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Dead Horse 2: Pitching Through Injury

This started as a game recap to take place of Jeff's usual recap and then I just kept going on my first bullet point to the extent that it morphed into its own feature-length post

Miguel Batista took the mound last night and immediately showed his renewed health by tossing fastballs in the high 80s. Last season, 14.9% of Miguel Batista's pitches had a start speed of 93 mph or higher. This season that number is down to 9.2%. Combined with his always troubling walk rates, Miguel Batista is either finished or injured (could be both) but one thing for sure is that for now he is ineffective.

Mike Blowers brought up the matter in question on the post-game, calling Batista's continued pitching through adversity a good quality, one which is to be admired. He even named Batista as the star performer last night over someone more qualified (Beltre, Ichiro). To add to our dead horse pile here on Lookout Landing, this is total frak. Personally, I think it's a byproduct of trying to cross-apply traits from other sports to baseball. Gritting it through injury can be beneficial in more team-dependent sports where such behaviour can inspire teammates to give more effort. In a sport like football (either one) or hockey, that's useful because effort actually means something. In baseball? It's highly marginalized.

Furthermore, as Jeff has many times pointed out, it's damaging to the team's overall talent level. While a hitter can play through minor injuries without impacting the team too much, a pitcher is a lone representative on the mound. If he sucks, he makes the team worse and markedly so. People would like to hold it up as a virtue, that the player is mentally tough or that he wants to win so badly that he's willing to play through pain. But here's the thing, baseball is a team sport and if the player wants the team to win so much, then he should be looking for the best opportunity to help get those wins whenever possible and that means recognizing when you yourself are costing the team those wins.

Now, I don't deny that major league players want to win and want it badly, but at the same time, I'd like to propose a motivation for this behavior that I feel weighs on their actions as well: the fear of being replaced. Nobody wants to admit that they are slipping, that they are worse now than they used to be. People generally only grudgingly admit that there are people better qualified than themselves. I don't blame them for this, it's a survival instinct and it's rooted deep in our genetic profile.

I suspect that rooted in every top athlete's psyche has to be the fear that if they sit down for an injury and open up playing time to someone else, that someone else might prove to be better than he is and the athlete might lose his spot. It's an understandable fear, anyone who's played sports (which includes myself) can empathize with it, but let's call it for what it is at a base level, selfish. No matter the motivation (most players probably want to keep playing in order to contribute to the team's winning, a noble goal) the player is putting his own interests (continued playing) ahead of what might be best for the team overall.

Our culture seems to have a fetish for people that try valiantly against long odds, no matter the outcome. And we view players that don't exhibit that drive on the surface as weak-willed or uncaring. We hold up our Rudys and our Willie Bloomquists as examples of ideal work ethic while spending disproportionally little time acknowledging the greatness of the Alburt Pujols  or deriding the Erik Bedards for saying that they're hurt when people like Bedard and Pujols work just as hard as people like Willie Bloomquist. I don't propose to have a solution, or even to presume to call it a problem. I just want people to think more critically and not accept the media's portrayal at face value. Don't accept mine either. This is how I view it, nothing more or less.