Baseball BeatApril 16, 2007
Prior and Wood: Dusty Track Records
By Rich Lederer

Mark Prior experienced discomfort in his right shoulder and left his first extended spring training start after two innings last Thursday in Mesa, Arizona. He was scheduled to throw no more than 45 pitches or three innings.

After visiting Dr. Lewis Yocum in California over the weekend, Prior has decided to get a second opinion from Dr. James Andrews of Alabama. Andrews diagnosed the 26-year-old righthander with looseness in his shoulder capsule last winter. Rather than undergoing surgery, Mark attempted to strengthen his shoulder through an exercise and throwing program.

Prior, who signed a one-year deal worth $3.575M in January to avoid arbitration, made four appearances this spring before he was optioned to Triple-A Iowa and placed on the minor league team's disabled list. He wanted to break camp with the Cubs and was disappointed in the organization's decision to go with Wade Miller as its fifth starter. However, Prior never approached his old velocity and was ineffective in 10 1/3 innings, allowing 14 hits, 11 runs, and 9 walks while striking out only 6 batters.

Once thought to have perfect mechanics, Prior has begun each of the past three years on the DL with an assortment of injuries, ranging from his Achilles heel to his elbow and now his shoulder. Where did the youngster who finished third in the Cy Young voting in his first full season go wrong? Well, I can't help but point a finger toward the end of that 2003 campaign when then manager Dusty Baker rode Prior and his teammate Kerry Wood hard during the stretch run in September and in the playoffs in October.

Let's have a look at Prior's and Wood's late 2003 game logs:


Sep. 1  STL   8.0  5  0  0  0  3  8  6 10 131  
Sep. 6  @MIL  7.0 10  3  3  1  1  7  9  8 129  
Sep. 11 @WAS  5.2 10  3  3  0  3  8  6  6 110  
Sep. 16 NYM   9.2  8  2  2  1  1 13  7  8 124  
Sep. 21 @PIT  8.2  6  1  1  0  2 14  6  5 131 
Sep. 27 PIT   7.2  7  2  2  1  2 10 10  6 133 
Oct. 3  ATL   9.0  2  1  1  0  4  7 11  8 133 
Oct. 8  FLA   7.0  8  3  2  2  2  5  9  7 116
Oct. 14 FLA   7.1  6  5  3  0  3  6  5 11 119  


Sep. 2  STL   7.0  4  2  1  1  2  9  6  7 120
Sep. 7  @MIL  7.0  8  2  2  1  2  6  7 11 122
Sep. 12 CIN   6.0  5  1  1  0  4  9  5  8 114
Sep. 17 NYM   9.0  4  0  0  0  1 11  7  6 125
Sep. 23 @CIN  7.0  1  0  0  0  4 12 10  1 122
Sep. 30 @ATL  7.1  2  2  2  1  5 11  5  6 124
Oct. 5  @ATL  8.0  5  1  1  0  2  7 10  4 117
Oct. 10 @FLA  7.2  7  3  3  0  3  7 10  5 109
Oct. 15 FLA   6.2  7  7  7  1  4  6  4  3 112

After returning from a three-week stint on the DL with a shoulder contusion in July and August, Prior tossed 71 innings in a month-and-a-half, never throwing fewer than 110 pitches in a game while reaching 124 or more on six occasions. He made at least 130 pitches in three consecutive games (his last two starts of the regular season and his first start in the post-season) and was in a great position for a shortened effort in Game 2 of the NLCS vs. the Florida Marlins when the Cubs staked him to an 11-0 lead after five innings.

I remember watching the game on TV and was flabbergasted when Baker sent his ace out to the mound to start the sixth inning. It was the perfect opportunity to go to the bullpen and give the then 23-year-old a much-needed breather. Whether Prior was tiring or just lacking concentration, he allowed back-to-back home runs to Derrek Lee and Miguel Cabrera to open the sixth. Baker never flinched and let Prior go all the way into the eighth before pulling him with two on, no outs, and 116 pitches under his belt.

