Padres bloggin' since 2007

Mark Prior: The Big Baby

December 31st, 2007 by Melvin

If you’re enough of a fan to read this blog you’ve heard the news: the Padres signed Mark Prior for ~$1 million guaranteed.

My take? It’s a million bucks! We’re talking less than Geoff Blum’s 2004 salary here, worst case scenario. Best case scenario is he’s available, and we’ll pay a bit more. That works too.

Lining up a few low risk, high reward guys like Prior and Wolf improve your chances of striking it rich. The downside is that shortsighted “fans” make “cheap” accusations. Nothing new there, yet by avoiding the free agent market the Padres have stayed consistent contenders since the Petco era began. (edit: current Padres resigned don’t count, obviously)

There are a ton of opinions thrown around about high profile guys like Mark Prior. If you’re like me, you tend to ignore a lot of them. Most high profiled opinions are thrown out to attract attention, not necessarily to provide analysis. It seems their weight is inversely proportional to the noise they create.

So if you’re looking for some depth into Prior’s career, you’re not alone. I’ll provide some a bit of background for your perusal.

Mark Prior
Picture © Scott Ableman

Draft

Though the touted best player available in the 2001 draft, the Twins made the controversial selection of Joe Mauer as the first pick overall, likely due to Prior’s signability concerns. Prior was selected second by the Cubs, a move to which the irony of history is not lost.

Injuries And Crap

Mark Prior’s nine career trips to disabled list began July of his flagship 2003 season, after a collision with Marcus Giles of the Braves. He missed only three starts, and blew away hitters that year to the tune we’ve all heard a few more times than necessary. Suffice it to say he threw a fantastic year.

A preseason achiles tendon injury sidelined Prior for April and May of 2004, a year in which he wasn’t able to replicate his previous success. A 109 ERA+ and 1.35 WHIP was all he managed in 118 innings.

Elbow issues arose in 2005, beginning with a 3 week strain again during the preseason. This was followed with a batted line drive off his elbow in late May. Prior still tossed nearly 167 innings between elbow trouble, with an above average line of 120 ERA+ and 1.21 WHIP.

2006 was a year of regression for Prior as he made 9 starts all season. He rocked a 64 ERA+ and a 1.70 whip in the process after beginning the year on the dl from shoulder strains in March workouts. The right hander continued to move on and off the list with alternating shoulder issues and a mid-season oblique strain .

October of that year brought a diagnosis of “Looseness” from Cubs trainer Mark O’Neil.

“Laxity,” O’Neal said. “Some people either have a tight shoulder or are labeled as genetically loose. Mark is one of those people who has loose joints — it’s something that’s genetically given to him. That looseness is what allows him to generate as much force as he does to be the great pitcher that he has the potential to be and has been.”

Don’t ask me because I don’t know.

Fast forward to early this year, the once touted “best college pitcher of all time” was optioned to Tripple-A Iowa after a poor 2007 spring training. With discomfort continuing, he opted for surgery in April after the plan to “strengthen the heck out of this thing” didn’t quite get the job done.

Prior had felt discomfort in his shoulder for “a couple years”, according to Cubs GM Jim Hendry.

What led to all this?

Hell if I know. (Now that’s what I call blogging!)

If I read a few articles, then threw out a near random guess I could do about as good a job of analysis as I’ve seen out there. I love the reasons to which the “experts” have attributed the trouble. Mostly general wussyness, it appears.

The alternative to guessing, which is writing things down in an unbiased fashion and looking them up later, shows that perhaps, Mark Prior was overused. Pitcher abuse points, a system developed by Keith Woolner of Baseball Prospectus, shows Prior the third most abused pitcher in baseball during the 2003 season, per start. He pitched a few less innings in 2004 and 2005, seasons in which he dropped to 26th in the majors, then back up to the 3rd most abused pitcher overall.

Hope that helps. Any comments? Please holla at us.

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