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“Not all velo dips are the same”






10 Degrees: The scary trend Matt Harvey and other aces are facing


By Jeff Passan13 hours agoYahoo Sports

The number of frontline starters who have lost a significant amount of fastball velocity compared to the first month-plus of last season is startling. This isn’t just a few stragglers. It’s a half-dozen of the game’s best pitchers and a handful more in the next tier. It’s Cy Young winners and superheroes and $200 million men and royalty.


No great unifying explanation seems to exist. Some are hard throwers who aren’t throwing as hard. Some have considerable mileage on their arms. Some are showing the vagaries of age. One, actually, is purposely not throwing as hard. Not all velo dips are the same, though all do raise eyebrows at a time when pitches zoom in faster than ever.

A year-over-year drop in April doesn’t necessarily portend doom. Pitchers can find their stuff in a snap. (See: Mat Latos, whose fastball averaged 91.4 mph in his last start after sitting at 89.3 mph for all of April.) The fear, of course, is that when fastball velo goes, it’s often for a permanent vacation. And while that, too, is far from a death sentence, it can force a pitcher to evolve on the fly, a task often fraught with peril.

The average April 2015-to-April 2016 velocity drop among starters with at least 20 innings in both years is about 0.3 mph – just as it was in 2013, 2014 and 2015, according to PITCHf/x data carried by FanGraphs and Brooks Baseball. Generally, when the April-over-April drop exceeds 1 mph, it’s worth at least asking questions. And considering …

1. Matt Harvey’s April velocity was down 1.3 mph from last season’s, those questions were starting to intensify. Then came his first start in May, which set off serious alarms. Last year, Harvey’s average fastball in April clocked in at 95.7 mph, the second hardest in the major leagues among starters. This April, it was 94.4 mph, still elite and 11th among his peers. Then came his May 3 outing against Atlanta, in which his average velocity was 92.8 mph. Now, that’s one start. Every pitcher is entitled a bad start, even one that would place his fastball velocity 30th among starters.

Because this is Matt Harvey, 92.8 mph is a screaming red flag and 30th among starters a blaring alarm bell, both of which induce questions like “Did he throw too many innings last year?” or “Is his elbow hurt again?” or “Does God hate the Mets?” And the answers to those, in order, are “Unclear,” “Unclear” and “Would’ve been yes but Bartolo Colon hit a home run Saturday and no spiteful deity would gift a fan base it hates with such glory.”

Harvey’s start on Sunday, then, had the sort of serious implications being assigned these days to a …

2. David Price outing in Boston. As expert as Mets fans are in the art of panic, Price is learning Boston can do a pretty good Chicken Little impersonation itself. Not only is Price getting shellacked to the tune of a 6.75 ERA, his fastball velocity is down 1.2 mph from last April, to 92 mph. Since his debut in 2009, Price consistently has been the hardest-throwing left-handed starter in the game. To see him not only cede that title but rank ninth among lefties – behind Steven MatzMatt Moore,Robbie RayChris SaleClayton Kershaw, Hector Santiago, Martin Perez and Francisco Liriano – is not exactly the sort of thing the Red Sox hoped for when they lavished a seven-year, $217 million deal on Price this offseason.

On Sunday, he declared teammate Dustin Pedroia helped him identify a mechanical error that could account for the velocity dip. Price said an improper leg lift is jacking with the timing of his delivery and that “I’m not putting myself in my normal power position.” Some of his peripherals belie the idea that anything is wrong; Price’s 11.54 strikeouts per nine innings are about 33 percent higher than his career average, and his walk rate is right in line. At the same time, the average batted-ball speed against Price has been over 90 mph, a few miles higher than he desires.

If his velocity doesn’t come back – he finished last season at 94.2 mph, which showed a strong in-season gain – Price is good enough to adapt. Still, he’s only 30 years old, though that’s the same place …

3. Felix Hernandez finds himself, and his velo woes are far more acute than Price. In April, the King’s average fastball left his hand at 89.5 mph. It was not terribly regal.

Six miles per hour ago, Hernandez was a 20-year-old neophyte with more natural gas than Chesapeake Energy. Now, he’s doing an admirable job of staving off an ugly ERA despite a career-low strikeout rate and career-high walk rate. If either of those keep up, the ERA won’t stay friendly too long.

Hernandez has company in the 80s. James Shields’ last start, the one in which he allowed that home run to Colon? Sat at 89.8 a start after clocking 89.5. Adam Wainwright jumped to 90.7 in his first start this month after spending the entirety of April at 89.7 mph.

These are big names in the midst of big deals who illustrate the potential hazard of long-term pitching contracts. Three years and $79 million remain on Hernandez’s deal after this season, two years and $44 million on Shields’, and two years and $39 million on Wainwright’s. Each could adjust and understand the 80s, much like their counterpart in decade, demand you adapt to their odd ways. Rather than allow that moment to find him …

4. Chris Sale took it upon himself to drop his velocity this year. Last April, Sale was throwing 94.2 mph. Today, it’s 92.7 mph. And he’s loving it.

