Augie Garrido, Austin Wood, and Media Outrage

In the multitude of BON posts over the magical weekend at the Disch, we've soaked and basked in the afterglow of the two weekend victories from nearly every angle.  Like many Longhorns fans, we've celebrated the heroics of Preston Clarke and Austin Wood and fixated on the brilliance of the various moments, experiences, and performances of our players.  While we've largely remained focused on the victories, the pitch count of Austin Wood over the weekend has become ensconced as a topical point within the ongoing national debate over pitcher safety. 

Several respected baseball pundits have eviscerated Garrido's decision to leave in Wood, with Keith Law ($) even calling for Garrido to be fired.  After the jump, I highlight several talking points from the discussion thread following an excellent post from Lone Star Ball, the Texas Rangers SBN site.  Within this discussion, the commentators help unravel the complexities which are normally left uncovered in the normal debates over the issue.  Instead of simply repeating the mantras over "Pitch Counts are for Wimps" or "130+ pitches = FIRE THE MANAGER", this discussion bears direct relevance to the issues surrounding Wood's performance.

In his post, which debunks the myth of Nolan Ryan actually abolishing pitch counts in Texas, Adam J. Morris highlights quotes from Evan Grant and Keith Law over Garrido's decision to leave Austin Wood as long as he did.  The money quotes are below, pulled from the Lone Star Ball article and linked to their original sources.

Evan Grant, writing on Inside Corner for D Magazine.

But Kevin Millwood, obviously tiring in the 93-degree heat won an eight-pitch battle against Jack Hannahan to end the inning with just the one run scoring. Millwood must be done with 116 pitches. Well, unless Augie Garrido has taken over the Rangers. He let a kid throw 169 pitches. As somone up here said "A coach can’t buy a kid a cheeseburger without creating some kind of violation, but he can abuse his arm all he wants." Me, if the coaches won’t act responsibily, I’d have the NCAA legislate pitch counts.  I know Austin Wood probably didn’t want to come out of the game, but 169 pitches is just shameful. 

 Keith Law ($), writing for ESPN's MLB Draft Blog

Sending any college pitcher, especially one with a pro future, out there to throw three or four times as many pitches as his arm is accustomed to throwing, and doing so when his arm is already fatigued from an outing the day before, is a firing offense. Both coaches should be terminated immediately before they get another chance to blow out anyone else's arm.

The Lone Star Ball post is interesting, but the most relevant points to this discussion come from various commenters in the discussion thread.  This discussion highlights both sides of the debate, but I want to highlight two comments outlining a more centric position.

From commenter "Darrell McKown", an avid UT fan who has previously posted under a "BurntOrange" handle.

Isn’t what Nolan is really saying is that he wants his pitchers to work harder and get in better shape so that they can throw more pitches without hurting themselves?

Nolan was well known for being in great shape. I think it’s pretty well accepted that the way you get hurt is throwing while tired, particularly if your mechanics get all out of whack because you are tired. So, if you work harder and get in better shape, it logically follows that you can throw more pitches before you get tired and greatly increased your chances of hurting yourself.

I think what’s he’s saying is don’t be happy just throwing 6 innings or 100 pitches, but work harder to increase how much you can safely pitch, which will vary by pitcher. He isn’t saying just blindly throw until your arm falls off.

McKown's point is significantly topical for this debate, as, immediately preceding Wood's epic performance, TexasSports.com published an feature article over Wood's off-season conditioning program, which he claims has allowed his arm to remain stronger over the course of the season.  However, any defense of Wood's extremely high pitch count based on his improved off-season workouts run into two immediate problems.  The first is that the TexasSports article additionally adds that his workouts were later tailored to his role of a closer.  The second--and larger problem--is presented by our own Big Roy, who, in his last post, noted that Wood was throwing up and cramping in the dugout during the 15th inning and continually fought through dehydration and exhaustion during his performance.

The fact that Wood was throwing while obviously being exhausted isn't a definitive precursor to an injury, but it definitely adds ammunition to Garrido's detractors.  On the flip side, the vomiting and cramping by Wood eliminates the ability of Garrido's defenders to point to Wood's conditioning as a defense for Wood's high pitch count.  However, neither of these arguments remain dispositive, as the second commenter that I want to feature explains how this might not effect Wood's short-term career prospects.

