The Cautionary Tale of J.R. Richard

One of the shows the MLB Network has in abundance is a series called “Prime 9”. It’s your garden variety “lists” show, only devoted to baseball-centric topics. One of them that I caught recently was on players who “coulda been great”. J.R. Richard was one of those featured, and his numbers warrant a mention.

Beginning in 1975 and running through 1980, Richard had a streak of throwing least 110 innings annually. During that time, Richard failed to post a FIP over 3.5, and actually had a few sub-2.5 seasons and one sub-2 season. Nolan Ryan signed with the Astros as a free agent for the 1980 season, giving the Astros a heck of a one-two punch, but Richard would miss half the season. Richard noted discomfort in his throwing arm and shoulder, yet was criticized as a whiner. In July, Richard would suffer a stroke and would later need to undergo surgery to unclog a blockage.

Richard would never pitch in a major league game again.

Often, fans and media members praise players for playing through pain and injury. Players who choose to sit out are labeled as fragile, soft, or simply as guys who don’t care about the game or winning. In reality, the “warriors” are actually hurting their team if they play with a performance-affecting injury, yet you would never know it by the praise thrown his way.

Obviously not all injuries are actually the signs of strokes or something worse, but the players know their bodies better than most. If such player says he can’t go today because of a sore wrist then it’s probably for the best if he doesn’t play that day. Some players in the past may have embellished injuries, but trying to judge motives is a slippery slope.

In the future, be careful of who you label as “guys with big hearts”, one might actually have one.



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Kevin
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Kevin
7 years 6 months ago

Reminds me of when Aaron Rowand broke his beak on that chain link fence, and everybody was heaping the “warrior” praise on him. Uh, no, he traded one single out for several weeks on the pine. Bad decision.

Thomas
Guest
Thomas
7 years 6 months ago

Actually, it saved three runs as the Phillies went on to win the game and later the World Series while Shane Victorino did his best Pujols impersonation in Rowand’s stead to the tune of .361/.400/.607.

Win-win the way I see it…

nails
Guest
nails
7 years 6 months ago

guys like aaron rowand, ryan freel, eric byrnes, they only know how to play the game 1 way, thats full speed, all effort all the time. thats how they were able to make it to the big leagues, and guys like that cant just turn it off on a potential game saving play bc they might break a nose.

theres a reason why guys like wes welker will never back down from a slant pattern over the middle bc thats how they became the players they are today.

obviosly theres a difference if he would have knowingly run full speed into a brick wall to cut a 1st inning double into a single and suffered multiple head wounds.

side note, just a week before the injury, rowand told the phillies that the CF wall needed padding so something like that didnt happen, but apparently padding isnt something you can buy in the greater metropolitan area of philadelphia, so they never “fixed” it till after the fact.

Kevin
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Kevin
7 years 6 months ago

I’m pretty sure Rowand had zero impact on the 2008 World Series team.

Thomas
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Thomas
7 years 6 months ago

Butterfly effect.

Mark
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Mark
7 years 6 months ago

“Point me in the direction where I said Rowand’s catch directly led to the Phillies’ title.” ~ the future

Thomas
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Thomas
7 years 6 months ago

No, that was indirectly.

Kevin
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Kevin
7 years 6 months ago

Nope, not buying the tie between Rowand crashing into the fence and the Phils winning it all. Rowand leaving, maybe, but that’s a different event

Thomas
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Thomas
7 years 6 months ago

It doesn’t matter what you buy. The paths of everyone in attendance that day were forever altered when Rowand chose to go full-on into the wall.

Kevin
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Kevin
7 years 6 months ago

I’m sorry sir, that’s a silly assumption.

Thomas
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Thomas
7 years 6 months ago

Please tell me how. You’re telling me that nothing in the entire world would have been the least bit different had the play gone another way? That any slight alterations to the course of history wouldn’t have led to other slight alterations and so forth that would keep amassing until two and a half years later they resulted in a maelstrom of change or something less dramatic-sounding?

Simple fact of the matter: the odds of the Phillies winning the 2008 World Series had Rowand pulled up short ? 100%.

Thomas
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Thomas
7 years 6 months ago

The “does not equal” sign was rendered as a question mark. Pretend it’s the “does not equal” sign.

Victor
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Victor
7 years 6 months ago

The odds of the Phillies winning the 2008 World Series had they not signed Adam Eaton to an awful contract does not equal 100%.

Save the trolling for 4chan.

Thomas
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Thomas
7 years 6 months ago

I might if I had any clue what that was.

