A View From Studio 3: 'Stop and Watch' pitchers
It's undeniable. There's a major problem in the Major Leagues when it comes to elbow injuries. You know the scenario. It's been a theme this year, and with Jose Fernandez going down with a torn elbow ligament, the number of big leaguers lost to Tommy John surgery this season matches the total for all of last season.
You could field a competitive pitching staff with the hurlers who have undergone the procedure in the last few months. Many on the list are second-timers. The medical folks refer to the second procedure as "revision" surgery.
After undergoing a revision, the chance of succeeding in the Majors shrinks considerably. Guys like Kris Medlen, Brandon Beachy and Jarrod Parker face an uphill climb. We can only wish them well, as their careers and livelihoods hang in the balance. What the future holds for them and for up-and-coming pitchers remains a mystery as the game deals with an epidemic. I'll leave the medical opinions for the people who actually got a passing grade in Biology.
What follows is not a list of pitchers who have undergone ligament replacement surgery, but a list of those you need to "SAW" -- Stop and Watch. The guys who make your jaw drop. The pitchers who demand that you put down your sandwich until the inning ends.
We need to celebrate these world-class athletes who continue to perform at the highest level while many are dropping like flies. Granted, it's a revised list, because Fernandez was No. 1 until this week's unfortunate news. Don't fret. There are still many to choose from.
5. Felix Hernandez. Quite simply, when Hernandez is on the mound, he is one of the best in the game. It's been the case for nearly a decade. Add to the mix Hernandez's commanding physical presence, his outward enjoyment of the game and likability factor, and you have "must see TV." Very few pitchers (or players, for that matter) have the ability to put thousands of extra fans in the seats. Felix does that every fifth day. Having spent some time around him in Arizona this spring, I finally understood why the city of Seattle embraces Hernandez through bad times ... and more bad times. Fans all over the country deserve to watch this guy pitch in the postseason. Hernandez is the reason I'm pulling for the Mariners to snap a 12-year playoff drought.
4. Clayton Kershaw. When Kershaw pitches, you plan your night around the Dodgers game. His dominance over an extended period of time is remarkable. To win three straight ERA titles is almost laughable. So is Kershaw's breaking ball, which leaves some of the best hitters in the game frozen on a regular basis. At the ripe old age of 26, Kershaw would be in the Hall of Fame conversation if he never pitched another game. Let's put it this way: When you watch Kersahw, you know you're watching a once-in-a-generation guy along the lines of Koufax, Gibson, Maddux and Clemens.
3. Aroldis Chapman. Face it. We love power, speed, size and a great comeback story. The Reds' closer has it all. Lean and lanky and standing 6-foot-4, you can't help but notice Chapman when he rolls in from the bullpen. Arms and legs flying all over the place lead to radar-gun readings that exceed 100 mph. Even non-baseball fans stop to watch Chapman, as suddenly the score of the game is secondary to the velocity of his pitches. How does any human being hit that? Seems impossible. You play the guessing game with your friends. How fast will the next pitch be? Its fun, try it. I've gotta admit: After watching Chapman's gruesome head injury and speedy recovery, my respect factor for the lefty has gone through the roof.
2. Yu Darvish. Go ahead, list the pitchers who have a real chance to throw a perfect game every single time they go to the mound. Darvish is on top of that list. Heck, he may be the only guy on it. That's what we want, right? Perfection or near perfection. In just two-plus years in the Majors, Darvish already has four games on his resume in which he's given up only one hit. On two occasions, he's come within one out of a no-hitter. It's great theater almost every time he toes the rubber. Oh, by the way, Darvish is a premier strikeout pitcher averaging more than 11 strikeouts per nine innings over the course of his Major League career. In Darvish, we also see a little bit of ourselves. Not in the talent department, but in the ability to seemingly create random pitches on the fly and strike guys out. I just did that in a killer Wiffle ball game last week.
1. Masahiro Tanaka. Don't get mad about my top pick. This is based more on curiosity and possibility than reality. No one knows if Tanaka will be a great Major League pitcher, and no one knows how he'll eventually relate to a rabid New York fan base. What we do know is that anyone who can earn $155 million before suiting up has the it factor. He's also married to a pop star and boasts a win streak that dates back to the Clinton administration (not really, but as Tanaka preps for his first Subway Series experience, his streak is at 34 consecutive games). Until Tanaka loses, he'll remain the greatest curiosity in New York since the unfinished 35-year construction project on the Belt Parkway.