Working on five days rest, Prior started Game 6 and held the Marlins scoreless through seven innings on just three hits. With a 3-0 lead, Prior got Mike Mordecai to pop out to left field for the first out of the eighth. The Cubs were five outs away from their first World Series berth since 1945 when things began to unravel. After Juan Pierre doubled, Luis Castillo hit a high foul ball toward the left field wall that bounced off Cubs fan Steve Bartman's hands, then drew a walk on Prior's next offering - a wild pitch that allowed Pierre to reach third. Ivan Rodriguez lined a single to left to knock home Florida's first run of the game.

Cubs shortstop Alex S. Gonzalez misplayed what appeared to be a tailor-made 6-4-3 double play. With the bases loaded, Lee promptly drilled a double to left to score two and tie the game at three apiece. Prior exited and was charged with the loss when Kyle Farnsworth and Mike Remlinger allowed five more runners to cross home plate. The Marlins beat Wood in Game 7 and went on to defeat the Yankees in the World Series.

Here is how Prior and Wood, who threw 120 or more pitches in five out of six starts that September, have fared since the fateful series in October 2003.

MARK PRIOR, 2003-2006

Year   G  GS   IP      H    R   ER   HR   BB   SO    ERA 
2003  30  30  211.3  183   67   57   15   50  245   2.43  
2004  21  21  118.7  112   53   53   14   48  139   4.02  
2005  27  27  166.7  143   73   68   25   59  188   3.67  
2006   9   9   43.7   46   39   35    9   28   38   7.21  

KERRY WOOD, 2003-2006

Year   G  GS   IP      H    R   ER   HR   BB   SO    ERA 
2003  32  32  211.0  152   77   75   24  100  266   3.20  
2004  22  22  140.3  127   62   58   16   51  144   3.72  
2005  21  10   66.0   52   32   31   14   26   77   4.23  
2006   4   4   19.7   19   13    9    5    8   13   4.12  

Coincidence? I think not. As shown, Prior and Wood have never been the same, pitching fewer and fewer innings and with less effectiveness than ever. The franchise pitchers have been battling one injury after another the past three-and-a-half years.

Wood, who like Prior decided against surgery last winter on his frayed rotator cuff, has been unable to throw from a mound since late March when recurring pain in his right shoulder ended his bid to earn a job in the bullpen. GM Jim Hendry has described Wood's case as a "real good dose of tendinitis."

The fastest pitcher in MLB history to reach 1,000 strikeouts as measured in games and innings, Wood has now been on the disabled list ten times in his career. While it's unfair to blame Baker for all of Wood's and Prior's problems, I believe Dusty should have refrained from riding his stars as hard as he did in what can now be described not only as the early fall of 2003 but of their careers as well.


I strongly suspect that Baker is not solely to blame for Wood or Priors arm issues- I was at a high school game where Wood threw 175 pitches. Most MLB pitchers were so good as kids that the tendency is to pitch them a LOT-starting in Little League. There are no HS pitch limits, only innings limits.

HUGE difference between pitching in MLB and pitching in HS or minor leagues. An Un-named Scout had this to say at The Soul of baseball about Prior specifically:

"Big league innings are a lot different than minor-league innings. The intensity level is so much higher. Batters foul off your good pitches, they spit on the outside sliders. You have to work hard to get every batter out. So every inning you throw in the big leagues is like an inning and a half or two innings of minor league ball. That really strains your arm when you're just a kid."

I think that the case against Baker is quite a bit stronger for Prior than for Wood. Prior, as noted, was seen as having perfect mechanics with an easy release. That he has morphed into an injury-prone wreck with greatly diminished stuff is sad, given his potential. I think that Baker clearly bears a lot of blame in his case (as much blame as anyone can be said to have when dealing with something so inherently unpredictable as pitching injuries).

