The 2024 season is just two weeks old, and pitchers are breaking down all over the place. The assortment of injuries include elbows that don’t require Tommy John surgery and elbows that do require Tommy John surgery. There are frayed shoulders, strained forearms, sore backs, torn oblique muscles, inflamed knees and hurting hamstrings.

Over the last two-plus seasons we’ve heard plenty about injuries to starting pitchers Jacob deGrom, Shohei Ohtani, Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Spencer Strider, Robbie Ray, Brandon Woodruff, Stephen Strasburg, Tyler Glasnow, Shane Bieber, Walker Buehler, Eury Perez, Sandy Alcantara, Dustin May, Clayton Kershaw, Chris Sale, Shane McClanahan, Carlos Rodon, Tyler Mahle, Shane Baz, Noah Syndergaard, Jose Urquidy, Luis Garcia, German Marquez, Kodai Senga, Lucas Gioloito, Alex Cobb, Framber Valdez, Steven Matz, Max Fried, James Paxton and Lance McCullers. Whew. That’s a lot of names. And I could list dozens more.

It’s the same with sidelined relievers over the last two-plus years. The list includes Devin Williams, Felix Bautista, Kendall Graveman, Alex Reyes, Colin McHugh, Drew Pomeranz, Tony Gonsolin, Zack Britton, Daniel Hudson, Sean Doolittle, Blake Treinen, Jonathan Loaisaga and so many more that I’m leaving out.

It’s stunning to look at the raw data and the amount of money that MLB franchises are paying pitchers who are physically unable to pitch. They could be out a few weeks, a couple of months, more than a year, or … forever.

The higher-profile pitchers get most of the attention, but the sheer number of injuries, days missed and “lost” money is amazing.

According to the injury-tracking data at Spotrac, an incredible count of 157 big-league pitchers have been out of action for different periods of time this season. Through Thursday the 157 pitchers had missed 2,374 days collectively. Add the financials to it, and these 157 pitchers have been paid a total of $54.8 million for not pitching.

In 2023 … my goodness … here is the damage report: 404 injured pitchers, 32,585 missed days, and $594.6 million in salaries paid during their down time.

Gee, and you wonder why Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. is reluctant to give pricey, long-term contracts to starting pitchers? The risk factor is real. And it’s huge. This arms race is crazy.

Some of the more serious injuries can remove a pitcher for multiple seasons. And when some of them return, they aren’t the same pitcher.

Here’s a breakdown of the three most significant injuries since the start of 2022. And when I refer to “days missed” it applies only to the days lost during the season.

Tommy John elbow surgeries: 77 pitchers, 8,182 days missed, $82.6 million paid while unable to pitch.

Elbow injury, no surgery: 181 pitchers, 12,562 days missed, $193.8 million paid while unable to pitch.

Shoulder injuries: 216 pitchers, 14,104 days missed, $219 million paid while unable to pitch.

The problem is getting worse. More and more pitchers are broken and out service.

Multiple theories:

* Pitchers throw too hard.

* Pitchers are spinning the ball with too much exertion to gain wicked movement on their pitches.

* The increasing popularity of pitching academies and performance labs that, among other things, can often improve a pitcher’s velocity. This past winter Shane Bieber went to such a place to ramp up his velocity, and it worked. His fastball velo increased by two or three miles per hour. Unfortunately, Bieber blew out his elbow after two starts, needs Tommy John surgery, and is done for the season.

* Pitchers are encouraged to throw hard as possible and that happens at an early age. Every arm seemingly has a limit. The arm wasn’t made to throw max-velocity fastballs for many, many years. But kids that aren’t even teenagers feel the pressure to throw as hard as possible. Surgeries to repair pitching injuries are being done at an earlier age.

* Violent deliveries that often lead to mechanical flaws which lead to injuries.

* MLB teams putting a heavy emphasis on high velocity, sharp movement and formidable strikeout rates when scouting pitchers, drafting pitchers, signing pitchers and paying pitchers. The pitchers realize what’s at stake, know it’s important to impress the scouts, and hold nothing back. And this process begins in youth baseball, high school baseball, college baseball, etc.

* Some blame the pitch clock but the available data doesn’t support the theory. There was a higher injury rate for MLB pitchers in 2022, the year before the pitch-clock timer was instituted by MLB.