Kevin
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Kevin
7 years 6 months ago

No, but you can’t tell me that did cause the Phils to win in 2008, either. For all we know, they won in spite of what happened, not because of it. More likely, Rowand would have left after getting that Godfather offer anyway, and the 2008 Phils would have been exactly the same. That they won the World Series two and a half years later really can’t be pinned on that one play. To reduce your argument to an absurdity, that’s like claiming that the Red Sox were justified in selling Babe Ruth, because the altering of events would have changed how things played out over the course of history, and they might not have authored the greatest playoff comeback in baseball history, because something might have changed. It’s silly.

Thomas
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Thomas
7 years 6 months ago

Point me in the direction where I said Rowand’s catch directly led to the Phillies’ title. All I’m saying is that Rowand’s catch was part of a chain of events that resulted in a 2008 Phillies victory. That is undeniable. What is also undeniable is that the Phillies winning the Series had the catch or any other event(s) in human history not occurred is not a given. You’re only thinking of the effect it had on Rowland when in fact it had an effect on everybody in attendance and everybody watching at home and therefore everyone and everything they’ve ever come across.

Please don’t tell me that the results of one baseball game have no impact on the course of human events when had the Yankees won Game 4 of the 2006 ALDS, Corey Lidle would probably still be alive right now.

Kevin
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Kevin
7 years 6 months ago

And the impact of an event that happened two and a half years prior should be taken as negligible, unless you can demonstrate otherwise. What you’re saying about Rowand doesn’t compare to what you’re saying about Lidle, you’re approximately saying that had Lidle had a hung fingernail in 2004, he might still be alive. Events that occur one week before the targeted occurrence have a much greater impact than those that happen years prior.

Thomas
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Thomas
7 years 6 months ago

No, I’m saying that had the Yankees kept the series alive, Lidle wouldn’t have been flying the plane when he did and wouldn’t have crashed into a building and died. But the hangnail thing works too.

“Events that occur one week before the targeted occurrence have a much greater impact than those that happen years prior.”

I’d argue the opposite as all the ripples and ripples’ ripples would have amassed into something far, far greater in 128 weeks than they had in just one. The link is just easier to prove seven days prior, that’s all.

“…blah blah blah demonstrate otherwise.”

I can’t demonstrate that it did, but you can’t demonstrate that it didn’t and that’s the only point I’ve been trying to make. Remove the link from the chain and the results might be drastically different. They might be drastically the same. Obviously we’ll never know for sure but as a Mets fan I for one rue the day he ever mangled his nose…

Kevin
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Kevin
7 years 6 months ago

And that brings us back to my point about the Red Sox and Ruth. How far back do you go before that kind of analysis becomes ridiculous? Really, you can’t do much more than look at the value gained by him making that out against the value lost by him missing all that time. It’s mindnumbingly ridiculous that you think Aaron Rowand breaking his beak had anything to do with the Phils winning the World Series, and since you’re the one who posited the correlation, the burden of proof is on you to demonstrate some, any, link between the two.

Nick
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Nick
7 years 6 months ago

I can’t wait to receive my world series ring from the Phils, b/c I took a crap during spring training of ’85; and if I hadn’t my butt would’ve exploded, and that ripple would’ve counteracted the mangled nose of Rowand ripple.

Thomas
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Thomas
7 years 6 months ago

“The burden of proof is on you to demonstrate some, any, link between the two.”

Did you not read a word I said? CAN’T BE PROVEN. CAN’T BE DISPROVEN. Christ, it’s like I’m talking to myself here.

Aaron C.
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7 years 6 months ago

Wow. This rivals the comments on the Mike Jacobs post.

Russell
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Russell
7 years 6 months ago

I know… don’t feed the trolls, but I can’t help it:

The Baby Ruth chain is far more valid then what you present. All Sox players knew about the “curse”, and It may well have had a tangible effect on their on-field performance. The Rowland connection is absurd.

And to be a lot more pedantic, not all sequential events are causal. If i flip one coin, then another, the result of the first flip in no was determines the second. If you can even suggest (beyond wild conjecture) any causal link then ill listen — but merely claiming all things to be related is simply a fallacy.

Thomas
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Thomas
7 years 6 months ago

So there’s absolutely no chance, none whatsoever, that the outcome of Rowand’s play had any effect on anything? So I don’t misinterpret you as you guys have been doing me all day, is this the crux of your argument?

Nobody said all sequential events are causal. Can we please stick to the arguments I’m actually making? If a child scrapes his knee in Thailand it’s probably not going to have any impact on my life. Not now, not ever. But if you remove Rowand’s link in the chain, are you willing to bet your life that absolutely nothing in the baseball world changes?

