Correlation, Causation, and Elbows


This sucks.

That’s about all that can be said right now. This sucks. Perhaps there are adverbs that can be added to such a phrase. Four-letter words become six (or seven, depending on whether your affinities lie with an apostrophe or the letter G), but under the pretense of ‘family-friendly’ discourse, I’m not allowed to use them here.

…but I didn’t say ‘fudge’…

There’s a lot you’re going to hear in the next few days and weeks. “These things happen.” A lot. They happen, seemingly, at random. The Year-After Effect (colloquially known as the Verducci effect after its developer, Tom Verducci) has been largely disproven; with “Correlation does not imply causation” being the simple dismissal. Myriad factors can impact pitchers’ health – intensity and consistency of delivery, tendency and mechanics when throwing breaking pitches, and conditioning can all impact the health of a pitcher’s throwing arm. Of course, it’s largely conjecture, there is no concrete link between any specific action and injury.

Note: I am not a doctor, though I do my best to read up on such science. I am also not a statistician, though I fake one pretty well for television.

Aug 26, 2013; New York, NY, USA; New York Mets starting pitcher Matt Harvey speaks about his injury during a press conference before a game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citi Field. It was announced today that Harvey has a partially torn UCL. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Unfortunately, what’s happened is happened. Matt Harvey has a partially-torn Ulnar Collateral Ligament. This is bad. It’s, at the very least, a serious impediment in building a contending Mets team. I have neither the liberty nor rationale to consider the worst-case scenario. But, in such times, it becomes important to remember that accusations and riot calls are nothing but a detriment. There’s naught to be gained.

We, of course, only know so much. From the press conference, we know that Matt Harvey had been experiencing minor forearm tightness, and then after last Saturday’s start the decision was made to take more considerable action. Though the term “forearm tightness” is universally a cause for concern. However, what we don’t know is the level of preventative care the Mets had taken. On one hand, it would be difficult for the Mets to take any significant action (e.g. an MRI) without it being discovered. On the other hand, we didn’t hear anything about today’s MRI until a press conference had been announced. Very little is known beyond what was discussed today; it would be unfair to make assumptions beyond that. We often lambast bloggers and beat writers for doing the very same (when it doesn’t fit our narratives), so would it not be hypocritical to do the very same because it may fit our narrative? And what narrative might that be?

There’s been a recent (and contentious) movement to fire manager Terry Collins, and to a slightly lesser extent General Manager Sandy Alderson. And what better cause for dismissal than the mismanagement of arguably the organization’s most valuable asset?

Note: This isn’t a column arguing for an extension of Collins, or for his job safety. It’s merely a call for sanity and composure in a fanbase’s time of hardship.

In truth, there’s very little evidence suggesting this. Though Matt Harvey has been on pace to blow past his innings limit (assuming no shutdown, Harvey would jump more than 50 innings from last year), there’s very little to suggest that Harvey’s extra innings have actually placed such a considerable burden on him. Thanks to improved efficiency, Harvey’s innings came at a much-lower price:

Through 26 starts, Harvey’s thrown an increased 38.1 innings compared to last year. However, it hasn’t corresponded to a significant increase in workload; as Harvey only averaged about 6 more pitches per start. There are, of course, additional factors – throws to first and warmup pitches, for example – but the evidence here generally suggests that it hasn’t been a particularly taxing year to date.

But what about the trend of pitching injuries? Clearly this suggests the Mets don’t know how to manage their young arms.

Does it?

Aug 17, 2013; San Diego, CA, USA; New York Mets starting pitcher Jenrry Mejia (58) throws during the first inning against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Probably not. Yes, the Mets have a pair of pitchers (Harvey and Jeremy Hefner) who appear headed for Tommy John‘s, but their lack of injury history or concerning symptoms lend little credence toward mismanagement. Neither pitcher had been working through unusual or excessive pain until the moments before their ailments were discovered.

Beyond them lie pitchers like Jenrry Mejia, Jeurys Familia, and Frank Francisco, all of whom have missed varying amounts of time with “loose bodies” in their elbows. On multiple occasions today, I saw this used as evidence that Terry Collins and pitching coach Dan Warthen were willing to push ailing pitchers to their detriment. This, rationally, doesn’t hold much merit. There are significant differences between their injuries and those of Harvey and Hefner, not the least of which is the cause for concern. Torn ligaments are serious issues that cause, initially, stability issues that make it difficult to maintain mechanics and control pitches. Loose bodies, while concerning, are somewhat innocuous. There’s no imminent danger of pitching with loose bodies. Whereas frayed ligaments and muscles can tear, loose bodies largely cause only soreness and tenderness. Over the long term, both of which can lead a pitcher to change his mechanics (which is often followed by a more sever injury), but over the short term the only concern is pain management. Should there not be significant pain, there is little risk to a pitcher’s health. Until the pain leads to inconsistencies and mechanical changes, there isn’t much to worry about.

Soreness and injuries aren’t the same. Soreness, effectively managed, rarely escalates to injury. And we’ve learned, if you remember, that such soreness may not impact performance. In 2011, R.A. Dickey pitched magnificently through plantar fasciitis before winning a Cy Young award while managing a small abdominal tear last season. Jenrry Mejia changed his stock from afterthought to exciting prospect in his stint earlier this year.

This injury sucks. Could it have been prevented? Perhaps, although that’s impossible for us (largely both uneducated and uninformed) fans to determine. Do multiple injuries suggest a pattern? It may in some cases, but it doesn’t here. Instead of speculating, instead of searching for (read: creating) narratives to fit a set of preconceived notions, let’s take what’s transpired at face value.

Correlation doesn’t imply causation. Multiple pitchers getting hurt while tutored by Terry Collins and Dan Warthen doesn’t imply that the two of them are leading pitchers to injury. A collection of random circumstances, however connected they seem, are almost always not. It’s foolish to suggest otherwise, just as it’s foolish to suggest that anyone in the Mets’ office would so callously jeopardize the future (both the Mets’ and their own). Creating these narratives, because they fit your machinations, does a disservice to the team and its fans. These people are paid (generally large sums of money) to manage and prevent exactly what has happened.

Harping on something largely unpredictable (and, to an extent, unpreventable) to advance an agenda weakens the blogging community as a whole, and does a disservice to the men who put their bodies on the line.

Thanks for reading! Be sure to follow@RisingAppleBlog on Twitter and Instagram, and Like Rising Apple’s Facebook page to keep up with the latest news, rumors, and opinion.