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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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Well, I guess we’ve solved the Zack Wheeler pitch count problem for 2015.

Depth is a blessing, to be sure, but it is by no means optimal to learn your team will go forward stripped of — give or take a Niese — your No. 3 starter in the season when you envisioned the whole gang taking a splendid leap forward. When we learned Zack would be joining Josh Edgin en route to the Tommy John Surgery Emporium, Rehabilitation Center & Car Wash, we were unquestionably diminished. How much, as the crafters of cautious statements like to say, remains to be seen.

These aren’t interchangeable parts to be shifted around upon availability by Pitching Coach For Life Dan Warthen. Wheeler’s his own package of assets and liabilities, different from Dillon Gee, different from Noah Syndergaard, different from whoever eventually moves into the rotation in his stead. To pretend we won’t be missing something just because Wheeler’s Wheeler (and not, for example, Harvey) is to forget it takes a village to get through a season. I’m somehow reminded of the dimmest argument against the Hall of Fame cases of ballplayers like Gil Hodges and Davey Concepcion, the one that wonders what the heck we need with another Boy of Summer or Big Red Machinist in Cooperstown? As if we can be sure that whatever delicate chemistry produced a legendary team wasn’t dependent upon all of its major components. As if we know we will get this summer from “whoever” what we got from Wheeler last summer.

Which, in case you were wondering, was eleven starts from June 30 to August 27 pitched to an ERA of 2.17. Ten of those eleven starts lasted six or more innings. As the Mets were attempting to mature as a whole, Zack Wheeler was coming of age. Now the maturation process involuntarily pauses.

The legendary Mets pitching staff upon which we have based our springtime dreams won’t materialize in 2015. Its substitute unit may perform just fine, but it won’t be the same without Wheeler, just as the 2014 group was a relative strength but nowhere near as strong as it would’ve been had Matt Harvey been healthy. Matt seems to have been put back together in one formidable piece — a reassuring reminder that TJS mostly works — but, boy, do you hate to miss out on what could be and worry about it turning into what could have been.

And you really feel bad for Zack Wheeler, his right elbow and his postponed present.

18 comments to Diminished

  • Dave

    How much more can things like this happen? I’m old enough to remember when all of your starters were expected to pitch 250 innings…including a few relief appearances. We didn’t see a pitch count next to the score, we never heard about 35 inning intervals for young pitchers. The more these guys are coddled – my analogy is that they’re treated as though they’re made of antique porcelain – the more likely they seem to get hurt. All of the science and preventive medicine and workouts…no evidence they work.

    And of course there’s the jinx angle of all of this. I almost want to start a pool about who’s going to be next. #GenerationTJ is already trending…

  • open the gates

    Well, the big difference between now and a few years ago us that we don’t have to worry about relying on the likes of Chris Schwinden and Pat Misch to get us through the rough spots. We have Dillon Gee, a perfectly serviceable ML pitcher slotting back to his old spot in the rotation. And we have some young guns on their way up. It’s unfortunate, especially for young Mr. Wheeler, but it doesn’t have to be the end of the world either.

  • Harvey

    While TJ surgery seems pretty widespread throughout baseball, it seems epidemic on the Mets. In the last couple of years, deGrom, Hefner, Harvey, Parnell, Edgin and Wheeler and maybe some others I’ve overlooked have undergone it. Perhaps there’s something in the organization’s training approach or pitching philosophy that should be reviewed.

  • Jestaplero

    Steven Matz had it. That was the best news I heard all day.

  • Rob

    This is just the way it is now, and part of team construction will involve making up for losses like these. It’s nothing you can cry about anymore…just looking at our own division, the Marlins lost their ace, Washington lost Strasburg a few years ago and Zimmerman before that, the Phillies lost Lee and Halladay before that (not TJ yet), and Atlanta probably got hit hardest of all…this sucks on the heels of Harvey, but it really is an equal opportunity injury. Replacement depth is going to be more valuable than ever. It’s not IF it happens, it’s how you react WHEN it happens.

  • Rob D.

    Maybe the Cubs have it right (I can’t believe I typed that), but maybe building around young, strong bats and then buying pitching is the way to go??

    • Rob E.

      What the Cubs are doing is not without risk. Yu Darvish was bought. Tanaka was bought. Bronson Arroyo was bought. Ryan Madson was bought. Guys you buy are still subject to all the health risks everybody else is. And the guy the Cubs are banking on cost them $155 million, which is in itself a significant risk. The “knowledge” available regarding pitchers is imperfect…it deals with physical limitations and frailties that vary from pitcher to pitcher.

  • 9th string catcher

    It sucks, but this is why teams look at having 7 or 8 starters between the MLB team and AAA. Mets played this one as well as could be expected, and positions them better than other teams might. Between Gee, Syndergaard, Montero and even Buddy Carlyle, they should be able to make up 32 starts and 11 wins. Gee alone had 7 wins last year, and a better BB ratio (though worse ERA). If he can hold his own and the rest of the rotation does what’s expected, the Mets should be okay.

