, well, that's up to the teams. Powered by that feeling we all got when Buck Showalter decided to pitch to Josh Hamilton in the eighth inning Tuesday night, on to the injuries:

Werth's injury has widely been reported as a fractured wrist, but the actual injury is to his radius, one of the bones of the arm rather than the small bones that make up the anatomical wrist. That said, Werth's history with both fractures and ligament damage in the anatomical wrist complicates the current injury, since the articulation of the wrist joint is the function that Werth and the Nats are most interested in as he rehabs. To help make sure that the previous injury doesn't become an issue, Werth went back to the doctor who did his prior surgery. The fracture was fixated using a combination of hardware and he could be back in as soon as six weeks, but this is likely to go longer. The injury is not at the anatomical wrist; the bone should clearly heal and won't have the same kind of strength and fine control issues as someone with an anatomical wrist problem. (This is in contrast this with Pablo Sandoval's bilateral hamate fractures the past two seasons.) Expecting Werth back after the All-Star break seems a reasonable mid-point expectation, but his response to the rehab and the lack of any complications as a result of his previous problem is what's key.

Scroll to Continue

SI Recommends

Rivera's surgery to reconstruct his ACL has been delayed by what his agent Fernando Cuza told the New York Post was "complications." That can mean a lot of things, from scheduling issues for the doctor to excessive swelling, which would make good images impossible. There have been a number of other things floated behind the scenes, but in the end, most of these possible complications don't factor into problems for anyone but Rivera. A delay of a week or two is irrelevant since no one -- not even the Yankees -- cares if Rivera is ready to get on a mound in November. If it's Thanksgiving, there's still no Yankees game; most pitchers are in the "rest phase" of their offseason work, and he'd still have plenty of time to gear up for the '13 season. Yes, the chance of miracle return goes down with delay, but Rivera's comments since the injury have all been focused on '13, so I'm not overly focused on that.

One of the best signs to me that MLB's drug policy is effective is how few repeat offenders there are. While we don't have complete numbers due to how the amphetamine policy is administered, there's very little in the way of recidivism among the drugs that people seem to care about. (Unless you're going to call out everyone from Ted Williams to Willie Mays to Hank Aaron, few care about "greenies.") Mota was suspended for a positive test for clenbuterol, which he will argue came from a child's cough syrup. There is a case of a swimmer testing positive, but most of the products that do contain clenbuterol are for veterinary use. Because this is a repeat offense, the announcement came before the appeal hearing. Mota faces a 100-game suspension if upheld.

MLB has the steroid issue, which won't seem to go away no matter what they do and how well they're handling it. The NFL has the concussion issue, which is quickly becoming something that could do something as extreme as ending the sport. That's not to say that MLB doesn't have an issue with head injuries as well. The nature of the game isn't as problematic, but just like basketball, there's a significant issue that is being addressed. Thole is a catcher, where the problem is the greatest. Whether it's foul tips or collisions, like what Thole had with Ty Wigginton, concussions are a risk. Thole was sent back to New York for further testing and will be subject to the MLB policies on return-to-play. The Mets did push Thole to the 7-day Concussion DL after testing. I'd like to see that list become mandatory for anyone diagnosed with a concussion, though I generally agree with the MLB policy. That said, Sandy Alderson tweeted that Thole could be out longer, indicating the symptoms might be lingering.

One of the things that fascinates me about baseball is the family connections. We have brothers playing with brothers, sons following in their fathers' footsteps, and other connections that are a bit more convoluted. Obviously, a father doesn't pass down sport-specific genes, but does pass down certain traits that can benefit any athletic endeavor. We see more and more situations where an athlete father has a son in a different sport*, whether it's Ken Griffey Jr. or David Robinson, both of whom have sons preparing to play NCAA football.

Schlereth's situation is a bit different. Schlereth is, of course, the son of former NFL offensive lineman Mark Schlereth. The elder Schlereth was not only a Super Bowl winning lineman, but was famous for the sheer number of injuries and surgeries he had during his career. Did Schlereth pere pass on athleticism and size, as well as some genetic proclivity to injury? It's possible, though there's still far more we don't know about this than we do, not to mention the complicating factors of having a privileged upbringing. Schlereth is dealing with shoulder tendinitis and was optioned to Toledo (AAA), but that was rescinded and Schlereth was placed on the DL. He's likely to go to Toledo on a rehab assignment when ready and the option could come back into play unless his performance issues were purely a result of the inflammation. The ERD is a most likely scenario, but the option possibility and backdating to 4/21 complicates the return.

(* Twitter provided some great examples of sons who played a different sport than the father, including Jayson Werth, Ken Norton, Joakim Noah, Grant Hill, and Kyle Williams. Other baseball sons that play different sports include Barry Larkin's son (basketball), Torii Hunter's son (football), and Wayne Gretzky's son (baseball, Cubs).

Even a minor hamstring strain can't slow down Matt Kemp for long. He's back in the lineup after a day off as a precaution. He could miss a game here or there as it heals ... Maybe it's just me, but does it surprise you more that four-homer games are rarer than perfect games, or that the frequency didn't increase during the "steroid era" ... Desmond Jennings was out of the lineup again on Tuesday, despite being on grass in New York ... Alex Gonzalez has a torn ACL and will miss the rest of the season. He has not made a final decision about surgery ... Josh Beckett will start Thursday after being skipped in the rotation. He had no issues during a side session ... Despite some shaky results, the Yankees will bring Andy Pettitte up on Sunday ... Daisuke Matsuzaka will make at least one more rehab start at Pawtucket (AAA) before rejoining the Red Sox. Some of the decision on timing will depend on Clay Buchholz's next start ... Scott Downs should be back by the weekend. He's expected to get the save chances again, though the team has been checking with possible trade partners ... No amount of sabermetrics is going to help Brandon McCarthy if his shoulder isn't healthy. The MRI came back clean, but it's unclear when his next start will come ... LaTroy Hawkins heads to the DL due to his fractured finger. He'll miss a month or so ... Drew Pomeranz didn't seem to hurt by the comebacker off his knee, but the Rockies will be conservative with their young pitcher, assuming they have anyone available to take the slot if need be ... Carlos Quentin should be activated this weekend after doing well in his rehab stint ... If there's any good news from the Mota suspension, it's that his roster spot will be filled by Aubrey Huff. Huff is returning after dealing with anxiety disorder ... I'll have more on my chat with Ryne Sandberg on Friday. You'll want to hear what he had to say about Chase Utley and Bryce Harper.