Young Pitchers with Injury Trouble: Prior to Strasburg

Almost a decade prior to Stephen Strasburg‘s heavenly descent straight from the clouds to the mound at Nationals Park, with brief stops in Harrisburg and Syracuse along the way, similar hopes rested on the right arm of a young man newly minted as the Chicago Cubs ace. The comparison to Mark Prior has abounded throughout sports media since it was announced Strasburg would miss the rest of the season. Of course, while their meteoric ascents to the MLB center stage is no doubt similar, perhaps the comparison to Prior isn’t entirely fair, after all, many of Prior’s injuries weren’t arm related troubles, or at least not induced directly from throwing a baseball. Prior’s original shoulder injury was the result of a base-running collision with Atlanta Braves second baseman; his first season ending injury was a strained hamstring, also the result of rounding the bases. Prior’s first elbow problem occurred while he was on the mound; though not originally caused by his pitching mechanics, rather a 117 mph comebacker off the bat of Brad Hawpe. Unless you’re pitching from the outfield, not even the tidy mechanics of Greg Maddux could’ve avoided such an unfortunate circumstance. It was not until 2006 that Prior first hit the DL with a strained shoulder, augmented by a strained oblique during batting practice, after which Prior would never return to form.As far as pure on-field play, perhaps Strasburg’s early injury struggles more closely mirror that of Prior’s rotation mate Kerry Wood. While Wood spent much longer in the minor leagues, his rookie season was nearly as sensational as Strasburg’s start, including a 20 L 1-hit performance against the Astros, taking home NL Rookie of the Year honors. Later that rookie year, Wood would miss the final month of the season with elbow soreness. Wood would undergo Tommy John surgery, the very same surgery Strasburg will soon face, missing the entire 1999 season. Wood would struggle in his first year back from injury, though he returned to form the following year. Perhaps the rest of his injury riddled career were more as a result from overuse at the hands of manager Dusty Baker. Even after major surgery at such a young age, Wood was able to rebound, reaching the same top velocities and notching impressive strikeout totals over the next few seasons. Perhaps, if the Wood comparison holds true, there is little room to worry about Strasburg’s long term future. With a little luck, and smart managerial decisions regarding inning quotas, he can still reach his full potential as one of the league’s preeminent players.

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