Chicago Will Always Be Number Two

In an interview with Jon Morosi of FOX Sports, former Chicago Cubs manager Dusty Baker revealed some desecrating details of his final few months in charge at Wrigley Field.

At the very end, somebody took a dump right where I stood in the dugout every day. That was the low point. The grounds crew guy cleaned it up. He said, ‘Oh, I think it’s dog crap.’ I said, ‘No it ain’t. That’s human crap.’

For the sake of argument, let’s assume that Baker’s crapdar is accurate.  Who might be responsible for such a heinous act?  Was it Gregg Maddux taking his urine leg shower routine a step too far?  Or maybe it was Mark Prior’s agent?

Speaking of Prior, Baker also opened up about the criticism he’s faced for his handling of young pitchers.

It really hurt my reputation. Ever since then, all of a sudden, ‘I don’t know how to manage. I don’t know how to handle pitchers. I don’t like young players.’ They don’t even have a clue about it. I never heard that in San Francisco.

I’ve tended to keep my [Getting Blanked]ing on Baker in the realm of the metaphorical, largely because of that reputation for shredding young arms, which continues to this day with Cincinnati.  However, does Baker actually keep his young starters on the mound for too long?

The Hardball Times looked at this issue a few years ago, and justified the high pitch counts from Prior, Kerry Wood and Carlos Zambrano by claiming that as better pitchers, they should be expected to throw more innings than an average pitcher.  By taking into account several factors, the study figured that “Baker’s pitchers still throw 3.68 more pitches per start than expected.”

However, the study doesn’t account for the difference between young arms and more experienced ones, and even the author admits that “Baker’s lack of caution with high-pitch outings is certainly disconcerting.”  Still, it’s probably not as much of an “and you will know him by his trail of dead arms” situation as you might think.

There are several factors that can contribute to an arm injury, and blaming Baker solely because of the high pitch counts his young pitchers end up accumulating may be short sighted.  I like the ideas that Will Carroll offers in this piece for Sports Illustrated about the importance of investing in medical staffs, but I wish he could’ve put together some more hard numbers in his analysis.

While there is certainly some recklessness in the way that Baker handles his young pitchers, it’s probably not worth dumping on.

Comments (6)

  1. I’ve always thought it was bit ridiculous to blame Baker for those pitchers. Pitchers get injured all the time and there’s rarely one quantifiable reason for it. Nobody blames Bud Black/Bruce Bochy for ruining Jake Peavy or Chris Young. And last time I checked, Felix Hernandez hasn’t exactly been “taken care of” and he seems fine.

    People in Chicago need someone to blame for the ineptitude of ownership and countless front office regimes that have bungled the Cubs over and over. Baker’s pitchers in Cincy seem to be doing fine.

  2. So does Parkes believe that the alleged dumper was a pitcher? Maybe Mark Prior? I wouldn’t be surprised. If I was Prior I’d have done the same thing.

  3. I doubt a player would be that ballsy. Good point, Travis, on Peavy and Young and almost every other young pitcher who ends up injured and doesn’t return to form.

  4. I think the Aaron Harang extra-inning bullpen fiasco gave alot of ammunition to the Baker-haters (http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/2011/feb/11/padres-harang-homing-return-dominance/ – for a reminder of the incident). Then again, someone had to pitch those innings, and Harang was theoretically as safe as any pitcher out there.

  5. Hernandez has been well taken care of compared to Wood and Prior. His total IP over his pro career have looked like this:
    2004 (A+/AA): 149
    2005 (AAA/MLB): 172
    2006: 191
    2007: 190
    2008: 202
    2009: 238
    2010: 249
    Yes he is built like a horse and yes again luck factors in, but that organization clearly brought him along at a reasonable rate protecting his arm and increasing his innings incrementally even as he repeatedly achieved above average success at the major league level. Compare those annual IP increases to other young, successful starting pitchers and you will see similar numbers. However, look at the numbers for Prior and Wood:
    Prior:
    2002 (MiLB/MLB): 167
    2003 (MLB): 211
    2004 injured after 118 and never the same again
    Wood:
    1996 (A): 114
    1997 (AA/AAA): 151
    1998 (MLB): 171 and injured
    1999: Tommy John Surgery
    Both of these pitchers faced huge inning increases of 35 to 40+ IP in the developmental stages of their careers which, because of their talent, partially took place at the Major League level. Wood of course was brought along slowly after his TJ surgery and went on to achieve a hIgh degree of success for a short few seasons before further injuries eroded his skills and forced him to transition into the pitcher he is today. This isn’t to say that it’s Baker’s fault; more the organization’s for both rushing these pitchers along in the minors and allowing Baker to do the same at the ML level.

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