In this age of velocity, Sale told Chicago reporters he doesn’t want to throw with maximum speed on every pitch. It was a glorious thing to hear, almost anachronistic and quaint. Toss a pitch … at 80 percent max velocity? Heresy! And yet here’s Sale, his ERA 1.79, his Fielding Independent Pitching metric almost exactly where it was last year when he was striking out 11.82 per nine innings but giving up too many home runs.

Sale, 27, has kept the ball in the park this season, and even with the diminished velocity prompting a diminished strikeout rate, that lack of homer happiness is making the transition to a more contact-oriented approach work. It’s a little more difficult when your velocity isn’t gifted to begin with, because then someone like …

5. Dallas Keuchel loses 1 mph and it seems like all hell is breaking loose around him. The Houston Astros have been terrible. Keuchel is walking nearly four batters per nine innings. And he’s in that ugly place having lost 1.2 mph on his fastball, same as Price and Corey Kluber, two of the three previous American League Cy Young winners before Keuchel in 2015.

When Keuchel arrived in 2012, he was walking more hitters than he struck out, giving up copious home runs and throwing 88. Two years sitting 89.5 mph, and he blossomed into a star. Back at 88 today, and not even a strong home run rate can save him from ending April at 87.9 mph.

Keuchel threw 248 innings last season, and the workload far exceeded his previous high. Some arms respond to those challenges. Some don’t. If the Astros contend this season, it will be because Keuchel turned his year around and didn’t suffer quite the drastic drop with which …

6. Gio Gonzalez is trying to figure out. Last April, the Washington Nationals’ – ahem – 30-year-old left-hander was throwing 92 mph. This season, he’s at 89.7 mph. For those who missed decimal week in school, that’s 2.3 mph, which is the difference between Noah Syndergaard and everyone else in the world not named Nate Eovaldi. It’s a huge drop, one that has come at the expense of Gonzalez’s strikeout rate but not his other peripherals.

And perhaps that’s where our understanding of velocity can improve. It’s great by itself, the greatest weapon a pitcher can have, and yet whatever it does to an ERA because of the spike it causes in strikeout rate can be caused by a similar improvement to walk rate or home run rate. It’s why you see so many players on the league leader ERA list and this leaderboard of the greatest velocity drops this April.

Gio Gonzalez -2.3

Kyle Hendricks -1.9

James Shields -1.8

Mike Pelfrey -1.6

Chris Sale -1.5

Madison Bumgarner -1.5

John Danks -1.4

Mat Latos -1.4

Felix Hernandez-1.3

Matt Harvey -1.3

On the opposite side of the chart sits …

7. Max Scherzer, Gonzalez’s teammate with the Nationals, Price’s peer in the $210 million club and the biggest name among the biggest gainers in April-over-April velocity.

Scherzer is one of just five players to gain more than 1 mph on his fastball compared to the previous April’s. The other four: Matt Shoemaker(+2.3, though it’s not helping much as he was sent to the minor leagues), Michael Pineda (+1.9), Hector Santiago (+1.5, and more on him later) and Jonathon Niese (+1.3). That’s it.

Naturally, whereas so many of the starters throwing softer have had ERA renaissances, Scherzer’s sits at 4.60 because one-fifth of his fly balls are going for home runs, a miserable stretch of luck for anyone. Scherzer is great. Scherzer with any more velo is the hardest-throwing version yet, and for someone on the cusp of his 32nd birthday, it’s a testament to his great work ethic and dedication to the craft of pitching. That Scherzer sits over 94 and still is 5 mph behind …

8. Aroldis Chapman never will cease to amaze. Whatever the view of Chapman as a human being – and after the domestic incident this offseason, baseball’s is near-universally on the skeptical side – what he does as a pitcher is incomparable.

Chapman’s average fastball in 2014 was 100.3 mph. Last year, 99.5. As soon as Monday, when he is reinstated by Major League Baseball after serving his suspension for the incident, we’ll see how hard he’s throwing now and marvel as ever at the arm that once threw a baseball 105.1 mph. Those numbers still feel wrong to type.

Thankfully when Chapman was gone …

9. Noah Syndergaard filled the void, satisfied our need for speed, quelled the jonesing for some pure petrol. And never has a starting pitcher’s been so distilled as Noah Syndergaard’s. After setting a record for starting pitchers last season with a 97.1-mph average, Syndergaard is throwing nearly a mile per hour faster at 97.8 mph. He’s like Roger Banister and John Landy in one.

