Reactions to the Putz Affair

The fallout from J.J. Putz’s comments about his injured elbow has been substantial — seemingly everyone has an opinion on who was right, wrong, negligent, distrustful, unbecoming, irresponsible, and so forth.

Two reactions in particular struck a chord with me — one by Newsday’s David Lennon and another by former Mets trainer Bob Sikes.

Lennon’s take was even-handed and unbiased, putting blame on no parties (Putz, the Mets, nor the Mariners).

The bone spur was never a secret, but even Putz admitted the Mariners told him he didn’t need surgery — shortly before shipping him to the Mets. Was that a ploy by Seattle to get something for him with a ticking bomb inside his elbow? Maybe. …

The bottom line is that the Mets chose to take that gamble and got burned by it. Any supposedly “healthy” pitcher will tell you they have no idea what is actually happening inside their elbow or shoulder unless they have an X-Ray or MRI. In most instances, there probably is something floating around or torn and they don’t want to know. But they have to continue to pitch until it is impossible to do so. It’s their job. …

In hindsight, should the Mets have made the trade in the first place? Well, Putz looked nasty in spring training and threw in the upper 90s during the World Baseball Classic, so he seemed OK then. Again, with a bone spur in the elbow, it was just a matter of time. If Putz made it through the season, it would have worth the risk.

Fair enough. The only part with which I disagree is the idea that Putz looked “nasty” in spring training and the WBC — I remember the spring quite differently. Going back to the archives, I was reminded that Putz’s velocity topped out around 94 MPH in the WBC — strong, but still below the advertised “upper 90s”. That peak came only after the big bright red flag waved a week earlier, when Putz couldn’t break 90 MPH in a WBC appearance nor in a Port St. Lucie exhibition game.

As something of an addendum to Lennon’s column is the unique perspective shared by Sikes — someone who is more qualified than any of us to speak on the subject of injured players.

… the Mets did an MRI on Putz before they let him go the the WBC. Putz said nothing of this in his interview. To say the Mets mishandled or mistreated him is false. They took a chance that Putz’s elbow would be a non-factor and probably relied on much of what they Mariners were telling them.

Pitchers frequently pitch with spurs or chips present within the elbow’s hinge joint. Unless problems begin – meaning pain – they are allowed to pitch. But when a pitcher begins hurting, it’s shut down time. As in Putz case and from the timeline that Janish provided, it appears that the bone spur that Putz developed is something we see quite frequently. To make a comparison, the development is similar to that of heal spurs after years of plantar fascitis on the bottom of a foot. We often inject painful heal spurs with some success.

Unlike a shoulder where a bursa sack can be injected, the elbow does not provide such an effective target for cortisone. Putz received an injection last year in May last year likely intended to decrease the spur.

The easiest path has been to jump in another public Mets beat down and I would have if the medical staff hadn’t done an MRI prior to Putz going off to the WBC. A larger issue that provides much more interesting dynamics comes up when one notes the large number of Mets whom participated in the WBC suffered season ending injuries last season.

Sikes begins to open another can of worms — the WBC itself — but before that gives a pass to the Mets’ medical staff, since they did their due diligence in ordering the MRI before the Classic. The problem, though, is that by then it was too late — why wasn’t there an MRI done prior to the trade?

Another bit gleaned from Sikes’ commentary is in regard to “pain” and “shut down time”. If it’s true that a pitcher with spurs and chips can continue pitching until pain sets in, then why wasn’t Putz shut down in March, April, or May, when he was feeling pain? More to the point, if the Mets were aware of this “ticking time bomb”, why in the world did Jerry Manuel overuse him in the first two months of the season — using him in 19 of the team’s first 33 games and, at one point, allowing him to throw 144 pitches in a seven-game stretch over 12 days? (Manuel, of course, thought we all were “confused”.)

The Mets problems with their handling of personnel — particularly in regard to injuries — isn’t going away. More and more it is becoming clear that the problem is not with the medical staff, but with the people that the medical staff reports to — i.e., the “powers that be”. This latest debacle concerning J.J. Putz is just the tip of the iceberg.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. isuzudude February 3, 2010 at 8:06 am
    Two ways to debunk the ever popular “blame the WBC for all the Mets 2009 injuries:”

    1. The Mets allowed their players, with the exception of Johan Santana (who endured a season-ending injury anyway) to participate in the WBC. It’s their own damn fault. They knew of the injury risk to those players when they agreed to let them play in it. To act bewildered and accusatory that the WBC is to blame for the rash of injuries last season is ridiculous. If the Mets wanted to protect their players, they should have told them to stay in St Lucie.

