Questionable Bullpen Use Continues in Las Vegas

Las Vegas RHRP Cody Satterwhite (middle, rear) walks between practice fields with LHP Steven Matz (close) and RHP Jacob deGrom (far) in Port St. Lucie during Spring Training, 2015. Photo: Stephen Guilbert

Friday night, another questionable use of a Las Vegas relief pitcher has many concerned over the young man's health and puzzled as to why the 51s overwork their relievers with such regularity while the Mets front office takes no action to protect their young arms.

Friday's game against the Reno Aces started off with a scramble when Logan Verrett was summoned to the New York Mets. Tyler Pill was called for the start. He last threw four days prior in his only relief appearance of 2015 (16 total) and threw only 31 pitches in that outing. His season high is 70. The day did not start well for Pill and before he could complete the 1st inning, he had surrendered seven runs and Wally Backman called on relief pitcher Cody Satterwhite to clean up the mess. Pill had thrown 39 pitches.

Cody Satterwhite, who has appeared in the 7th inning or later 38 times out of his 48 appearances and has a season high of 41 pitches, was asked to come in to the 1st inning of a game and throw 48 pitches.

The 48 pitches for Satterwhite was a professional high.

He took an at bat--something he had not done in a decade.

Cody Satterwhite is 28 years old. He sports a 4.73 ERA for Las Vegas and has never made the big leagues. Formerly a second round draft pick by the Tigers, shoulder injuries led to lost seasons in 2010 and 2012 and the Tigers parted ways before the Mets picked him up prior to the 2013 season.

Between then and the start of this season, Cody Satterwhite has been a very very good reliever for Mets minor league teams.

However, Cody Satterwhite is a 28-year-old right-handed reliever who has zero major league experience. The margin for error for a pitcher like Cody is thin. Perhaps more relevant and more concerning: One more major injury and his professional career is probably over.

That is why unnecessary risks--like throwing 48 pitches in mop-up duty when his arm is not accustomed to that exposure--are concerning.

Cody Satterwhite has a family. His wife, Mallory, is pregnant. If Cody Satterwhite suffers the same fate as Jack Leathersich, his career is likely over.

As it is, even with extensive time in the minors and playing at the highest level, minor league players make practically nothing. The average Triple-A salary is $2,150/month and that is only during the season. Someone like Cody Satterwhite can expect to make about $10,000 this year--well under minimum wage considering the hours they log playing, training and throwing. Conversely, the minimum salary for a major leaguer is $507,000, over 50 times what Satterwhite would make in a season. On a major league salary, Cody Satterwhite would eclipse his Triple-A season salary in under four days...whether he pitches or not.

Needless to say, getting to the major leagues even for one season secures a comfortable future for himself, his wife, and his child. One hurdle Cody Satterwhite should never have to encounter is reckless overuse. Entering a game in the 1st inning and throwing 48 pitches for a late-inning reliever used to throwing about 22 pitches per outing is reckless. It legitimately puts the health of Cody Satterwhite's arm at risk.

For what? To get through a game that, for all intents and purposes, is meaningless. The minor leagues are about learning, developing skills and maturation. It is not about winning. The Las Vegas manager, Wally Backman, and pitching coach, Frank Viola, had starting pitcher Tyler Pill throw 39 pitches. They had to get eight and a third innings out of their 9-man bullpen. They should not have asked one of their late-inning relievers to pitch more pitches than he ever had as a professional just to get through that game.

The problem remains that this is not an isolated incident. We have talked about it a lot over the past week on this site. Before you go saying that these are professional pitchers and chose this for a living, think about the ramifications of a decision to leave Cody Satterwhite in for 48 pitches.

For Wally Backman, it was getting through nine innings after his starter could not complete one.

For Cody and Mallory Satterwhite, it was concern over their future.

Cody and Mallory Satterwhite are expecting a baby girl. Twitter: Mallory Satterwhite 

This is my third article on this topic. I never wanted that to be the case. However, every time the Las Vegas coaching staff pushes a reliever past where they should, I worry. I do not just worry about the future of the relieving corps for the New York Mets, a team I have been fanatic about for 20 years, but the relievers as well. As people. There is more at stake here than just finishing minor league games.

If the above has yet to convince you, let me give you one more example:

In 2011, Backman, then a first year manager in the Mets organization, he had a closer by the name of Erik Turgeon. Turgeon was a righty relief pitcher who saved seven games for the Binghamton Mets, tops on the team. The 24-year-old was drafted out of college in the late rounds and instantly became a reliever in the New York Mets system. While pitch count data for the low minors is not tracked, Turgeon was never asked to face more than 13 batters in an outing his first three years as a professional. Under Backman in Binghamton, he was asked to do that four different times in the same season, including one 3.1 inning outing in which Backman had this late inning reliever/closer throw 67 pitches.

That game, despite what you might think, was not an extra-inning slugfest in which every pitcher was taxed to their max. Instead, this was another instance of a starter getting knocked out early and Backman summoning a late-inning reliever to mop up. 67 pitches later, the Binghamton Mets were through the 5th inning. Backman only needed to use two more relievers after Turgeon. The B-Mets lost 11-2.

After that outing Erik Turgeon had an up-and-down finish to his 2011 season, battled (you guessed it) injuries in 2012 and then retired.


Charles said...

I understand where your coming from, but none of us know what happens in the dugout or between innings. We don't know if Wally is asking the pitching coach or the players if he is okay to go and they keep answering yes.