The harder Syndergaard throws, the more fearful baseball gets, because the very last thing it needs is another phenom with a scar on his elbow, and perhaps the likeliest thing to cause it among pitchers the 23-year-old Syndergaard’s age is extreme velocity. Just look at the 10 fastest April velocities after Syndergaard this year and who has had or needs Tommy John surgery:

Nathan Eovaldi: Yes

Garrett Richards: Yes

Jose Fernandez: Yes

Yordano Ventura: No

Danny Salazar: Yes

Aaron Sanchez: No

Stephen Strasburg: Yes

Gerrit Cole: No

Rubby De La Rosa: Yes

And …

10. Matt Harvey: Yes.

That’s what makes this all so scary. It’s Daniel Hudson and Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen. It’s complications. It’s this arm of Harvey’s, so special, also just as fallible. It’s trying to find out what’s noise and what’s real, whether that one awful start against the Braves was just an anomaly or something that proved prescient.

The verdict on Sunday: Hold the panic, sort of. He wasn’t throwing 92 mph. He wasn’t sitting 97, either. This was about average Matt Harvey 2016, with more 94s and 95s than 96s and 97s, with his stuff across the board down a mile or two. He had 10 strikeouts, though, and if that’s what it takes to jump start Harvey, perhaps this all will have been much ado about nothing by the end of the season.

Still, we’ll watch Harvey’s next start, just as we’ll watch Hector Santiago’s (after he dropped 2.9 mph from his April average to his first May outing) and Yordano Ventura’s (his 2.7-mph April-to-one-May-star dip, down to 92.1 mph). Ventura had scouts wondering whether he was trying to pull a Sale, seeing as he hit 97 mph a few times, though that’s not anything close to the 100 he pumped regularly during his rookie season.

It’s easy to get lost in these numbers, to assign too much meaning to them. Show Harvey’s velocity dip and it seems like he’s doomed. Study batted-ball exit velocities, see his is the lowest among all starters and you’d think he’s the game’s best pitcher. The truth is somewhere in between, and as we marvel at Syndergaard’s speed and wonder about Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey’s, we’d be smart to remind ourselves that speed is but one component to an art that never fails to remind us we don’t know as much as we think we do.




"a Lesson in Waiver Trading"




Atlanta Braves Might Be Involved, So Here is a Lesson in Waiver Trading

by Alan Carpenter 5 days ago Follow @carpengui

The Basics – Starting from August 2nd

Players made eligible for trade are placed on “revocable waivers“. This is routinely done for most of the 40-man roster of most teams. Teams may place as many as 7 active players per day on waivers.

Normally, players on the Disabled List cannot be placed on revocable waivers.  However, the Indians did so in the deal that brought Nick Swisher to Atlanta last year.  This is legal if the player is eligible to come off of the DL (rehabbing in the minors, for instance), and both teams agree. 

Why is this done ‘routinely’?

  • The rules require waiver requests to be done for individual players – not as a blanket request for the whole team.
  • It provides maximum flexibility for their GMs;
  • It can mask whatever a team’s true intentions might be;
  • It doesn’t single out individual players as possible trade bait — which can get players bent out of shape (witness Andruw Jones‘ complaints from several years ago when the Braves put him on waivers – he didn’t read this tutorial!).

Teams get a report of the previous day’s waiver requests at 2pm EDT each day.  At that point, there is a 48-hour claiming period, during which any team may put in an claim on a specific player – a claim which objects to his team’s request to waive the player-movement rules for that player…that’s what it means to place a waiver claim.

To prevent every team from claiming every player out there and causing utter chaos, there is a token price ($20,000) attached to waiver claims.

If a team fails to make a claim, it is effectively saying: “we have no objection to you moving this player to another team”, and thus they are rendered powerless in whatever happens after that point. If you don’t object, you give up the right to complain later.

The ‘Gotchas’

There are several “gotchas” to the claiming process: you can impress your office-mates by knowing these!

The obvious one is that if your team puts in a claim, you must have both 40-man and25-man roster spots available – or at least planned for – in case you win the claim… and the player. But we’ll get to all that.

1. The simple case:  if no team chooses to put in an objection claim for a given player after the 48-hour window, that player may then be freely traded to any other team— just like the rules allowed before August.  Nobody objected, so all restrictions areremoved except for a little detail that I’ll cover in Item #4 below.

2. The fun part: a waiver claim is made. Let’s use an example of Ryan Braun, since he could be an interesting case. His contract requires another $7 million payment this year, but $80 million guaranteed through 2020.  It is exactly for that financial reason he will undoubtedly clear waivers unclaimed. But for the sake of argument, let’s suppose that the LA Dodgers put in a claim. What happens then? 