“The biggest thing is the style of pitching has changed so much. Everybody is throwing as hard as they possibly can and spinning the ball as hard as they possibly can,” said Justin Verlander, the three-time Cy Young award winner. “It’s a double-edged sword. How can you go out tell somebody not to do that when they’re capable of throwing 100 (mph)? Something needs to change.”

Verlander admitted, “I don’t have all the answers.”

Verlander’s brother, Ben, has a popular baseball podcast and writes for He discussed how the younger version of Justin Verlander could control hitters by throwing “only” 92, 93 mph. And much later in his start, Verlander would dial it up to 97, 98 mph to get a crucial out. The point: Justin Verlander didn’t throw at max velocity all the time. He held some gas in reserve, and it was there when he needed it.

By throwing at a lower speed for much of the game, Verlander wasn’t stressing his right arm to the limit. And he could go deeper into starts. He couldn’t avoid Tommy John surgery (in 2021) but Verlander, 41, has pitched for 18 MLB seasons and is a surefire Hall of Famer.

Pitchers and their teams pushed for higher velocities to neutralize a growing population of launch-angle obsessed power hitters and limit home runs. I understand.

At the risk of appearing naive – then again, I don’t care – why can’t pitchers work on getting big-gun hitters to pound the ball into the ground? They may not get as many strikeouts, and maybe that would cost them a little money but they’ll have a much better chance of keeping the ball inside the outfield wall. And they’ll have a better chance for a longer career.

It worked for Cardinals manager Tony La Russa and the brilliant pitching coach Dave Duncan. They came to St. Louis in 1996 and worked together for 16 seasons until both retired following the 2011 World Series triumph.

Over the 16 seasons, Cardinals pitchers had MLB’s second-highest ground ball rate, third-best team ERA, and ninth-lowest yield of home runs allowed. Those two-seam, sinking fastballs held opponents to a 33.7 percent fly ball rate – the second lowest in the majors over the 16 seasons.

From 1996-2011, the Cardinals were fourth in the majors in regular-season wins, second in postseason wins, and earned three NL pennants and two World Series trophies. The ground-ball emphasis was a valuable defense against the home-run proliferation associated with performance-enhancing drugs.

MLB didn’t begin an official PED testing program until the 2003 season, but from 1996 through 2002 the Cardinals had the fifth-lowest ERA and the eighth-lowest rate for allowing homers.

Duncan was a genius. Example: scouting hitter tendencies, he recognized an overzealous approach when they came up with runners in scoring position. He correctly surmised that they were excited by the chance to cash in runs and pad their RBI total. So what did Duncan do? He told his pitchers to get those overly aggressive hitters off kilter by throwing softer, offspeed stuff on the first pitch. The tactic was tremendously effective.

As Cardinals fans know, Duncan transformed a vast index of pitchers by convincing them to focus on getting ground balls instead of worrying about strikeouts. On Duncan’s recommendation, Kyle Lohse ditched his four-seam fastball to go with a two-seam sinker after he signed with the Cardinals.

“That was one of the first things Dave Duncan told me when I came over,” Lohse said in 2012, his best major-league season. “He told me to learn to command the two-seamer. That was something I’d been steered away from when I was in Minnesota. I started throwing almost exclusively four-seamers there. It’s one of those things where you kind of shake your head about now, like, ‘What was I doing?’ Then I got to St. Louis, and I realized, ‘How many guys can hit a sinker down and away?’ Not a whole lot.”

Again, I wonder: could this strategy work now? More ground balls. Fewer homers. More efficiency. Deeper starts. Or maybe I’m just being really naive.

We’re seeing some interesting things out there.

1. The new front-office regime and pitching coach in Boston have altered the team’s pitching approach. The Red Sox pitchers have significantly reduced their volume of four-seam fastballs to go with more cutters and sliders and offspeed offerings.

The early results are promising. Through Thursday the Red Sox pitchers had the sixth-highest ground ball rate, seventh-lowest fly ball rate and conceded only 0.91 homers per nine innings. Boston’s ERA (2.43) was No. 1 in the majors.

“Every pitch we make in a game is a bet,” Boston pitching coach Andrew Bailey told The Athletic. “You’re trying to drive a positive outcome. Off-speed pitches generally reduce damage and generate more swing and miss. So every pitch we throw is a business decision. Every pitch we throw is a bet that we’re betting on decreasing damage and reducing contact. So most times, you want to leverage your best off-speed weapons, understanding that you know there is room to use your fastballs when needed.”

