Sunday, August 29, 2010

Just Because Dibble Isn't on the Air Doesn't Mean He Isn't Right

The last week has been unfortunate. What started out as sore flexor tendon (a bowling injury I rolled through last year) was reassessed and will require Tommy John surgery. What started out as an aggressive, somewhat misinformed pep talk digressed into "Suck it up, bitch!"

Yeah, Rob Dibble has been straddling the blade this month, first with the women, now with The Franchise. The former was Dibble's character coming through, and he was rightly raked over the coals for that. However, his initial response watching Strasburg was quite well informed from the perspective of the player. Pitchers are paid to pitch. Not throw side sessions and long toss. Pitchers will occasionally pitch through pain, because that is what they are paid to do. Pitchers will ultimately get seriously injured because the slightest mechanical flaw will cause the UCL to fray and unravel faster than a cheap sweater. This is inevitable. The superior pitching Strasburg's mechanics generate also make him extremely vulnerable to these injuries. The why was never in question, just the when.

Rob Dibble is paid to give his opinion as a former player. He is not a doctor. Stephen Strasburg is paid to pitch. He is not a doctor. Steve McCatty has been there and done that as a pitcher, and is a victim of some historical pitcher abuse. His experience may be of value, but is not a doctor and certainly couldn't adjust Strasburg's mechanics without risking additional injury. The point of Dibble's argument, pitch until you can't pitch anymore, is how players think. Whether or not that is a complete game shutout or getting chased in the third because the other team is taking batting practice is irrelevant. A player of Strasburg's caliber should be expected to get as many batters out during the duration of his contract. Coddling and babying that right arm may give Nationals management piece of mind that they did everything in their power to protect their investment, but it doesn't mean that it will get the most, or even best, production. Dibble's beef really isn't so much with Strasburg, who is following orders after the debacles with Scott Olsen, Jordan Zimmermann, and Craig Stammen last season. The elbow broke down anyways and everyone is devastated.

It is nobody's fault. He had never complained of elbow problems before, so it is not like the trainers could have diagnosed the problem Pre-cog style. Personally, I want Dibble back in the booth. Sure, he is a dick and runs the mouth a little much, but who can blame him. He is the color commentator for a team that lost 102 and 103 games in back to back seasons and is limping through another losing campaign. It is not easy provide daily feedback for a team with no history and a miniscule viewing base. Even George, the "Wil Nieves" guy, didn't renew his season tickets. He has little to work with in terms of product his "love him or hate him" personality is the only thing that gives the broadcast any flavor. And his player's reaction to Strasburg was not unexpected... ignorant and foolish, yes... wrong? Not in this context. The viral nature by which most people received it took it out of context and made it sound like he was calling the player out. Dibble, unlike everyone in America, doesn't want Strasburg on the mound, but needs him on the mound. And by enacting the players' mentality, pitchers pitch until they can't anymore, he was calling out management for using the "kid gloves" for far too long. If Strasburg ended up fine and making his next start, nobody would be talking about it anymore.

But this is all now days in the past. If MASN parts ways with him, that is between them and the team. It's probably a mistake, as nobody is really watching anyways, though Bob Carpenter will probably sleep better at night.

As for what to expect from Strasburg, I think his case is a little different than Jordan Zimmermann's, who has been a model Tommy John recovery patient. With his mechanics, it will take him longer to relearn the touch that makes him dominant. I believe Strasburg's situation is very similar to the process Francisco Liriano has endured in his recovery. Both have fierce fastballs and breaking stuff that is the product of violent mechanics. Liriano was hurt at the end of 2006 and rehabbed all 2007. The Twins let him spend most of 2008 in the minors, rebuilding strength. 2009, he spent almost the whole season with the major league club, and the AL took batting practice off of him. Many people saw the increased home run and walk rates and reduced strikeouts and assumed he was done. However, in 2010, he has been one of the most valuable pitchers in all of baseball.

Every pitcher is different, and given the success rate of the surgery these days, the Liriano example is only a cautionary tale to fans that it isn't an overnight process. Many experts didn't expect J Zimm back so soon, and his return gives everyone hope for 2012.

As for Dibble, I'm laying off... his job is hard enough without being under the microscope now.

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