In case you're unfamiliar, I recapped the basic facts of the Kerry Wood story in a post shortly after Riggleman was first named interim manager:
Wood was called up at age 20. He won the rookie of the year with a 3.40 ERA and 12.6 Ks per 9. He also walked 4.6 per 9 and was therefore prone to high pitch counts. Riggleman didn't care. He had Wood throw 166.2 innings, including pitch counts of 133, 129, 123, 123, 122 (twice), and 121 (twice). After the season, Wood had Tommy John surgery, missedRiggleman had just gotten done explaining how careful the team had been with Jordan Zimmerman, and I wanted to know what he'd learned over the last decade that caused him to advocate such a different approach.
two full seasonsthe next season, and has never become the guy he might have been.
Riggleman's answer fell a bit short of what I was hoping to hear.
The gist of his explanation was that the team was in the middle of a playoff race. They needed to win every game, and Wood as a strikeout pitcher tended to run up big pitch counts. The fans would go nuts every time he took Wood out of a game. And one of their weaknesses as a team was the late-inning bridge between the starter and then-closer Rod Beck.
All that is fair, as far as it goes. After all, flags fly forever. The Phillies rode Cole Hamels pretty hard last year, and it's hard to argue with it now.
Riggles was unambiguous in his philosophy at the time: "I never asked for him to come up, but once he was there we treated him like everybody else."
Looking at Wood's innings and pitch counts, that's undoubtedly true, but I expected him to say they at least tried to protect him a little.
Eventually he said, "If I had to do it over I wouldn't have pitching him that much." That's what I wanted to hear, and if he had just left it at that, I probably would have been happier.
But he went on: "[Pitchers] just get hurt. It was probably inevitable. But your conscience is more clear if you take the conservative approach."
I can understand his desire for redemption. One of the most notorious pitching injuries in recent MLB history happened on his watch. It probably cost him his job in Chicago, and I'm sure he's sick of hearing about it.
But pitcher abuse isn't just a political PR problem. You don't err on the side of caution to protect yourself from criticism as a manager. You err on the side of caution because it reduces the risk of injury.
There's a wide body of evidence that usage does matter. Big innings jumps increase risk. High pitch counts increase risk. Wood had both.
Injuries will never be totally eliminated, but when a pitcher is asked to pitch a lot--especially when asked to pitch tired--the risk level goes up. Riggleman may not want to admit it, but he screwed up.
I came away with more concern than ever before that this isn't the guy to trust with premium arms like Stephen Strasburg. I don't want a manager who will unapologetically run a young pitcher into the ground. And I don't want a manager who can experience such a monumental setback and not really reevaluate his approach.