If you’ve ever watched a Twins telecast in which Bert Blyleven or Jack Morris were doing the color commentating, they spend most of their time grousing about the pitch count, and make veiled accusations about the toughness and fortitude of Pitchers These Days. I have bad news for Morris and Blyleven.
The reason for the pitch count revolves around one thing: tears in the ulnar collateral ligament are on the rise. The reason for the rise in UCL tears and Tommy John surgery are essentially twofold, and it has nothing to do with toughness or anything like that, though I suspect most rational people suspected that.
The first reason that UCLs are tearing more regularly is an increased musculature in pitchers nowadays. Pitchers are getting stronger, but tendons get more taut as they strengthen which means they are more prone to tearing. That’s strike one against Morris and Blyleven. Modern pitchers are stronger than you.
Second is a change highlighted in this 2015 Grantland article elucidates, is an increased specialization in athletes from an early age. Most pitchers today have been pitching 10 months a year since before they reach high school. Morris and Blyleven and nearly every pitcher from the 90s and prior were more well rounded, I would assume, participating in a greater panoply of athletic endeavors. There is simply more wear and tear on modern elbows.
If I’m not being blunt enough, let me try again. Yes, Jack Morris and Bert Blyleven put together a lot more Major League innings than pitchers today are getting in the Majors, but I can assure you that nearly every pitcher in the game today has more innings under their belt lifetime than their predecessors did at the same time. Durability is in the eye of the beholder.
Next time you watch a Twins game in which the former Twins greats are lamenting pitch counts and the death of the complete game, remember that this new pitching normal isn’t because pitchers aren’t tough. It’s because modern pitchers work way harder than Jack Morris and Bert Blyleven did.