Wake up. Rub boogers out of eyes. Yawn. Stretch. Stumble into kitchen. Make coffee. Stare at nothing for a while. Pour coffee. Sip coffee. Exhale with relief and without irony. Check phone. Read about brilliant young pitcher needing Tommy John surgery. Eat phone. Open window. Climb onto roof. Eat shingles. Throw shingles at bird. Roll around in shingles. Yell at neighbors. Throw shingles at neighbors' cars. Understand you have the right to remain silent. Sob. Swear. Curse. Yowl at the sun.
Boy, if I had a nickel. This preseason has been the worst, and we're only half-done. There are still monsters in the anxiety closet, waiting to claw at us and ligaments around the league. The latest pitcher to go down was the Mets' Zack Wheeler, who was on his way up, dang it, on his way up. He had the stuff, but he needed the experience. He can't get the experience because of the injury, and there's never a guarantee about the stuff. There, there. Have some shingles.
That's not the end of the story, even if it should be. Because Wheeler plays for the Mets, a highly visible franchise from New York that is regularly associated with laughing out loud, this has to mean something. This has to be the beginning of peak LOLMETS, just as they were about to turn the corner. This has to be something with meaning.
Allow me to argue that it's just a young pitcher getting hurt, which happens. Far too much, sure, but that's a broader topic. Let's investigate the different meanings of Zack Wheeler's meaningless injury.
The Mets worked Wheeler too hard
We'll start with the hardest to defend, right up top. Wheeler ranked 16th in baseball in pitcher-abuse points. He had 14 starts in which he threw between 110 and 121 pitches, and he did that for a Mets team that ... let me check ... didn't make the playoffs.
But that's more of a function of Wheeler being young, erratic and wild. He had five starts of 100 pitches or more in which he didn't pitch into the sixth inning. He pitched into the eighth inning just once, This wasn't a case of Wheeler having cartoonish beads of sweat shooting out of his forehead, and the Mets booting him out of the dugout to grind out another inning. It was a lot more organic than that. If he had his stuff, was under 100 pitches and was cruising, sending him out for one more inning rarely seemed like an egregious decision.
The Mets avoided the catastrophic starts, with Wheeler maxing out at 120 pitches. If there's a pattern of overuse, it's that he consistently threw 100 pitches or more -- 24 of his 32 starts -- but I think most of us can agree that 100 pitches isn't a magic number. There's a fine line between needed experience and overuse. I don't think the Mets pushed the boundaries of that fine line, no more than other organizations.
Unless the Mets were aware of Wheeler's elbow discomfort the whole time, which would invalidate the thesis of this article.
Even then, though, the Mets don't come off as monsters, not as much as Bob Klapisch hints in the above article.
Twice last year, he was forced to skip between-starts bullpen sessions to allow the elbow to calm down. In September, the Mets were concerned enough to put Wheeler in an MRI tube.
The MRI came back clean. At that point, it would have made sense to shut him down for the year, but considering that science told the Mets nothing was wrong with his elbow, continuing to start him was reasonable, even if it wasn't exactly what everyone reading this would have done. It doesn't make sense to believe that giving Wheeler September off would have led to a healthy, productive 200-inning season in 2015. The damage was built, brick-by-brick and pitch-by-pitch, over several years.
If you're still apt to blame the Mets and their incompetent doctors, take the case of Yu Darvish, the most prized member of the Rangers organization. When he was ailing, the Rangers knew they couldn't mess this up. They needed to send him to the best. They sent him to the Mets' team physician.
While the idea of quantifying abuse and distilling it down to a single number like pitcher-abuse points has fallen out of favor, PAP are still useful, especially as a tool to remind us all just how different the game is today. Wheeler did rank 16th in baseball for PAP this year, but he would have ranked 36th in the majors in 2004. Teams are getting better at limiting pitches. Pitchers aren't getting better at staying healthy.
SB Nation presents: Two NL East teams who have no shot this season
The Mets entire blueprint is flawed
This one comes from Joel Sherman, who posits that because live-armed pitches are going to break down, there's no sense accruing live-armed pitchers.
Alderson took the slow route, for example, by turning Carlos Beltran into Wheeler and letting a talented arm steadily rise. But it is possible that is not a worthwhile plan any longer, not if elbows are going to keep exploding at this rate.
There's an easy response to this one: The San Francisco Giants. They had young pitchers coming out of their ears, and they won a title with them. Jonathan Sanchez's velocity dropped sharply, possibly because of a number of stressful innings. They scrambled to replace him. Then Tim Lincecum stopped being effective, possibly because of an otherworldly workload. The Giants scrambled to replace him. Then Matt Cain's elbow cut his 2014 season short. The Giants scrambled to replace him. Five seasons after winning a title with four young starters, the Giants had just one left. It worked out.
Don't focus on the string of flukes that led to that last title, though. Just focus on the first one. The Giants brought young pitchers up, and it worked for a while. The Cardinals have done the same around Adam Wainwright for years. The Nationals have been doing well with their young pitching, occasional hiccup aside.
The Mets still have a mess of young pitchers. They shouldn't deal them for outfield prospects because pitchers are too risky. Within the next few years, I'll wager that three or four of the World Series winners get there in part because of pitching developed in-house. They'll just be the teams that avoid the wheel of doom.
Typical LOL METS
As in, because this was a thing ...
... it will forever be a thing for the Mets. Because Jason Isringhausen, Paul Wilson, and Bill Pulsipher were star-crossed young pitchers, that's the only genre of young pitcher the Mets will ever enjoy for the rest of eternity. The Mets had young pitchers once, and IT DIDN'T WORK OUT. They have young pitchers now, and LOOK WHAT'S HAPPENING.
It has nothing to do with a LaGuardia curse. It has everything to do with young pitchers sucking the hope out of you forever and always. Jonah Keri talked with Dr. Glenn Flesig about the increased rate of Tommy John surgery and offered the most reasonable explanation yet.
What happened is that our trend for more youth and high school injuries correlated with kids shifting to "I’m a baseball player. I’m gonna play 10 months a year. I’m on my Little League team, but I’m also on this travel team." There was no such thing before.
These Matt Harveys, Jose Fernandezes — this is the first generation that’s the year-round one-sport generation.
Makes sense. Makes a lot of sense. And there are no LOL METS to be had.
There aren't a lot of lols to be had anywhere. Another young pitcher broke. We'll have another season without several of the more intriguing, watchable arms in baseball. It stinks. It's something close to an epidemic. It's something teams will have to address, and it's something the league should investigate.
In this one case, though, it doesn't have to mean a thing other than the obvious. Zack Wheeler can't pitch, and that's an awful turn of events. Anything more than that is a partially educated guess, at best.