The Thing That Caused Johan Santana’s Shoulder Re-injury
How did Johan Santana re-tear his shoulder capsule?
Was it the 134-pitch no-hitter?
Was it that “voluntary bullpen session” aimed at silencing suggestions that he wasn’t in shape?
Was it related to a mistake in his surgery?
Was it something mysterious, that couldn’t possibly be explained?
Could this re-injury have been prevented?
No, no, no, no, and maybe. Ironically, the answer to the question of how this happened was verbalized by Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen shortly after spring training opened in mid-February of 2012.
Warthen was quoted by The New York Post saying this:
“I’ve been looking at video from when he’s been down here recently and comparing it to video from 2008, before he got hurt,” Warthen told The Post outside the team’s spring training complex yesterday. “It’s no different. Not even one percent. That’s extremely important.”
Yes, Dan — it was extremely important. Unfortunately, you didn’t understand why.
I don’t mean to pick on Dan Warthen; his perspective and interpretation of the information in front of him is merely an example of a much larger problem with ALL MLB pitching coaches: they’re simply not qualified to analyze, nor correct, anatomical movement / human kinetics. Do any pitching coaches hold a degree in kinesiology? Have any completed advanced studies in biomechanics, human anatomy, physiology, or neuroscience? I’m guessing that 95% of pitching coaches at all levels of baseball have not. Therefore, they shouldn’t try to be experts when it comes to the delicate and dangerous motion of pitching a baseball.
Here’s the irony of Warthen’s statements: they indicated another shoulder injury was imminent, because that motion Santana was using most of the time in 2008 was EXACTLY WHAT CAUSED HIS SHOULDER INJURY IN THE FIRST PLACE.
It’s really quite simple, when one steps away from the isolated, prehistoric planet of organized baseball and peers at the situation from a practical, logical viewpoint. Warthen’s statement is akin to saying, “I stepped in a lake, and my shoe got soaking wet,” and then saying, “I stepped in a lake, just as a I did before, and my shoe got soaking wet again” — yet, expecting the shoe to stay dry after the second time!
Johan Santana severely damaged his shoulder twice because of a mechanical flaw. I lied a bit when I said that the no-hitter and the voluntary bullpen session weren’t the cause; the truth is, they were the cause, but not the isolated cause — rather, both instances were contributors. As long as Santana retained the same damaging mechanics he employed prior to his injury, his reconstructed shoulder was a ticking time bomb that was going to go off eventually. Did the 134-pitch effort speed up the process? Eh. Yeah, but not on its own; the no-hitter was just as culpable as, say, a pair of 75-pitch bullpen sessions, or 15-minutes of long toss, or any other event in which Santana was incorrectly throwing a baseball.
Major League Baseball would like to believe that pitching injuries are a complete mystery, caused by uncontrollable forces such as biorhythms, outer-galaxy alien forces, Cajun witchcraft, or plain ‘ol dumb luck. It’s simply not true, and it’s unfathomable that we live in an age of advanced science, and have mountains of research and scientific analysis available to explain why injuries occur, and why some movements are safe while others dangerous, yet baseball resists knowledge, preferring instead to embrace ignorance as if it was a badge of honor.
Newsflash to “Organized Baseball”: the world is not flat.
But don’t take it from me, because I’m no expert, either. I’ll get the lowdown on Johan’s re-injury from a scientist whose life is spent studying, understanding, and correcting human movements. Look for the Q & A here next week. In the meantime, enjoy Easter weekend.
Good thing they let him set his own throwing schedule.
This aside, who really expected Johan to pitch more than 50 or so innings as a Met this year, anyway?
I really don’t know squat about pitching mechanics, so I am wondering: Can a pitching coach change a pitcher of Santana’s status? I mean there are pitchers like Tim Lincicum and Luis Tiant and John Candeleria that I recall having wierd deliveries. How do you change what “works” for a guy?
I just think that if a pitching coach tried to change a pitcher like Santana, at any time, he would have been lynched in the papers and in the front office, probably losing his job.
There are qualified, professional scientists that can correct mechanical flaws and greatly reduce the number of pitching injuries, but few if any are former professional pitchers (i.e., they’re not in the “boys club” of Organized Ball), so most baseball organizations refuse to call on them.
The question is whether any baseball team in the future will go out and employ a full time kinseologist on the staff. I’d say it will never happen.
You raise a valid point, and I’ll add this: part of the problem is that the coaches feel threatened. Which is silly, because a kinesiologist can’t be expected to understand pitching strategy or mental preparation any more than a pitching coach should understand anatomy.