Wood on the other hand had a clear history of injuries and overuse. His mechanics, if I recall correctly, even after he changed them following his Tommy John surgery were not the best. Still, I think that even with these risk factors, Baker really did him a disservice by running him into the ground in what was really his return to form season.

I guess Dusty is to blame for Wood blowing out his arm in 1998, too?

I remember when Dusty was first hired, and was being hailed as the *Savior of the Cubs.* Those were the days...


It's hard to fully establish cause and effect but the gun sure seems to be smoking.

One correction to your table on Prior. The 9/11 game he pitched 5.2 innings, not 6.2 innings, per the box score at (also, it was 109 pitches, according to that box score).


Dave: Thanks for pointing out that correction. I got my data from ESPN's pitching logs. However, the box score linked to that date shows Prior with 5.2 innings but with the same 110 pitches. I fixed the number of innings in the table above.


No problem.

The only reason I knew is because I had done some posts on a Cardinal board following the Bartman game, which I revisited recently with the latest news on Prior. My post then also showed 110 pitches.

Even as a Cardinal fan, if Prior is done, it's a big shame.

And any team who wishes to hire Dusty better look at his track history of using starters.


I always have a bit of a problem with this line of thinking. The Cubs' pen wasn't all that great that year. The real strength was in their rotation. If Baker DIDN'T ride those starter's arms during September, the Cubs wouldn't have come within 5 outs of the World Series. They probably won't even have made the playoffs. Then Baker would have an entirely different group of complaints about his managing.

In other words, I think there's truth to blaming him for tiring their arms out. But he was damned if he did and damned if he didn't.

Great stuff, Rich. Couple points --

* People always point in derision to Prior's mechanics now that he's hurt. Imagine what his situation would have been like if he hadn't had those mechanics protecting him. When they broke down in 2005, the cycle accelerated. It's a great comparison to see Wood (poor mechanics, 2 surgeries post 03, poor results) and Prior (good mechanics, 0 surgeries, poor results) side by side.

* Dusty can't be blamed for Wood's 98 TJ, no, but let's call that a re-set. He essentially got a "brand new pitcher" in Wood, one that should have been protected, at least in his elbow. That bears out, though his shoulder has been ravaged. That can be squarely placed on Dusty in part, though Wood's mechanics are more to blame.

* I think your close is dead on. Flags fly forever, but there's a price to be paid in the longer term. Guys like Verlander and Bonderman might be headed down the road of guys like Wood and Prior.

Sorry, but in both Prior and Wood's cases, their poor mechanics are the root cause of their problems.

In Kerry Wood's case, it's his problem with habitual rushing (e.g. poor timing). In Mark Prior's case, it's his arm action. Specifically, how Prior makes an Inverted W (or "M") with his arms. This increases the load on both his elbow and his shoulder. I expect Anthony Reyes of the Cardinals to experience similar problems as Mark Prior due to his very similar arm action.

Now, overuse certainly made things worse, but the root cause of the problem is poor pitching mechanics.

Also, the problems that these guys had earlier on in their careers are a manifestation of their poor mechanics.

I'm in a 14-team fantasy baseball league. 3 of the 14 owners are Cubs fans. They are currently in 10th, 13th and 14th place. That's all I have to say.

You should add Matt Clement to this list. Wood and Prior might be flukes alone, but add Clement to that mix and a definite pattern emerges. I blame Baker for the abuse, but I blame the organization for not correcting Wood's mechanical flaws years ago. I disagree with the poster that claimed Prior has mechanical flaws, that's always been a debate....everyone agrees on Wood.

There's a logical fallacy to this argument, and it goes like this: post hoc ergo propter hoc. You can't say that the reason they broke down is that they threw a lot of innings; at least, you can't say that alone. Without more evidence, I remain unconvinced.