Here are the options after a claim:

  • a. Revocation of Waivers. The Brewers can choose to pull Braun back to their side of the void… that’s the “revocable” part of revocable waivers. This is effectively a team saying “PSYCH – I wasn’t really trying to trade this guy.” He still belongs to the original squad…. but of course they still gotta pay him.
  • b. A Trade. Milwaukee can try to negotiate a trade…. exclusively with the Dodgers, since they were the claimants (they asserted their right to object and are rewarded with this right of exclusivity). That trading opportunity window is limited — 48 more hours. If they cannot get together on a deal in that time frame, then the Brewrs can still pull Braun back to them… OR they can…
  • c. Give the Player away. At the Brewers’ option, the claimed player can simply be given away — entire salary and all — to the claiming team. This is why the higher-salaried players will often clear waivers: because of the risk that it’s simply a salary dump ploy. So while the initial dinner date (the waiver claim) might be relatively cheap, you might regret it in the morning. See the ‘Nuclear Weapons’ section later.

The Gotchas, Part 2

3. Non-revokable Waiver Claims. If a player is pulled back to his original team (i.e., a waiver request is revoked), the original team CAN place the same player on waivers again during August.  However, during that second time, the Right to Revoke is lost: any team making the claim has effectively bought the player without the need to negotiate anything. This is rare, but it happens. 

4. Trader Jacks: Let’s say that a bona fide trade deal is worked out. Waived Player A is traded for a Player B.  If Player B is on the 40-man roster of his club, then he mustalso have already passed through waivers successfully (i.e., his own 48-hour waiver period is done and nobody claimed him) before being trade-eligible.

When I mentioned “maximum flexibility” above, this is what I was referring to: when you get a large number of your own players through waivers, your GM has more options for possible trades. If ‘Player B’ is not on the 40-man, then there is no issue, as waivers are not required for them. This turns out to be common with “player-for-prospects” kind of trades. 

5. The PTBNL.  Sometimes, these trades are also done on a “Player To Be Named Later” (PTBNL) basis… if you believe you can’t get a guy through waivers to make him tradable, then you could simply wait out the process and “name” the guy after the season when this process is no longer in force. This also happens for players currently ineligible to be traded for some reason or another (such as being on the Disabled List).  So there are ways around it if the two partners are satisfied enough to wait it out… including trades made for a versatile player named Cash Considerations.

Three quick rules on PTBNL:

  • There is a 6 month window available for trades involving PTBNL.
  • If a major leaguer is involved, “the player named later can’t have played in the same league as the team he’s being traded to.” (Rob Neyer’s words). Don’t ask me why. It’s an odd rule.
  • Players drafted in 2016 are not eligible by rule.

Resolving Multiple Claims

Okay, that’s trading with one claiming partner. But suppose there are multiple teamsmaking claims on the same waived player.  What then? There is a “pecking order” of priority — which prevents the best teams from simply loading up. Let’s go back toRyan Braun’s case and suppose that the Dodgers, Red Sox, Yankees, and Giants ALL claim him.

Take all of the teams making a claim and arrange them in order of League, and then by current Won-Loss record.  Braun is in the National League, so the Giants and Dodgers get first crack – and the Dodgers win out because their record is currently worse than the Giants.

If no NL team claims him, then the AL squads finally get a chance – with the Yankees  prevailing over the Red Sox. 

Waiver claims are supposed to be a secret – in the example, the Brew Crew will know the winning claimant, but they are not entitled to know about others who may have been involved in the process. 


Once again, the rule is this:

  • First – look for claims within the same league as the waived player.
  • If multiple teams in that league put in a claim, the winner is the one with the worst record on the date in which the 48 hour window expires.
  • If no team in the same league puts in a claim, repeat the above for the opposing league.
  • In case of a tie?… use playoff tie-breaker rules.

One implication for Atlanta:  this Summer, they will get first priority on ALL waived National League players.

If the claim-winning team is unable to come to a trade agreement, then it’s over: the player will likely be pulled back to his original team. You cannot go to the next claiming team in line. The team that wins the claim has the exclusive right to negotiate a trade. There are some unfair negotiating advantages that this would impose on the process otherwise.

An Aside – it is a little ironic, actually: the team winning the claim is the one saying “I object to your request to waive the rules in asking for your player to be moved after the trade deadline.” Yet, they are then the only team that is permitted to facilitate exactly such a move!

Waiver Claims as a Nuclear Weapon

There are numerous famous cases of a team making a claim specifically to block a (better) rival from obtaining a certain player. Do note that this is a two-way weapon… you might also get stuck with somebody that you don’t really want yourself/can’t afford.

History Lessons



FAQ About the Pesky Little Details

A. Note that waiver claim trades may continue to occur from now until the end of the season — but to be “playoff eligible”, traded players must be on their new team’s 25-man roster before September 1st (see next page). It’s for that reason that the waiver-trade action will be from now until the end of August, as the only practical reason for going past that date is to replace injured players.

B. Can teams talk trade before the waiver claims are made? Sure — if you want to do a trade, it’s a good idea to work out the parameters beforehand… and sometimes the claims process actually works out to let that happen.