I know for a fact that there are a few teams employing scientists as consultants, based on conversations I’ve had with people inside the game. However, those teams are VERY hush-hush about the details — it’s their “moneyball” advantage.
– pitching mechanics
– physical conditioning
Query whether Johan would have been as effective had he used a different motion…
I appreciate Johan’s contributions to the Mets, regret that he cannot perform this year, really regret that his contract is not insured and am glad the issue is decided now rather than looming indefinitely. Makes it easier to plan moving forward.
Hopefully, we’ll see Zach Wheeler sooner rather than later, but not too soon!
As Mike notes below, Johan threw with safe mechanics prior to 2008, and was incredibly successful. I’ve yet to see any pitcher become less effective after his motion was PROPERLY corrected.
Great article and great pointsby you and others. My question is this: based on accounts here, it seems as though Santana was highly successful and not throwing with the “flaw” that you say cost him, in his Twins heyday. I remember vividly that obth the Yanks and Red Sox backed off him due to projected durability. Cashman actually commented today on the Yankee position. Assuming he maintained clean mechanics, he would still be incurring wear and tear on his shoulder, elbow, etc., and aging as well. What was your take at the time of his signing as far as concern about his durability and longevity? Thanks.
My take at the time? Hmm … I don’t remember off the top of my head but I bet you can find it in the archives here. For me, though, it wasn’t about longevity / length of the contract. At the time, the Mets were seemingly one ace pitcher short of the World Series, and I don’t think anyone expected Santana to perform through the entire deal. It was the cost of doing business, and at the time, Johan was one of the top five starters in MLB — therefore, a deal the Mets had to do to prove they were serious about winning.
That was my take as well. There were some publishes stories about Santana being on a downward trend depsite his young age based data you mentioned. Despite that, it was a risk worthy of taking based on where the team was at that time. Additionally, given his excellent change up, I thought he would be able to adjust to lower velocity and in the new league still dominate. Unfortunately, the capsule tear to the shoulder is too severe even for that adjustment.
And no, the arm motion should not change at all when throwing a change-up. If it did, then it WOULD be easier to identify. Velocity drops due to the grip on the ball, not on the arm motion.
Further, Santana threw without the flaw when he was winning Cy Youngs with the Twins.
I’m glad you brought up Wheeler — I truly believe the main reason SF made him available for Beltran was because he wasn’t buying into the changes the Giants made to his motion, and felt he was susceptible to chronic arm problems.
Based on the very limited video I’ve seen of him, it appears his arm tends to lag behind the rest of his body. His hand is not at the high-cock phase at foot strike, which is a bright red flag.
Personally, I think Santana’s reinjury was caused by pitching on a sprained ankle. In addition to the obvious red flag of giving up 21 hits in his next 8.1 innings, his motion also looked a little different to me, and an obvious explanation would be using more arm to compensate for an inability to use his legs. That the Mets left him in that game (to give up hits to 6 of the next 7 batters) and brought him back for his next 2 starts (12 runs in 8 innings, looking awful) seemed awfully stupid to me.
since that is when his performance fell off the cliff. Up to that point he may have been using his legs to compensate for a less than perfect shoulder, not helped by the flaw Joe described.
The final straw was the “voluntary bull pen session”, which obviously worsened his poor condition, judging by performance.
Met management stupidity must be part of their culture, and will probably be so until they are Wilponfree.
I am no fan of Met management or ownership, but I think it is a stretch to blame them for Santana’s injury. I agree with Joe J’s main theme, that proper biomechanics is overlooked in baseball, but this is a mistake of the majority and mostly everyone, so to single out the Mets would be unfair. Additionally, virtually everyone loves when an athlete “guts it out”, and Santana was praised by all for his 2008 performance on a bad knee in game 161. It is hard to have it both ways, and very tough to draw the line. Despite all the uproar afther the 134 pitch no-no, Santana’s stats, velocity, and own statements support that his arm was not shot after that game. Yes, it was stressed, and that may well have led to further damage, but he performed decently directly afterwards. The “warrior” in him tried to battle through the ankle as well, again something we all admire, but it didn’t work out. This type of injury is almost impossible to recover from. He did a hell of a job just getting back to the form he had in the first half of 2012. “Blame”, if there is blame to place, has to go around to all involved, not simply Met management. In any event, it is quite unfortunate for both the team and the player.
The thing with Santana is that it could have been difficult to see and understand the flaw by an untrained eye. He did the short-arm thing with the Twins, but usually managed to get his arm back into a safe route in time so that it would still be safe. But, it was a bad habit, and there was always the chance that it could cause problems if something in his timing was just slightly off. Maybe it was his knee or other lower-half issues that caused the timing to change. Maybe it was something else — who knows?