On Wednesday morning, ESPN 980's Mike and Mike had on a special guest to weigh in on the Stephen Strasburg innings limit. Former Braves' pitching coach Leo Mazzone was asked about the decision to shut down the Nationals ace as he once mentored one of the best starting rotations in MLB history, a group that some have compared to the current one in Washington as far as youth and talent.
Mazzone ripped the Nationals and called their plan "pathetic," siding with the argument that the team should hold nothing back in trying to win a World Series this season.
And the reason I say that, Ive got the experience. Youngsters like Steve Avery when he was 21 taking us to a World Series with a group of kids, with Smoltz and Glavine and Avery and Pete Smith and one veteran guy, Leibrandt. Prior to Maddux in 93 in 91 and 92 these guys all pitched 200-plus innings. Ok? And everybody had long careers."
To many, the immediate problem jumping out of this particular statement was the citing of Steve Avery. Avery was a tremendous young pitcher who had success early on in his career, but faded after the age of 23 and was out of the league by the age of 29. He never had Tommy John surgery as Strasburg has had, but he isn't exactly a prime example of a lengthy major league pitching career.
One thing Strasburg and Avery do have in common is their agent as Scott Boras once represented Avery some 20 years ago. Boras decided to call in to Mike and Mike the very next morning and spent much of his time on the Avery and Strasburg comparison. Coincidence? Probably not.
"I've heard a lot of things over the years, I've heard about the great Atlanta Braves pitching staff and all of their performances," he said. "Well I represented Steve Avery and I'm sitting there watching his career end at 28 or 29 years of age who was a brilliant pitcher."
Boras cites his own research of the workload for pitchers between the ages of 21 and 23, how the Braves' rotation exemplifies the right way to handle arms and, in the case of Avery, the wrong way. He points out Tom Glavine (431.2) and John Smoltz (503.1) threw far less innings in what he called their "formative years" than Steve Avery (713.1).
The Braves picked Avery 3rd overall in the 1988 draft and he didn't make the majors until 1990. He threw 99.0 innings his first season and then jumped all the way to 210.1 innings the following season. Boras is now glad that a team like the Nationals know better than to increase a pitchers workload that significantly.
"They want players to know that they care and they monitor these things," he said of Mike Rizzo and the Natioanls' brass.
With the specific numbers he cites and the length he took to explain, it sounds like the downfall of Steve Avery is still fresh in Boras' mind. It is safe to say he doesn't want it to happen again to another young pitcher, even as the ace of a team looking primed for contention.