C. Let’s suppose the Cards and Brewers both make a waiver claim on the same player, which costs each team $20K.  Based on today’s standings, the Brewers would win the claim.  Do the Cardinals then get a refund of their $20 grand?  Nope. That’s their ante in the poker game: the non-refundable price of admission.

It is a high enough fee that most teams won’t make claims frivolously, but low enough to still allow for meaningful transactions.

D. What if a player has 10-and-5 rights or a no-trade clause in his contract and is claimed?

(1) The player’s rights stay in force.

(2) The player cannot be placed on trade assignment waivers a second time (that’s the ‘non-revocable’ version) unless the player agrees to this action. 

E. So where do I (John Q. Baseballfan) go to see the current listing on the waiver wire?Well… you can’t, actually. Check this tidbit from Wikipedia:

The waiver “wire” is a secret within the personnel of the Major League Baseball clubs; no announcement of a waiver is made until a transaction actually occurs.

Bummer. Occasionally some information will be leaked out (we are in a twitter world now), but by-and-large, we simply don’t know until after the fact. Kinda takes the fun out of it, but overall, that’s probably a good thing.


Playoff Eligibility

This is almost as confusing as the waiver process itself, but at least I can boil it down to a fairly compact list of bullet points. A player is eligible for post-season play if he fits any of the following eligibility rules:

  • On the 25-man active roster before September 1st.
  • On the Disabled list as of August 31/midnight (but, per usual practice, must be eligible to come off of the list for a given playoff game)
  • On the bereavement list as of August 31/midnight.
  • On the suspended list as of August 31/midnight.
  • He is a member of the team’s organization (at any level) and is approved by the Commissioner’s office to replace an injured player during the playoffs. Such a player must be a direct replacement (position for position: you can’t add a pitcher to replace a catcher). If the player is not currently on the 40-man roster, he must be added. He then must be added to the 25-man active roster, replacing the injured man. Replacement player must have been a member of the organization continuously from at least the period of August 31st onward.

There’s a time period in which you can do these in-playoff replacements — the beginning of a series or something like that. But that’s way deeper than we need to go right now.



About Qualifying Offers

There is an interesting wrinkle in the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) that should be discussed here. We got to see it play out during its first year of implementation in 2012, but it’s clearly a part of the trade calculus.  During the season, if you trade somebody away, you cannot receive compensation for the loss of the player – except via the trade itself. Likewise, if you accept a trade and then lose that new player to off-season free agency, then you don’t get a compensatory draft pick (hence the “rental player” term).  Period.

Your team is eligible to compensated for the loss of a player IF all of the above apply:

  • You had the player on your 40-man roster during the entire season.
  • You offer a 1-year contract matching or exceeding the average of the top 125 players (looks to be $16.7m for 2017). This is called the “Qualifying Offer”.
  • The player turns down your Qualifying Offer and signs elsewhere.

When this happens, your team gains ONE sandwich pick after the first round and after the asinine ‘Competitive Balance lottery’ picks. The newly signing team loses their own first round pick…. unless it was a top ten “protected” pick (then they lose a Round 2 pick).

So… if you trade away a guy that is likely to be worthy of a one-year contract offer above the magic $16.7+ million level (say: a Yoenis Cespedes, for instance), then your trade compensation should be at least first-round-pick worthy, or else you made a bad deal.

In short: all in-season trades cancel any chance of a compensation pick.


“10-and-5″ rights

A “10-and-5″ player has 10+ years of major league service time and at least 5 years of time with the same club. Such players are empowered with an assumed ‘no-trade’ clause, which means they have the right to veto any trade presented to them. There used to be an additional clause that required a ‘cooling off’ period of 24-hours beforea 10-and-5 guy was permitted to approve a trade. This got in the way of some deadline deals.

Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported via twitter in 2012 that this cooling period rule was eliminated from the CBA, so trade discussions about such players can go right down to the wire…or they can stretch on indefinitely, as there is also no time limit by which they are required to respond.

You may recall that the widely reported 2012 trade of Ryan Dempster from the Cubs to the Braves (“There is no trade!”) eventually died because Dempster utterly failed to acknowledge it, much less approve anything.

10-and-5 rights cannot be ignored, neither can explicit no-trade clauses in existing contracts: at any point a trade is proposed, players with those rights in place must actually approve the trade in writing. Without that – “there is no trade”.




“I’ve never been in this situation before,”




Sean Manaea got shelled at Fenway Park on Tuesday night. Making just his third big-league appearance, the Oakland A’s southpaw allowed eight runs on 10 hits in just two-and-two-third innings.

The following day, I asked the promising young hurler what it feels like to stand on the mound in front of 35,000 people and get hit as hard as he did.

“It’s… I’ve never been in this situation before,” responded Manaea. “I had a really bad game n Myrtle Beach two years ago, but there were only a couple thousand people in the stands. To be here at Fenway and do that bad, and hear the hometown crowd as I walked off the field… it sucked. But it is what it is. All I can do is acknowledge that it happened and move on.”

