A couple of weeks ago, Bart Given wrote an article for Sportsnet defending Blue Jays pitching coach Brad Arnsberg and the number of arm injuries the Jays have incurred in recent years. Going back to 2005, he found that the Blue Jays were in the middle of the pack when it came to DL placements and DL duration. While I do not dispute his findings, I think people still have the right to be upset with the number of young pitchers have undergone serious procedures like Tommy John.
The first culprit is Dustin McGowan, a former first-round pick who underwent Tommy John in 2004 at age 23. The next two years following the surgery, McGowan threw 101 and 111 innings respectively between the minors and majors. In 2007, his workload jumped to 191 innings. Unsurprisingly, he was shutdown in early July in 2008, and has not pitched since. Both GM JP Ricciardi and AGM Alex Anthopolous are on record as saying they are not sure if he will ever pitch again. Obviously McGowan suffered from arm troubles from an early age, but the Jays were asking for trouble when they nearly doubled his workload in 2007.
Next up is Gustavo Chacin, a personal favourite during his short-time in Toronto. In 2004, Chacin enjoyed great success in the minors, going 18-2, and pitching 153.2 innings, a career high. The next year he was promoted to the Majors and enjoyed a strong rookie campaign, with a 3.72 ERA. He also threw 203 innings, which placed him in the top 50 in the league. Since then, he has only thrown 114.2 innings in the major leagues. Here are the other two players on that list who experienced huge jumps in their workloads that year:
Chris Capuano – 101.2 to 219, has not pitched since 2007
Josh Towers – 152 to 208.2, has not pitched in the majors since 2007
The Jays were two for three that year.
More recently, the Jays have two more Tommy John victims: Shaun Marcum and Jesse Litsch. I am not sure the Blue Jays have learned their lesson. They brought Marcum along slowly, limiting him to roughly a 25 IP per year increase from 2005-07. Tough to blame them for that one. However, Litsch was pretty much abused. After throwing 75.2 innings in 2005 between rookie and short season A, he was increased to 158 and 187.2 the next two years. Once again, unsurprisingly, he managed only one more full season before going under the knife.
While you cannot always predict the future, and even guys that are brought along slowly can experience problems, the Blue Jays are not without blame. It is well documented that guys who experience huge jumps in workloads either see their performance decrease or experience serious injury. Justin Verlander, Noah Lowry, Fausto Carmona, Zach Duke (who has rebounded nicely this year), Ian Snell, etc.. The only team that I could spot with a history of straining young arms more than the Jays is the Pittsburgh Pirates, and we can all see how successful that franchise has been.
While the Jays have an incredible talent for finding a surplus of skilled young arms, they are also burning through them at an astounding rate. Here is to hoping that the Blue Jays do not repeat same mistake with their young arms like Brett Cecil and Ricky Romero.
As a final note, I remember reading somewhere, but do not quote me on this, that the only pitcher in recent years to throw over 200 innings in his rookie season and go on to have an even semi-successful career is Freddy Garcia.