  • Left Coast Jerry

    I wonder if the pitch counts, innings limits, etc. which teams are using to protect their investments are simply making pitchers less tough than they used to be.
    Look at the pitchers from the old days:
    Whitey Ford: 1953-65, 200+ innings every year but two.
    Warren Spahn: 1947-64, 245+ innings every year
    Bob Gibson: 1961-74, 200+ innings every year but two.
    Don Drysdale: 1957-68, 200+ innings every year.
    Tom Seaver: 1967-79, 200+ innings every year.

    The only pitcher like that today is Mark Buehrle, who has pitched 200 or more innings in each of the last 14 years. He was a 38th round pick by the White Sox in 1998, yet somehow made the starting rotation by 2001. I assume that since he was not a big money prospect, the White Sox felt no need to apply artificial limits to his pitching, and he just went out and became Mark Buehrle, while many of the coddled prospects, subject to pitch counts and innings limits have gone under the knife.

    The game has simply become way too over-analyzed.

  • Lou from Brazil

    For all the greats from the past that people can point to that put up great years with tons of innings, surely there were many more pitchers in the old days who experienced a similar type of injury which could not be diagnosed as a ligament tear. Without online databases to track their careers they were simply never heard from again. Seems every team has their share of TJS regardless of the type of pitcher. It affects control guys and power guys all the same. Except RA Dickey and his lack of a UCL of course.

    I think the Mets organization has put themselves in the best possible position given the obvious lack of funds to find a replacement in the marketplace as well as the flukish nature of this type of injury. I concur wholeheartedly with the sentiments of Harvey and Rob- having depth to absorb an injury is key. Everyone likes to bang on Sandy, but the decision to hang onto these pitchers is the type of astute move I associate with the organizations perceived as the smartest in the league. Now let’s just play ball and to borrow a term from racing, ‘run what we brung.’ Gee will be fine. I’ve stated on here before I love his Rick Reed, workmanlike style anyway.

    • sturock

      Yes. In Whitey Ford, et al., you are talking about the creme de la creme. Pitchers flamed out left and right back in the day due to “arm trouble,” “sore arm,” whatever it was called. Sure, maybe the hitters were worse in the 60’s, maybe the pitchers paced themselves better, who knows?

      • Left Coast Jerry

        My point was simply that with nearly twice as many teams as there were in 1960, there should be more than one Mark Buehrle. And it seems to me that the preventative measures that management is using don’t prevent anything. It could be because nowadays, if an 11-year-old has the least bit of talent, Daddy figures his kid is going to be the next Sandy Koufax or Nolan Ryan. So he engages a pitching coach, who teaches the kid to throw curve balls before his arm develops. I haven’t done any kind of analysis on the percentage of pitchers who grew up in the US needing TJ surgery, compared to, say, those from the Dominican Republic, but it might be interesting to contemplate.

        • Lou from Brazil

          I agree with your points too, don’t get me wrong. It sucks that nowadays kids are so focused on baseball. Perhaps there are exterior forces at work as well- look at the fear of head injuries in football. Parents are probably doubling their kids’ efforts at baseball because they don’t want their kids suffering from head trauma. I’m not calling out your argument, I just think the 24 hour news cycle makes us more sensitive to anything bad that happens. We get every viewpoint before we even have time to digest that we’ve lost a fine talent for this year.

        • Rob E

          The thing with Buehrle is that he doesn’t exemplify what teams look for in pitchers today. Almost all of these TJ guys either throw 95, or throw a pitch that is hard on the elbow. Buehrle does neither (ditto for Whitey Ford); he’s a finesse pitcher (a very good, and a long underappreciated one). I would classify Glavine and Maddux like that as well, so there ARE other guys like that out there. But “finesse” isn’t sexy to either the traditionalists OR the sabermetrics guys; pitching to contact is hard for traditionalists to understand, and hard for sabermetricians to quantify. NOBODY teaches this at ANY level…talent evaluation at EVERY level is all about the strikeouts.

          Buehrle is a good example you bring up…maybe the key to more sustainable health is simply UNDERSTANDING your physical limitations and working WITHIN those limitations.

  • Steve D

    Met fans of a certain age know that Rube Walker taught Seaver and the others the importance of MECHANICS…use your lower body…show the ball to third base (if a righty)…Seaver was the best at refining his mechanics and never had a major arm problem. If you really study these guys today, it is a wonder there aren’t more Tommy John surgeries. Tanaka on the Yankees has his elbow pointing straight DOWN in his delivery. I doubt he will last through April. Harvey had late arm action that may have stressed his elbow, but thankfully looks like he has corrected it. I’m not a fan of Syndergaard’s mechanics either.

  • […] as we feign surprise to learn Zack Wheeler, in addition to being plagued by tears to his UCL and his tendon, made consecutive starts last August with what doctors now describe as a “small […]