(Or the coffee, either…)
It’s been almost 3 weeks since the Padres signed Josh Johnson. Most observers gave the signing a ‘thumbs-up’, for some very good reasons. Eight million for one year of a recovering pitcher, with the option of a second year at $4M should he spectacularly break down again, sounds pretty good. It probably is good.
A quick recap of these three former major league pitchers.
Mark Mulder. Mark was one of the bright stars in the Oakland A’s rotation 15 years ago. He went 81-42 in five seasons by the bay, finishing second in the 2001 Cy Young vote. After the St Louis Cardinals were swept out of the 2004 World Series, they felt they needed a shut-down front line pitcher, so they traded for Mark during the off-season. Mulder won 16 games in 2005 and led that team to the NLCS. After that, his left shoulder rapidly declined, making him very hittable.
Mark managed to pitch fairly well at the start of the 2006 season, but the wheels fell off in mid-May. In a 28 May start at Petco, which I happened to attend, he got torched by the Padres for 8 runs in 4 1/3 innings. That game is memorable to me because Albert Pujols hit a HR off the batter’s eye. First time I saw someone do that at Petco.
Mulder got hammered by the Cubs, Brewers, Pirates, and White Sox after that, and ended up on the DL. Eventually he would undergo left rotator cuff surgery, then a second surgery, then rehab, and more rehab. Since the end of the 2006 season he has appeared in six games and thrown 12 2/3 innings. His career was essentially over in 2010, and he entered retirement, although he’s apparently going to try a comeback for the 2014 season.
Brandon Webb. Webb went 87-62 in seven seasons with the Diamondbacks. He was third in the 2003 ROY voting, won the Cy Young in 2006, and was runner-up in 2007/2008. However the wheels fell off for him as well. In 2009 he was diagnosed with bursitis in his throwing shoulder. Webb eventually underwent rotator cuff surgery, then a second surgery, on that right shoulder. He also attempted several comebacks, but did not pitch in the majors again after Opening Day 2009. He retired in 2013.
Mark Prior. Prior seemed destined for greatness when he burst onto the scene in 2002. He and Kerry Wood carried the 2003 Cubs within 5 outs of their first World Series appearance since 1945, as close as the moribund franchise has been since WWII ended. His delivery was considered perfect; in fact, Will Carroll extolled its virtues in Saving the Pitcher.
Mark’s career did not have a storybook ending. His routinely high pitch counts that 2003 season, or his delivery (which may actually have overstressed his shoulder) probably contributed. He collided with Marcus Giles in 2003 while Giles was running the bases, and came back quickly after the injury. That might have played a part. He took a line drive his throwing elbow courtesy of Brad Hawpe in 2005. Either of those could have altered his mechanics. Prior developed arm trouble in 2005 and spent lots of time on the DL.
Prior was diagnosed with a ‘loose shoulder’ after the 2006 season and spent the winter doing conditioning work to strengthen it. The shoulder did not respond, so he opted for exploratory surgery and missed the 2007 season. He would eventually have more surgery to correct a tear in his right shoulder. After years of attempting to get back into the Majors, Prior finally retired yesterday.
Three really good pitchers who developed shoulder trouble and never recovered.
No, they aren’t unique. Lots of pitchers develop arm trouble and don’t recover. And, there is one glaring difference between these men and Josh Johnson. Johnson has not yet had surgery on his right shoulder. Is it a fair comparison? I think yes. Johnson’s had several bouts of shoulder inflammation. They started in 2011. Josh’s inflammation cost him most of the 2011 season and part of 2012. He also experienced forearm tightness, which sidelined him for most of last season. So there’s something going on with his arm.
My biggest concern is that these physical issues mask a larger problem in his shoulder. The inflammation would be emblematic of that. It mirrors what Mulder, Webb, and Prior initially experienced before having their shoulders cut open. The forearm tightness and development of bone chips (which he had removed earlier this off-season) in his right arm could be because he’s trying to compensate for the pain in his shoulder. If that’s the case, then removing the bone chips will help but won’t solve the initial problem. His shoulder pain will return. He may spend lots of time on the DL next season. In which case, they might as well burn that $8M at second base.
I truly hope I’m wrong on this one. I’ll be the happiest dude in the world if Josh Johnson 2014 is an 80% reprisal of Josh Johnson 2010, when he finished fifth in the Cy Young voting. I just don’t expect his body will let him be that guy.
“Have you ever felt that somehow/you were not yourself/that your body was the same/but everything around you wasn’t right”