Acknowledging what happened used to be an issue. Back when he allowed seven runs over two innings against Myrtle Beach — “The worst I’d done up until last night” — Manaea had trouble owning up to adversity.

“When things went really bad, I would be in denial,” admitted Manaea. “I was always trying to erase bad games from my mind. I would be like, ‘That didn’t happen.’

“I’d try to avoid people. I’d avoid my coaches. They’d come up to me and talk about it, but I don’t really remember those conversations. Communication-wise, I was bad. I wouldn’t look people in the eye. I shouldn’t have treated it like that. It’s not healthy.”

Things have changed for the former first-round pick. He talked over Tuesday’s bad outing with pitching coach Curt Young, and was planning to study film to better understand what went wrong. Unlike before, he wasn’t trying to hide from the truth.

“Last night happened,” acknowledged Manaeae. “I walked into the game expecting to be good and that wasn’t the case. Games like that are going to happen in my career, probably multiple times. I have to learn from my mistakes. I have to accept what happened and move on.”



“bad optics” 




Earlier this week, Sandy Alderson used the term “bad optics” when addressingYoenis Cespedes’ decision to play golf with an injured right quadriceps. Hitting the links didn’t negatively impact the injury, but according to the Mets GM, it wasn’t a good look.

A few days ago, I encountered a different type of bad optics. Cincinnati Reds first-round pick Nick Senzel turned down an in-person interview request, which I was told has become standard fare. Shortly thereafter, a pro scout I spoke to used an unflattering term to describe Senzel’s comportment in a recent game.

Senzel’s talent is plain to see. His optics could use some work.



"I’ll never know, but I’ll always wonder."

No Regrets, No One To Blame

Now 10 years after throwing my last pitch in the Majors, I’ve stopped questioning why things happened the way they did — and that’s made all the difference.

By Mark Prior

It’s been a decade since I last threw a pitch in the Big Leagues. Ten years … it certainly doesn’t feel that long ago. Not that I’ve been away from the game completely; I spent years trying to make it back from injuries back before finally calling it quits in 2013.

Now, when I walk into a Major League stadium, I still feel at home. And yes, Wrigley’s obviously always going to carry more emotional weight for me, but my current job as minor-league pitching coordinator with the San Diego Padres takes me to Petco Park all the time, and never feel out of place. I remain very much connected to what’s going on — to the sights and sounds and rhythms of the game.

I love everything about my new role: Being around the game; being part of an organization and trying to make it better. I love working with the kids — as crazy as it sounds to say that, I’m not that old — the administrative balancing act of coordinating some of the moving pieces that that are integral to a Major League organization.

Really, I am just thankful to be part of a team again.

I certainly didn’t expect to be in this position when I retired three years ago, right around this time of the season. The opportunity to work for the Padres, to go back to my hometown of San Diego, came up almost immediately. I certainly would have preferred to still be on the mound, but there was no way I could turn the opportunity down. Looking back, as hard as it was to accept that I would never throw another pitch in the Big Leagues, staying in the game was the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Remaining connected to baseball also makes it easier to open up about my time with the Cubs, about my successes and setbacks. That wasn’t always the case. When I first arrived in Chicago, it felt like I was always being measured — against others; against history; against myself — and I was really careful to make sure that I didn’t say anything that might be misconstrued or taken the wrong way.

I’m not so worried about all that anymore.

Even now, when people hear my name, they still think about the hype and the potential. And, inevitably, the injuries.

So fine, let’s talk about it.

Some people pointed to problems with my delivery and arm action.

Others — mostly Cubs fans — still blame my manager, Dusty Baker, for the series of injuries that derailed my career. They believe that he overused me in 2003 and blah, blah, blah. Only, here’s the thing: I don’t blame Dusty for what happened to me. I wouldn’t change a single thing that happened during that season — beyond us failing to bring a World Series Championship to Chicago, of course. No matter how many pitches I threw, I never asked to come out of a game — doing so would have been unthinkable.

Dusty was hired to manage each game like it was his last. And over the course of a season (or even multiple seasons), that meant an endless series of decisions — especially when it comes to balancing pitcher workloads against the need to win games. Ironically, this is part of my job with the Padres now — the job pitching coaches at all our affiliates have — and it’s not an easy one. Like anything else, you do the best you can.

I believe Dusty did the best he could, and anyone who thinks he is responsible for what happened to me or Kerry Wood, I would strongly disagree.

Also, people seem to forget two major events that significantly influenced my injury history: 1) the collision I sustained with Marcus Giles in 2003; and 2) the Brad Hawpe line drive that broke my elbow two years later. I’m no doctor, but I can’t help but feel like those incidents muddied the waters in advance of my subsequent shoulder injuries. That collision could’ve stretched my shoulder capsule out without my ever really knowing it.

I’ll never know, but I’ll always wonder.

