Tom Verducci: ‘It’s Time To Lower The Mound’

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MINNEAPOLIS, MN - SEPTEMBER 12: A.J. Griffin #64 of the Oakland Athletics delivers a pitch against the Minnesota Twins during the third inning of the game on September 12, 2013 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

A.J. Griffin (Credit: Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

Given that more than 30 pitchers have required Tommy John surgery since February – Miami Marlins ace Jose Fernandez may be the latest casualty – the time has come for Major League Baseball to act. It can no longer dismiss this epidemic as random or dumb luck; rather, it is a disturbing trend that impacts the future viability of the game.

“I think baseball teams are looking into this,” Sports Illustrated, MLB Network and FOX Sports analyst Tom Verducci said on The John Feinstein Show. “There’s still a lot of people in the medical community that have been studying this, (but) I’m not sure that all of those resources are being marshaled together so that baseball as an industry can come up with – I don’t want to say answers, but at least some information globally.

“That being said, I think it’s time to lower the mound.”

Verducci isn’t alone. He took part in a round-table discussion on MLB Network last week in which Dr. David Altchek, physician for the New York Mets, and Tom House, a former major-league pitcher and bio-mechanical expert, said the exact same thing.

“Both of those people stated as fact that when you reduce the slope of the mound, you reduce the forces upon the shoulder, arm and elbow” Verducci said. “That, to me, is convincing enough. (Couple that) with the fact that it’s harder to get a hit in the major leagues now than at any time since the DH (was instituted) – it’s time that we lower the mound, especially for kids. Little League pitchers should be pitching off flat ground, not off a mound. I think that’s the first step.”

“I’m not saying that’s the answer; it’s going to take a multi-pronged approach, but I do think lowering the mound would help everything about baseball.”

But what about pitchers in the 1940s and 1950s? Many of them used to pitch 300 innings a year with no problem. These days, a guy who pitches even 200 innings is considered a horse.

“Well, first of all, an inning today is much harder than an inning 50 years ago; there’s no doubt about it,” Verducci said. “Pitchers are bigger, their stuff is better, they throw harder, the ball moves more, there’s more power in the lineups – so you have to work harder to get people out. People who want to say, ‘Oh, back in the day, people threw 300 innings’ – it was a totally different game. There was nobody in the back half of a lineup that could take a ball out to the opposite field. Bob Feller used to say (that when) he got to the bottom of the lineup, he would let up and throw the ball over the plate. So you can’t make any kind of comparisons innings to innings.

“The biggest change that happened in amateur baseball,” Verducci continued, “happened about 10 years ago with the development – the explosion – of travel baseball. That turned baseball into a year-round, specialized sport. And now, in the last two-to-five years, on top of that, we’ve seen an increase in velocity across the board and an increase in specialization. So when you increase velocity (and) you increase the amount of competitive baseball that these kids are playing – you’re not increasing their age. That’s staying the same. So the bodies at 15, 16, 17 are being stressed now more than they ever have been.”

In fact, Verducci came across a study this month that stated the rate of Tommy John surgeries among amateur baseball players has increased ten-fold within the last 10 years.

“So what you’re seeing on the big-league level now,” Verducci said, “believe me, it’s happening on the amateur level.”

And lowering the mound isn’t just a matter of preserving pitchers; it’s a matter of producing action. With so many specialized, high-velocity relievers, the end of games drag on. Not only that, but scoring rates in the last three innings of games have never been lower.

“The game takes longer and longer to play with less and less action,” Verducci said. “If you lower the mound, you increase scoring. In 1969, when the mound was lowered (from 15 inches to 10), scoring went up 19 percent. Why did they do that? Because in 1968, baseball was a boring game in which the ball was not put into play. We are getting back to that point.”

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