Tuesday, March 17, 2015

How Can We Ever Get Excited for a Young Pitcher?

My cousin used to joke that finishing college in four years is like leaving a party at 10:00. Well, watching good young pitchers in the last few years has been like never knowing if college will last more than a semester. You better enjoy it while it lasts, because there's a good chance it won't last more than a few months.

Strained metaphors aside, let's talk a bit about Zach Wheeler. The news came out on Monday evening that Wheeler's right UCL will require Tommy John surgery and put the 24-year-old on the shelf for the next year. This is just a gut-wrenching blow for Mets supporters and fans of good young pitchers.

The elbow injury epidemic in baseball has reached a depressing low. In New York alone, Matt Harvey, Ivan Nova, a handful of lesser names, and now Wheeler have required Tommy John surgery in the past year. Meanwhile, Masahiro Tanaka's UCL probably looks like this right now, meaning that a T.J. procedure looms. If anything happens to Dellin Betances, so help me God, I might turn into Patrick Bateman.

And other cities besides New York have experienced similar recent anguish. Take Atlanta, for instance. Pitchers in the Braves organization have required a league-high 30 Tommy John surgeries since 2005, including promising youngsters like Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy. The Cubs, who have experienced their share of pitcher injury heartbreak in the past, have built their team of the future on a foundation of highly-touted position players. Can anyone blame Chicago for somewhat eschewing young pitching, at least until the team's ready to contend?

The current trend of elbow injuries is well-documented, but that doesn't make it any easier to accept. My question, as you might have gathered from the title of the post, is this: How can we ever get excited for a young pitcher again? In the past year, we've watched young studs like Jameson Taillon and established guys like Yu Darvish succumb to elbow injuries.

Watching these fireballers dominate for short stretches in their early twenties is such a tease, like the lone seasons of entertaining shows like Freaks and Geeks, Undeclared, and The Black Donnellys. If you prefer a movie analogy, losing Jose Fernandez after his phenomenal 2013 season was like having someone suddenly stop Saving Private Ryan after showing you that incredible opening scene. Just cruel.

In ancient Rome, whenever a conqueror returned with the spoils of war, he would lead a procession through the city. But there would also be a slave assigned to whisper a certain Latin phrase into the conqueror's ear: "Sic transit gloria mundi." Each baseball fan should have someone whisper the same phrase into his ear every time we witness a young pitcher string a few gems together. The meaning of that Latin phrase? All glory is fleeting.

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Follow FranT on Twitter at @frantweet and follow Brian Kavanaugh at @btkav

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