Given what happened, I still grimace when I think about those people who said I had perfect mechanics. The Kershaws, the Greinkes, the Arrietas — eventhey have times when their mechanics are off, and they are the best pitchers on the planet. As a pitcher, there are just times when you feel like you can’t sync up; when your sequence is off. That’s a big part of a pitcher’s responsibility: To execute and to find that groove. I never thought my mechanics were perfect. I just thought that I had a solid delivery that suited my body. I threw the way I had been taught; the way I had since I was six years old.

Now, as for the hype that surrounded my rise to the Majors, I can admit that I heard it, but that doesn’t mean that I had trouble separating myself from it. With all the pressure that comes along with Cubs fans’ expectations — they’ve been waiting a long time — it was impossible not to be aware of the buzz. And at times, those circumstances made for a less than ideal fit because of my personality.

Whether it was talking to the media or going out in public, my instinct was always to close myself off. To protect myself. I think that’s where people in Chicago got the impression I was standoffish. That I was too measured, or even defensive.

And in a way — at the time, anyway — I was.

I know that now. Some of that comes with growing up, but a big part has been how my kids have helped to bring me out of my shell.

Honestly, my reputation for being aloof — maybe stoic is a better word — goes back to my college days. It started the summer before my junior season, when I had a chance to play for the United States national team. To say it was a good team would be an understatement; of the 22 players on the squad, 16 made the Majors, and the roster included Ryan Howard and Mark Teixeira.

In the lead-up to the event, I started getting phone calls from agents in my hotel room. Mike Gillespie, my coach at USC, was the national team manager, so I told him what was going on — about the mounting pressure and having to use an alias. When we met later that fall back on campus, our focus was to figure out how to control all the off-the-field chaos. Obviously, I knew I was going to be a professional ballplayer — I was drafted by the New York Yankees out of high school and chose to go to college instead — but it’s virtually impossible to describe the level of attention (most of it unwanted) highly-touted prospects receive.

I didn’t set out to be difficult; I just wanted to maintain some semblance of control over who I met with, and when.

Coach Gillespie and I decided to send out a letter to all scouting directors letting teams know that if they wanted to meet with me, I would be available from January 1 to February 1. After that, all I cared about was pitching for the Trojans. The last thing I wanted was to worry about having a meeting with Team X on the Saturday before a start, so we set up a finite window for clubs to evaluate me. Some teams appreciated the straightforward approach, but for those that wanted continuos access — “to get to know you,” they claimed — it was a tougher pill to swallow.

You have to understand, in the year you’re drafted, every move you make on the field is being watched. It doesn’t matter if you’re playing or not. Scouts aren’t only there to watch you pitch on Friday night; they’re at the ballpark at nine the next morning to get a sense of what your routine is after a start. What time did you get to the ballpark? What were you wearing? How focused were you?

Crazy? Maybe, but it’s to be expected. These are huge, career-altering decisions — for the player and the scout. Millions of dollars are on the line. Teams are making an investment for which they need to see a return, in the form of a bona fide Major League ballplayer. I don’t blame them for watching my every move back then — but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t difficult.

Once USC’s season started, I was done talking. I wasn’t rude, I didn’t ignore anyone, but my priority was to be the best I could be on the field.

So was I controlling? Difficult? I’d say I was protective — with good reason. My central focus, what drove me every day, was getting USC back to the College World Series. That was it. Whether people or believe it or not, where I wound up at the next level was secondary to me … at least until that college season was over. Sometimes I wonder if some deep part of me already knew how wild the ride to come was going to be.

A few weeks back, I was in a room with some of my fellow Padres personnel. As all organizations do, we have some great ex-players working here: Moises Alou, Trevor Hoffman, Mark Loretta. We were all talking about player development, and how fast certain guys get to the big leagues. Each of them said it takes years. Then it was my turn.

“Six weeks,” I said.

It was a funny moment, but it taught me something. Those guys might’ve taken longer to get there, but they still had great careers. That’s one of the great things about working in player development: Everyone has a different timetable. It’s my job now to help make it as smooth as possible for pitchers in the Padres system.

I was only 21 when I got to Chicago, and like most 21 year olds, I was just trying to figure things out. Forget mapping out my longterm future, I was pitching in the Big Leagues, stepping on the mound in one of the world’s great sports landmarks, representing an entire city — hell, enjoying life. I was barely of legal drinking age and there I am alongside Dusty Baker. Larry Rothschild. Kerry Wood. Joe Girardi. Fred McGriff.

I know I rubbed some people the wrong way back then. But truthfully, I was so focused on pitching my best, so worried about my next start, I just wasn’t all that aware of what was going on around me. My five-day schedule was regimented to the minute, it was almost to the point of having OCD. I showed up at the ballpark every day to make sure I was getting all my work in — all to ensure that I was as prepared as humanly possible. Looking back on it, I guess there’s a fine line between having a routine — as every great athlete should — and having blinders on.