Thomas
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Thomas
7 years 6 months ago

Okay, I may have overlooked something in the Baby Ruth comparison. I didn’t mean to imply that if if by the eighteen septillion to one (and you’ll find I’m being immeasurably conservative here) chance that the Yankees and Red Sox found themselves in the exact same situation—same rosters, same managers, same lineup, same weather, all participants involved having led the exact same lives up to that point except no curse and Ruth is enshrined with a B on his cap—that things wouldn’t have played out more or less exactly as they did (or in any way that sees any construction of a Red Sox roster winning four straight games after losing the first three to any construction of a Yankees roster at any point in history—seriously, doesn’t even have to be 2004 anymore. I’ve honestly given up trying), but to suggest that they unquestionably would have been in that situation to begin with is beyond laughable and demonstrates a superlative quantity of shortsightedness.

Victor
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Victor
7 years 6 months ago

It annoys me when people complain about players sitting out through injuries. You don’t ignore obvious pain, especially if it’s around a joint. I know how naive guys at the gym injure themselves by lifting through pain (probably with improper form), but it amazes me how professional athletes manage to do this to themselves over and over again despite having access to all the experts and equipment to prevent this. I guess some of them just feel the pressure to perform (like Richard), but it’s just stupid how preventable injuries like this still happen. Dan Meyer, anyone?

joser
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joser
7 years 6 months ago

Players who choose to sit out are labeled as fragile, soft, or simply as guys who don’t care about the game or winning.

This has been Bedard’s fate in Seattle. Since he doesn’t give good soundbites for lazy sportswriters, he got off on a bad foot with the media. When he started missing starts (because of an injury that ultimately required surgery), he got exactly this sort of criticism by both talk jocks and the fans who delegate their thinking to them. The fact that he goes about his business on the mound and in interviews in a calm and unemotional style just sealed the deal, since it was viewed as lacking in desire or passion or whatever chick-flick emotion fans want to subliminally project onto the objects of their worship. (It’s odd that he’s criticized both for supposedly having the feminine attribute of fragility but lacking the feminine attribute of emotionality, but clearly we’re not working in the realm of rationality here).

Brendan
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Brendan
7 years 6 months ago

I totally agree with this article. I’m the only JD Drew fan out of my friends, so everytime the guy is hurt (which is very often) I have to hear about it. But whenever he does something awesome no one says anything. Hey I guess that’s what you get for being a fan of someone who isn’t a DIRT DAWG.

John K.
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John K.
7 years 6 months ago

Paraphrasing a guy I know, the sabermetrics crowd loves J.D. Drew because he rates well in certain occasionally manufactured statistics yet all you have to do is watch him for half a season to know he’s a passionless dog that you don’t want anywhere near your team. For the life of me, I can’t understand how a guy who averages 3.6 WAR per year is someone you don’t want anywhere near your team. Yes, I’d prefer a guy who does that over a full season and whom I can count on to be there for me in October, but still.

I also fail to comprehend how two people with identical stats yet diametrically opposed work ethics are any different from one another from the standpoint of winning ballgames. If Player A is a .275/.350/.450 hitter whose indifferent approach makes him a .260/.335/.420 hitter and Player B is a .245/.320/.390 hitter whose non-stop hustle makes him the same .260/.335/.420 hitter, what’s the difference?

I have a little something else to add but I gotta run. Maybe I’ll tack it on later. No time to proof the post either so I hope it’s all sound.

kensai
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

People hate him because he’s not like J.R. Richard with legit injury problems a lot. The guy seems to take a day off whenever he’s a little sore or when “his mind is not right”. I mean, come on.

Being tough and being stupid are not forever connected. It’s 162 games, you’re going to be sore a lot. No, that doesn’t mean everytime you have a little tightness, you need to sit out 5 games.

There’s a line between toughing it out when you’re really hurt, and just being soft. Believe it or not, some players ARE soft.

There’s quite a lot of gray area between pitching with a sore shoulder when your velocity is down 10 mph and sitting out 3 games with a bruise.

kensai
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

I mean the way people are making it out in the comments, it’s like they’ve never known anybody who just takes unnecessary days off because they can’t play/go to work/do a project unless they feel 100% perfect everyday.

MPC
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MPC
7 years 6 months ago

Happens to Beltran whenever he says anything about his legs. NY media immediately jumps on him, calling him a soft wimp who can’t hit in the clutch, etc. Idiots.

Ray
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Ray
7 years 6 months ago

Ouch. Kevin got reeled in hook, line, and sinker. That’s what you get for indulging a troll.

Thomas
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Thomas
7 years 6 months ago

Though I did find the result pleasantly gratifying, I never expected my light-hearted play at humour to 1.) be taken seriously and 2.) turn into a full-fledged dissection of chaos theory. Some people just bait themselves, I guess.

Milendriel
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Milendriel
7 years 6 months ago

Your sense of humor sucks. Fangraphs doesn’t need trolls, nor are they funny.

Rich
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Rich
7 years 6 months ago

Richard has served as a cautionary note against labeling players as malingerers.

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