David Murphy: Pitching injuries are easy to explain, hard to accept. The cost of doing business.

David Murphy, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Baseball

PHILADELPHIA — Professional sports are great entertainment for the same reason they are hell on the body. The man in the arena is made out of the same stuff as those on the outside. In another time and place, all of us would be side-by-side throwing rocks at woolly mammoths and either dragging them home or running like hell. Our culture evolved away from those days, but our bodies didn’t. Most of us were cool with that. For those that weren’t, we invented sports.

Look, I’m not an expert. I’ve never studied the migration patterns of Neanderthals, nor attempted to construct a perpetual motion machine. The only surgery I’ve ever witnessed involved a pair of pliers and a dog who messed with the wrong porcupine. But I’m reasonably certain that the current epidemic of MLB pitching injuries can be easily explained with a little deductive reasoning and some basic knowledge of anthropology, mechanical engineering and medical science.

We like sports because we like watching people do things that we cannot do. We can’t do those things because our bodies did not evolve to do them. Back before market forces intervened, sports were the domain of physical outliers, a playground for those in the upper percentiles of natural speed and natural strength and natural hand-eye coordination. Now, sports are a domain where those outliers compete to accrue extreme amounts of resources, i.e. money. Given that all of the competitors are outliers, endowed with maximal amounts of natural athleticism, there are two primary ways for professional athletes to differentiate themselves. One, practice until they perfect the skills that their extreme physical capabilities allow. Two, perform skills that require more than their extreme athletic capabilities allow.

That’s a long-winded way of stating the obvious. I’d apologize, but, hey, it’s my outlier skill. It’s also necessary, judging by the number of people who think that MLB’s pitch clock is responsible for the rash of pitcher injuries. It’s laughable, frankly.

There’s no doubt that the 2024 season is off to a curious start. The list of pitchers on the injured list reads like a 2020s Cy Young ballot: Spencer Strider, Framber Valdez, Justin Verlander, Shane Bieber, Eury Pérez, Justin Steele. They join 2023 casualties Sandy Alcantara, Jacob deGrom, Shohei Ohtani, Shane McClanahan and Robbie Ray. To say nothing of the Nick Pivettas, Taijuan Walkers and Josiah Grays of the world.

I’m sure I missed some names. The list is extensive. Point is, there are a lot of smart folks who sound desperate to note the rather tenuous correlation between the rash of injuries and baseball’s decision to, first, implement a pitch clock, and then shave a few seconds off it. The thing that these critics fail to note is that these injuries also correlate with the rise in social media videos of offseason workouts at Driveline Baseball and in-season highlights of supernatural pitch movement.


We’ve known all we need to know from Newton. Force equals mass times acceleration. Acceleration is (simplistically) velocity and movement. Pitchers are throwing harder and creating more movement than they ever have before. As we see in those highlights, it is a good way to differentiate oneself, particularly against hitters whose strength and speed are — judging by soft-tissue injuries like the one suffered by Twins dynamo Royce Lewis — equally unnatural. It’s also a good way to exert a higher level of force than the human body can withstand.

As far as I know, Newton did not invent the Stuff+ metric. But you don’t need an apple to hit you on the head to understand its implications. The metric is a measure of the “nastiness” of a pitch, based in large part on its velocity and movement.

The important thing to keep in mind is the behavior of a pitch that is thrown with an entirely natural motion. More or less, a straight line. Go outside and throw an acorn at a squirrel. You will notice a ballistic trajectory, moving in direct path. The harder you throw, the less guesswork you leave to gravity, and the less time the squirrel has to react. Do it 100 times, and tell me how your arm feels. Now, pretend that squirrel has a bat, and he is trying to hit your acorn.

Natural motion is a straight line. For a human being to throw an object that deviates from that straight line, he must deviate his body. A pitch that deviates from that straight line can only do so because of a contortion from some pivot point in the underlying mechanical system. The elbow, the shoulder, the wrist, the hip, whatever. The more a pitch moves, the faster it moves, the more stress it places on the body. I shouldn’t need 800 words to make that point.


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