For example, when I first came up, I had no desire to talk to the media the day before a start. That was my way of trying to manage the hype so that when I took the mound, my mind was focused solely on the next pitch.

Whether that was a good or bad approach, I really don’t know. It was just my way of trying to manage the expectations, to handle this image everyone had of me. Maybe if I’d been better about accepting the hype, better about being open and honest about all of it, I would’ve had more perspective. Not that I could have controlled what people thought and wrote about me — certainly not the media, which I deliberately avoided — but so the fans could have better understood me.

For five years, I rode the waves of life in the Major Leagues. The great and the not-so-great; the exhilarating wins and the debilitating losses. Then, at 25, I find myself suddenly confronted with the kind of adversity many players don’t face until well into their 30’s.

Each time I got hurt, I felt upset. Even though I didn’t realize it at the time, I was probably mildly depressed, too. Eventually, I became bitter at times. I wasn’t healthy. I wasn’t pitching. And when I did pitch, my ability to perform seemed to get worse and worse.

I remember vividly the conversation that finally changed things.

Larry Rothschild had been my pitching coach for all six seasons in Chicago, and anytime you spend six seasons with someone — day in and day out, spring training after spring training — you’re bound to have ups and downs in the relationship. I remember him pulling me aside near the end of the 2004 season. It had been a trying year to say the least. I’d sprained my elbow and never quite got it going, though I did finish the season on a bit of an uptick. I was worn down, first by the injuries, then from the pressure to get back and perform to the standards I’d set.

I remember the conversation like it was yesterday.

“You’re 23, and you’re acting like a 50-year-old, grumpy man,” Larry said. “You need to take a step back. Start being a better teammate. Start having a better attitude.”

I’d been defensive and guarded for so long that I didn’t even realize how these challenges were affecting my daily life; how I had shut off certain relationships I never should have. Sure, I knew how good I was, and I had never lacked in confidence, but facing failure for the first time can do strange things to an athlete. It can make you question yourself.

I still talk to Larry from time to time, and I often kid him about that conversation. I’ll use that story when talking to young players, to remind them how important it is to see the forest for the trees. Baseball is an individual sport on so many levels, but it’s still a team game first and foremost.

Sometimes it’s easy to get so tunneled into what you need to do every moment of every day that you lose perspective on of your interactions with people — your coaches and teammates, the guys you’re supposed to be battling alongside. Being part of a baseball team is a process. It can’t always be about how you feel at any given minute; it needs to be more about where you and your teammates collectively are after a day, a week, even a season. Letting a process play out isn’t something a lot of people have patience for these days. And yet that’s so much of what our game is all about.

If I’d known then just how close the end really was, maybe things would’ve worked out differently. But there I was, 25 and trying to get back on track. Sadly, it never really happened. As great as my time in Chicago was, it seemed to flash by in a blink … and then it was gone. From potential franchise savior to just another guy trying to hang on and salvage a career.

I spent six years trying to make it back.

Through all of my attempts to recover, my goal was simple: Take a Big League mound for one pitch. Just one pitch. Whatever happened next, so be it. But to overcome a pair of shoulder surgeries and endless setbacks, to take the mound again — I felt like if I could just get there, maybe anything really was possible.

By the end, I was able to go out and compete. Maybe not at the level people remember me for, but well enough to be part of a Triple-A ballclub — a place, it’s easy to forget, that so many guys would kill to reach.

The challenges I faced, the injuries I endured, going through extended spring trainings in Tampa and Fort Meyers and Peoria, gave me a vastly different perspective on the game (and on life). When I got a Big League invite to the Yankees in 2011, I went there gave up one run in nine spring training appearances. When Joe Girardi told me they were going with Bartolo Colon instead, I took it in stride and accepted the triple-A assignment.

Would I love to still be pitching now, at 35? Without a doubt. But would I change where I’m at in life, the personal as well as the professional? Absolutely not. I loved my time at USC, and still support the program as an alumnus to this day.

And I loved my time in Chicago, too — despite how things turned out. If I would have signed with New York out of high school, maybe I would’ve crashed and burned years earlier. Or maybe I would’ve pitched for a decade and never made it to the Show. It’s impossible to say.

I do know that I’ll never have any regrets.

There’s another conversation that’s stuck forever in my head. I was having lunch with Dusty shortly after I retired. He asked me what I planned on doing. I told him I didn’t know. He said, “If you’re going to stay in the game, don’t get out for very long, because the game is always changing. It doesn’t take long for your generation to move on from relationships. And that’s what baseball is: A relationship.”

When I talked to other people — friends, former teammates and other people around the game — they all said the same thing: “Despite everything that’s happened, Mark … if you really love the game, you have to stay involved.”

Ultimately, my relationship with baseball has, at times, been pretty complicated — even difficult. But it’s one I’ll always be grateful for and forever committed to.