    2. If it is to be believed that the WBC, in some way or form, caused all the Met players who participated to get hurt, why does the same not apply to all the other players from other teams as well? You would think that every team would have had a record setting amount of injuries last year due to involvement in the WBC. But that wasn’t the case. That argument’s flaw is that it’s not consistent. What’s more believable is that the Mets were built with a bunch of injured players to begin with in 2009, and that the “powers that be” chose to ignore the problem, while assembling the team and while fielding the team, until it became too overwhelming. Looking back, it’s clear that that is exactly what happened.

  2. gary s. February 3, 2010 at 10:31 am
    dude, especially if a bunch of guys get hurt again this year without a wbc.all the more reason why our bench should have gotten younger this year, in case starters go down again.instead we sign 3 washed up players (matthews, cora and tatis).clueless!!
  3. Fan since 64 February 3, 2010 at 2:03 pm
    It is apparent to me that Mets fans have failed to appreciate the genius that is the front office. Major injuries were a HUGE problem last year. The Mets have adopted a very innovative way to deal with this problem. They signed R.A. Dickey. As he was born w/o the ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow, HE CANNOT INJURE IT! This is pure genius and sure to be imitated by everyone. He will, of course, blow out his knee during his first appearance. This is a given.
  4. Nick February 3, 2010 at 4:18 pm
    Well I don’t think that’s fair at all to say b/c the mets sent their players to the WBC it’s their fault so that’s that the article in question does not exonerate the Mets and write off what happenedib 2009, it merely suggests that the WBC had a role to play in the injuries that the mets sustained. Being no expert, and ignorant to the stats of just how many WBC-participating players on other teams got hurt, it still remains a perfectly legitimate issue to bring up. From a layman’s pointof view, if 2010 ends up as 2009 did, then we can start discounting theories revolving around the WBC. Till then, I can’t be cynical about the Mets and then believe all the Mets bashers. Things certainly seem “off” about our franchise, but can we really commit to fact that every rumor that flies around, usually without a source behind them, is true?
  5. isuzudude February 3, 2010 at 6:00 pm
    WBC or no WBC, Nick, Putz was still going to get hurt in 2009. His elbow injury – that of a bone spur – was not going away, and was likely aggravated more by Jerry Manuel’s incessant use of him over the first 2 months of the season, rather than his participation in the WBC. Likewise, fellow WBC players, like Carlos Delgado and Carlos Beltran, were also damaged goods way before the WBC took place: Delgado with a hip impingement, and Beltran with a bad knee that has since allegedly resulted in him undergoing microfracture surgery. This is more evidence that the Mets were destined for an injury epidemic even if there was no WBC last year. Then you have Wright, Reyes, and Cora, whose injuries were sustained well after the WBC concluded. So what role could the WBC have played in their downfalls? I’m just not seeing any tie to the Mets’ 2009 injury woes and the WBC, and equate the argument as nothing more than a cover to excuse the team for making so many horrible decisions with their roster and player management.
  6. Nick February 3, 2010 at 8:24 pm
    I’m not disagreeing with you. I just think it’s a legitimate issue to introduce into the discussion as we assess what did go wrong. Perhaps having fragile parts, it wasn’t wise to play them in those extra games, though like you said, it probably wouldn’t have mattered (it didn’t matter for Santana). Nonetheless I’m surprised it wasn’t brought up earlier, I would think they’d jump at the chance to scapegoat something besides themselves.
    I guess I’m a little fatigued at hearing all the stuff about how embarrassing this organization is, I mean its reaching Raiders or Knicks proportions. Are we really the Knicks of baseball?

    By the way, excuse my grammar, I wrote my earlier post on my Iphone, and it doesn’t let you review your post. How awful…

  7. DC Niner February 4, 2010 at 11:28 am
    Reading all the whining and crying by all the little Metsies here, makes me fully understand why you, as a fan base, are the most dislike in all of baseball. Is there anything you whining supposed fans don’t whine about?
  8. Nick February 4, 2010 at 2:00 pm
    Okay Niner. What team is it that your a fan of anyway? Is it a team that is located in a sports mecca (NYC), that has the highest market value and thus revenue to spend on their ballclub? If so, is it dogged by rumors of a puppet GM whose string-puller is a wealth-inherited daddy’s boy, who decides that his new toy is going to be a sports franchise and that he could learn along the way how to run said franchise?
    Has it spent the third most money in the entire decade only to produce ONE epic run at a championship, only to have one of their premier clutch hitters leave the bat on his shoulder?
    Did injury mismanagement rather than injuries themselves, sink a ballclub picked by many to go to the world series in 2009?
    Did your GM accuse a sports journalist of fabricating a true story because he once asked how to get a job in a front office?
    Does your team get accused of splurging away a nice cache of talent for a pitcher they knew was hurt, just so they could sell tickets?
    Does your team live in the shadow of a ballclub (yankees), that through all their decade-long embarrassment actually produced a championship?

    Call it whining or whatever you want, it’s the frustration of a loyal fan base that is disgusted with the hijacking of it’s team by incompetence.