We also should consider that these pitchers can at any time summon the staff over to him on the mound, say he's getting tired and exit the game, if he's converned that he's about to blow out his elbow due to overuse.

I also don't think for a second that the Mets' front office would ever allow Wally to abuse these players; especially a guy like Leathersich.

I think Sandy would fire him in a second if he thought Wally was the cause for Leather needing surgery due to overuse.

I'm not trying to defend Wally or the Mets front office. It's just that nobody knows what's going on behind the scenes. Maybe Wally was told that the Mets wanted to stretch Leather out for multiple innings. Maybe his side sessions recently have been pushing his pitch count up on purpose.

I know it's most definitely not the case, but we don't know. Pitchers have been getting hurt at alarming rates lately and most agree it's because of overuse....when they were pre teens to teenagers; trying to get high velocity readings for scouts at showcases and games that last ALL YEAR LONG nowadays.

I'm highly skeptical that any pitcher who blows out their elbow today can assume for one second that the damage was caused because of one recent example of overuse. These injuries are from a culmination of overuse over a much longer period of time. Basically, wear and tear. I think it's not fair to say simply that Wally is the cause.

Despite that, I do agree that it was extremely odd that Leatherisch was left in to throw 57 pitches when his previous high was in the mid 30s. I would love to hear Wally's answer to why Jack was left to throw so many. I just don't think we'll hear the reason.

Thomas Brennan said...

Good personal piece, Stephen. Brings it home. It is hard to believe these guys only make that much per month. Is that really true? If it is, it is amazing more guys don't hang it up sooner...and I do not blame Cesar Puello for positioning himself to get paid.

Mack Ade said...

Stephen -

A well written article on what may be an exception to the problems you have pointed out in your past articles.

This game started out in hell with Tyler Pill only going 0.2 innings. It was going to be a long day on the mound for the entire pen.

Satterwhite wound up throwing 2.1 innings here... three other of his last 10 outings were 2.0 innings pitched. What stands out here is the 4-H and 3-ER he gave up.

This game was so bad that Catcher Nelfi Zapata even pitched an inning.

I have a lot of respect for Frank Viola and I give him a pass on this one. This was a bad night for Las Vegas, a bad start for Pill, and a bad pickup for Satterwhile. IMO, nothing more.

Stephen Guilbert said...

Mack, the Binghamton Mets had to get 8.2 innings out their bullpen and no pitcher threw more than 31 pitches.

Terry Collins needed 10.1 innings of relief against the Cardinals and only Gilmartin threw more than 23 pitches in relief and he was "only" asked to throw 41 pitches.

Collin again last night had to use his long man Torres and he pulled him after 35 pitches.

You can easily avoid overuse when your bullpen has to have a long day.

Charles, there is no set of circumstances that excuses 57 pitches and I think the assumption that Leathersich's injury is not at least partially attributed to that outing is a very very big stretch. Like I said, it's a smoking gun.

Mack Ade said...

Stephen -

You are generating a fair amount of Twitter banter on this.

Ernest Dove said...

The one concern I also shared with Stephen at the time was that it does not appear as though Leathersich has ever thrown that many pitches in his professional career in one game. (Stats back to 2011-12 didn't really show all his pitch counts)

Thomas Brennan said...

Leathersich was abused. Someone was guilty of malpractice. His name happens to be Wally.

metsiac said...

Stephen, I fully agree. Terry doesn't come close to what Wally has done. But then the critics jump on him for using "too many" pitchers. In the Nats game, when Parnell had the BS, Terry was blamed for not using Mejia for a 2nd inning instead of bringing Bobby in.

Damned if he does...etc.

Charles said...

Like I said Stephen, it's highly questionable, but for players who have thrown baseballs their entire life, likely not the biggest reason.

I could go outside right now and thrown 100 pitches at max effort and my elbow wouldn't blow out because my elbow lacks the wear and tear of a lifetime of use.

As far as Bingo having to get 8+ innings of relief without overusing their arms? Well, circumstances are different in every game.

Lastly, that you are using Terry Collins as some type of great bullpen savior when it comes to the arms of his pitchers, I find that amusing.

I think Edgin and Brydak would love to remind you of what Terry does to lefties when he only has one of them to use. He runs them out there so often that their arms turn to jelly right there on the mound and the grounds crew simply digs it up and sends it off by helicopter to the Hospital for Special Surgery.

Stephen Guilbert said...

"The UCL's primary job is to prevent the elbow from separating during stressful activity. In
overhead athletes, the force of throwing a ball exceeds the strength of the UCL alone. This
means we must rely on our muscles to prevent the ligament from rupturing. In light of this
information, it is not surprising that a pitcher is 36 times more likely to damage the UCL if
pitching while muscles are fatigued.

One of the best analogies to describe the UCL is this: If you take a rubber band and stretch it,
the fibers will tear to some degree, even on the first stretch. As you stretch that rubber band
over and over, and stretch it further and further, the materials will break down, and the rubber
band will eventually snap. The same holds true for the UCL."

Anonymous said...

A pass to overuse arms to this extent? No. Bad night for Pill, yes unfortunately. Bad pickup though for Satterwhite? He got out of Pill's based loaded jam and struck out the first four batters he faced.

Anonymous said...

Pitchers cannot summon from the mound unless they are hurt, in which case they may make a DL appearance. Being tired or strained and summoning the coach isn't an option, for fear of demotion. There are professional expectations and you do whatever you're asked if you're trying to make it.

Mack's Mets © 2012