The Red Sox go into the weekend with a pitching staff that’s limiting hard contact. They rank third with a low average exit velocity of 87.6 mph, seventh in opponent barrel-rate percentage, and ninth in opponent hard-hit rate (36.8 percent.)

“It’s really just leveraging your strengths and knowing your identity as a pitcher,” Bailey told The Athletic. “And knowing what makes you an outlier relative to the rest of the population of pitchers, particularly right-handed pitchers that can throw multiple pitches.”


2. The Kansas City Royals appear to be trying something new. They ranked 21st in ground-ball rate last season (41%) and have ratcheted that up (45%) in 2024. The early result? The lowest home-runs allowed rate in the majors, the second–best ERA (2.54) and a 9-4 record. Going into Friday the Royals had allowed only total runs while winning seven straight. Oh, and the Royals rank 27th in fastball velocity and 21st in strikeout rate.

3. Throwing at a lower velocity, former Cardinal fireball reliever Jordan Hicks is off to a scintillating start in San Francisco. The Giants signed Hicks to a four-year, $44 million free-agent deal with the plan to make him a starter. In his first three starts Hicks has been nicked for two earned runs and a 1.00 ERA. And he’s only walked three batters.

What’s up with that? Well, the Giants remodeled Hicks’ style. They told him to decrease the velocity on his sinker for more movement and better control. Last season with St. Louis, the Hicks sinker averaged 100 mph. This season, it’s clocking in at 95 mph – still very fast – but it has more break and a sharper drop. It works better at the lower speed. The Giants also have Hicks using a split-fingered fastball – thrown at about 85 mph – to mess with hitters looking for his high-octane stuff. The splitter bedevils them; so far opponents are 1 for 10 with five strikeouts against it.

3a. More about Hicks: Why didn’t the Cardinals think of this? In St. Louis Hicks was more of a thrower than a pitcher and the Giants were confident in their ability to give him guidance and a new outlook to make himself more complete.

I don’t have a problem with the Cards deciding that Hicks was a reliever, or for trading him at the deadline last summer. And when the Giants disclosed their plan to make Hicks a starter, there was a lot of head-scratching and snickering around the majors.

The Giants obviously thought they could make Hicks more imposing by adjusting his pitch selection and velocity. It’s a long way to go to game No. 162, but so far the Giants are correct.

It’s just astounding to me how the Cardinals never made any meaningful corrections to maximize Hicks’ talent. Most people that are criticizing the Cardinals over Hicks are ripping the wrong thing. This conversion was all about making changes to help him improve, and the Cardinals neglected to do that. If they had made those shrewd but relatively simple changes to turn Hicks into a better pitcher, they probably would have paid up to keep him.

4. Thirteen MLB pitching staffs have a ground-ball rate of 45 percent or higher right now. Five are among the top 11 in ERA including those with the three best earned-run averages thus far: Boston, Kansas City and Philadelphia. And four of the 13 are 11th or better at preventing home runs.

5. MLB pitchers have decreased their usage of four-seam fastballs early in 2024. Two seasons ago, pitchers used the pitch on 33.4 percent of their selections. That dropped to 31.9% last year and is at 30.3% two weeks into the ‘24 season. Pitchers are going with more cutters, sinkers, splitters and sliders. They aren’t using the curve as much as they did in 2022. The frequency of changeups hasn’t shifted all that much but is a little down from 2022.

Are we seeing a move away from the four-seam, high-velocity obsession? Too soon to say. Can lower velocity gradually lead to a lower injury rate? Well that’s probably a long shot. The average four-seamer is blazing in at 94.4 mph so far this season, and that would be the highest speed since the tracking went into place in 2007.

Do MLB front offices want to pay pitchers another $594 million for not pitching this season, just as they did in 2023? It ain’t my money, but I don’t understand why so many MLB team owners want to burn so much of their revenue. But it’s their money to shred and waste.

Thanks for reading and have a blessed weekend …


A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Bernie hosts an opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. Friday. Stream it live or access the show podcast on or through the 590 The Fan St. Louis app.

Please follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz and on Threads @miklaszb

For weekly Cards talk, listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast with Will Leitch and Miklasz via or through your preferred podcast platform. Follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link.

Stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, StatHead, Baseball Savant, Baseball Prospectus, Sports Info Solutions, Spotrac and Cot’s Contracts unless otherwise noted.

Bernie Miklasz

Bernie Miklasz

For the last 36 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.

While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.