While I hate to ever credit someone from College Station, "WestTxAg06" brought a great perspective to the discussion.

Smart guys like Kevin Goldstein have made the point that the Rangers are just trying to manage the major league guys the right way: for too long, pitchers were overworked, and then the pendulum swung too far the other way and we started babying pitchers too much. Now, the Rangers are just trying to inject some common sense and find the middle ground: your starters are your best pitchers, generally, so use them as long as possible in a manner that is safe for the pitcher and good for the team’s chances of winning.

I generally like Keith Law, but his occasional hyperbolic rants against perceived evils and injustices annoy me. The Longhorns should fire Augie for keeping Wood out that long? Yeah, okay. I’m no fan of Augie as a person, but he’s one heck of a baseball coach. There are about 200 other Division I teams that would LOVE to see him fired for that offense.

The pendulum swing is an excellent observation and dovetails with my own personal experiences with the debate.  I'm not sure the proper middle ground has been found between non-existing and rigid pitch counts, as the proper barometer probably remains too speculative for any fan's liking or comfort.  Later in his entry, WestTxAg06 points out Jim Callis' measured response over WoodGate, which came in a chat session with the DMN.

1:15
[Comment From kyle]
How will the high pitch counts for Austin Wood and the BC reliever in the marathon 25 inning game on Saturday impact their draft status, if at all?
1:16
Jim Callis:  They won't impact them draft-wise. If there was a repeated pattern of overwork, it would be a concern. Belfiore is a second- to fourth-rounder, Wood a seventh- to 12th-rounder. Those pitch counts, especially for relievers who worked the day before, aren't what scouts want to see. But they were one-time only deals under exceptional circumstances, and both pitchers were strong throughout the outing and didn't look hurt.

In addition to making one point, Callis' response perhaps raises another.  Austin Wood's ceiling of a 7th-12th round draft pick can be viewed as an indicator of his potential to reach the major leagues.  In what will almost certainly amount to the highlight of his baseball career, Augie Garrido allowed Austin Wood to achieve greatness, instead of pulling him at a more reasonable time.  In my opinion, the fact that Wood adamantly opposed coming out of the game should amount for something, as a College Senior is old enough to not require constant "protection from himself."  I'm not absolving Garrido of any blame for the decision, as I'm still a little queasy over Wood throwing 200 pitches in 2 days after spending the season as a reliever. 

The ordeal reminds me of something from high school.  I've never forgotten one of my high school baseball playoff games, in which the opposing pitcher for Duncanville threw over 155+ pitches.  I was incredulous at the effort and quizzed one of the assistant coaches what he thought about the potential slagging of the pitcher's arm.  The coach said the kid had no prospects of playing Division I baseball due to his mediocre stuff and this effort would be the highlight of his baseball career.  My coach ultimately said that this was going to be the story the pitcher would be able to tell his kids, and he didn't see any harm in letting him go as long as he was physically and mentally effective on the mound.  Once again, this discussion made me a little queasy, but I definitely understood the point.

The fact that the gigantic workload shouldn't effect Wood's draft status is somewhat comforting to me, as it means that Wood shouldnt lose any bonus money from his signing.  An injury caused by the effort would obviously temporarily or permanently derail his career, but, based on his draft position, the opportunity cost remains smaller than it would for a first-rounder.

Conclusion

While we've largely ignored debating over Garrido's decision to leave in Austin Wood for 13 innings, he is being pummeled by some national writers concerned over Wood's future health.  I dont presume to have any moral certainty over whether this was the right decision, but, through this post, I wanted to highlight some intricacies within the debate beyond the drumbeating from the "Old School" and "New School" crowds over pitch counts.  We've found our star pitcher and legendary manager in the midst of a raging debate, and I wanted to provide BON with the opportunity for the topic to be adequately discussed.

To me, the key revolves around the bilateral nature of Wood's continued performance.  At any point, either Wood or Garrido could have terminated his outing, yet neither chose to take this step.  We will forever remember the heroics of Austin Wood, which is the result of a joint decision between Wood and Garrido to let the pitcher achieve a level of greatness perhaps never matched in College Baseball history.  In my opinion, I absolutely would have pulled Wood sooner, but I'm not entirely comfortable with getting on a high horse and declaring that Garrido inexorably should have protected Wood from himself.

What do you guys think?

Hook 'em!

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