I think it was the case FOR SURE with Mark Prior. It was Mark Prior's first full year pitching. Mark Prior went 110+ pitches 23 times that season. 23 times! For a guy in his first full year of pitching? Yeah, right. Mark Prior led the MAJOR LEAGUES in pitches-per-start in 2003. How can you defend that, I'd like to know. Tell me, how do you defend working a 22 year old pitcher in his FIRST FULL YEAR harder than Livan ****ing Hernandez. Prior averaged over 113 pitches per start than year. When was the last time a 22 year old in his first full year averaged that many pitches per start? At LEAST twenty years ago. Sorry to be rude, but if you don't think Prior's workload caused his injury, I hope you guys are never on a jury because the obvious won't convince you.

Last year Justin Verlander didn't average 100 pitches a game! You can bet your ass you won't see Felix Hernandez, Phil Hughes, Jered Weaver, etc. averaging over 113 pitches a game. Why? Because most organizations are idiots like the Cubs with a moron manager. Bonderman averaged 86 pitches a start in his first full year.

You should not work 22 year old pitchers harder than Livan Hernandez in their first full year. It's ridiculous. Prior threw 120 pitches or more 10 times, and he threw 130 pitches or more 4 times, all in the last month. That's insane. That's a death sentence workload. You can't treat these pitchers going on their first year like Livan Hernandez. You just can't. Even Livan isn't Livan anymore.

What!?! Dusty Baker is a bad manager? I swore I heard Joe Morgan tell us how great Baker was last night...

jmoutlz, there is no logical fallacy here... There is statistical evidence that shows a correlation between pitcher injuries & games where the starter threw 110+ pitches (especially before 24 years old). To go 115+, even 120+ once in awhile is one thing, but do it 6-straight games from Sept. 16 thru Oct. 14 could easily be the sole reason for injury.

Look at the guys who may get called up soon. Will Philip Hughes throw 120+ pitches ONCE in his first full season? How about Homer Bailey? Matt Garza? Yovani Gallardo? Andrew Miller? Adam Miller? The answer: Probably not. How about 23 times? NEVER, NOT A CHANCE IN HELL. The Yankees won't let Hughes throw 120, 130, 135 pitches. You know why? Because they're not totally insane.

Once you realize that no pitcher Prior's age in his first full season threw that many 110+ pitch games or that high of a pitches/per start average in 15 years, and that Prior averaged more pitches-per-start than Livan Hernandez, and in fact LED THE MAJORS, the argument becomes ridiculous. How many times does a 22 year old pitcher in his first full season led the major leagues in pitches-per-start? You've got to be kidding. I'll bet the sad sack Cubs win a World Series before that happens again, the point being not that I think the Cubs will win a World Series *anytime* soon, but that this simply won't happen again.

You can't establish causality with correlations.

No, you can't establish causality with correlations alone, but when there is a clear reason to beleive a causal link might exist: i.e. young, unseasoned pitchers throwing huge numbers of high stress innings can cause arm damage. This is just plain sense, and coupled with correlation, there is nothing wrong with assuming at least partial causality.

I think that one poster Will Carroll might have done some research on this. He may have wrote a book or something...

"I disagree with the poster that claimed Prior has mechanical flaws, that's always been a debate....everyone agrees on Wood."

While Tom House believes that Mark Prior has perfect mechanics, I never thought he did.

If you look at Prior's arm action, he does something that most HOFers do not do. He makes the Inverted W. That means he takes his elbows above and behind his shoulders.

The only HOFer who did what Prior does is Don Drysdale, and Don Drysdale retired due to shoulder problems. If you look at the greats like Ryan, Seaver, Gibson, and Maddux, their elbows never go above the level of their shoulders after they break their hands.

Here is a link to a frame by frame analysis of Mark Prior's mechanics for those who are interested...

"That means he takes his elbows above and behind his shoulders."

No great pitchers do this?

while i'm not one to support dusty baker in any way, let's not pile on too much for his overuse of these guys. while he certainly overused them, there are plenty of pitchers he rode hard who did just fine: russ ortiz, kirk reuter, livan hernandez, even carlos zambrano and greg maddux lived to tell the dusty high pitch count tale and had plenty of productive post-dusty seasons. the problem with anecdotal evidence is that it doesn't stand up to scrutiny. yes, prior and wood broke shortly after being dustied. but others did not. some (livan, zambrano, maddux, even ortiz) thrived after dusty. again, i am not saying he did the right thing but just making the case that maybe he isn't to blame for those guys breaking down.

"No great pitchers do this?"

There is a significant difference between making a Horizontal W and making an Inverted W (or M).

Ryan, Clemens, Seaver, and Johnson all make a Horizontal W, with their elbows never getting above the level of the shoulders. Mark Prior and Anthony Reyes make an Inverted W, with their elbows going above and behind their shoulders. So too does Billy Wagner, who has had a series of shoulder problems.

"while i'm not one to support dusty baker in any way, let's not pile on too much for his overuse of these guys. while he certainly overused them, there are plenty of pitchers he rode hard who did just fine: russ ortiz, kirk reuter, livan hernandez, even carlos zambrano and greg maddux lived to tell the dusty high pitch count tale and had plenty of productive post-dusty seasons."

I agree.

You can survive more abuse if your mechanics are solid, which they certainly are in the case of at least Maddux and Hernandez.

The problem is when you ride hard guys who have problematic mechanics (like Prior and Wood).

Look at Woods/Prior innings pitched. Then go look at Tom Seaver's stats. All the old timers could pitch 240 innings without problem. What's the deal? Velocity over style.

I think one of the main reasons why young pitchers today, unlike guys like Seaver who could throw 240 innings no problem, have so many arm problems has to do with how much they pitch before they turn 18.

More specifically, amatuer sports, like little league and AAU baskteball have become very big deals in the last 20 years or so. The guys who coach these teams act like big league managers and don't care about having fun as long as their team wins.

My little brother played a lot baseball from age 10-14 (pre-high school). He played on a traveling team that went all over the midwest and probably played around 70-80 games every summer.

Thats a lot of games for a 12 year old. Most tournaments have rules on how many innings one kid can pitch, but when you are playing in 2 or 3 tournaments a week, those rules really become insignificant in preventing one kid from pitching a ton of innings. If a coach has a kid who is a great pitcher, he is going to use him as much as possible. It wouldn't be shocking to think that the best pitcher on a team would pitch every other game. So its possible that this kid could pitch in 30-40 games over a 4-month little league season.

In addition, most kids by the time they are 12 (including my brother and everyone else on this team) are throwing some sort of breaking pitch. If some kid is pitching in 30-40 games and throwing breaking balls, all before he has fully grown and allowed his bones and tendons to fully develop, of course he is setting himself up for arm troubles down the road.

Guys like Prior were probably always the best pitcher on whatever team they played on. Probably played baseball all summer, threw breaking balls, and more than likely caused damaged to his tendons in his elbow and to his shoulder long before he got to the big leagues.

The mechanics might exacerbate the problem, but I think the most significant reason for why guys have arm problems now more than in the past, is the sheer amount of innings they pitch before they even get to the bigs.

"Look at Woods/Prior innings pitched. Then go look at Tom Seaver's stats. All the old timers could pitch 240 innings without problem. What's the deal? Velocity over style."

Seaver's mechanics and timing were much better than were Wood's and Prior's. That allowed him to pitch more innings but not destroy his arm.

What the hell are you talking about Rob? Dusty was only let go after the season so it's completely premature to count either Zambrano or Maddux as success stories for Dusty the Clown. And given Carlos' 8 ERA, it's not totally out of the realm that he could be joining his fellow slagees Prior and Wood on the perpetual DL list.

Update: Mark Prior will have arthroscopic shoulder surgery today. Dr. James Andrews has been given permission for a more extensive operation if he determines it is necessary.

Prior's season is now in jeopardy and the longer-term outlook is uncertain.