John Smoltz MLB Hall of Famer and Lansing native John Smoltz speaks to media during groundbreaking ceremony for the John Smoltz Strikeout Baseball Stadium on Tuesday, June 28, 2022, at Ferris Park in Lansing. 220628 Smoltz Baseball Field 063a

It’s no secret that Fox MLB analyst John Smoltz despises the analytics revolution in baseball. But while many former athletes who rail against statistics changing their sport are often vague and over the top, Smoltz recently took aim at analytics staffs specifically over the rash of injuries to pitchers, blaming quants in front offices for treating its players as replaceable ball throwers rather than elite professional athletes.

In an interview on the Bloomberg Business of Sports podcast released last week, Smoltz said the numbers folks in baseball have backtracked from even pretending to want to keep players healthy and are using pitch counts as a shield for criticism.

“The biggest problem in the game is injuries. And no one seems to want to address it. They just kind of look the other way and say, ‘it’s part of the game,'” Smoltz said.

Smoltz said that in reality, the emphasis on pitching velocity and spin has put an enormous burden on players’ arms.

“The reward system is why the players are chasing it, and I don’t blame them, but the reward system is flawed,” Smoltz explained. “You’re asking pitchers to throw as hard as they can, spin it as much as they can, and then oh by the way limit what they do when they get near 100 pitches. It’s a broke system it’s a broke philosophy, you won’t hear anybody talk about it. I’ve been talking about it for 10 years, but until there’s rule changes, nothing will change, because philosophically, they think this is the way to navigate a season.”

He added that he believes front offices are comfortable pushing pitchers to the brink because they know they have the depth to withstand injuries, meaning they no longer worry about players’ health as a negative outcome.

“Right now, the same thing is going to happen for the rest of time, because this is what they figured out,” he told hosts Michael Barr, Scarlet Fu, and Damian Sassower. “I have enough arms, they’re not ready, but I have enough arms to fulfill a calendar year if some of my guys get hurt or I’m kind of managing the innings.”

So while teams use pitch counts to keep pitchers from being overtaxed, Smoltz called BS. He believes those limitations are just a cover from the extreme wear and tear teams know they are putting on players.

“I would argue that the pitch count has singlehandedly hurt the game in the way that we manage it and the way that they have these golden rules,” Smoltz said. “Analytics came into the game almost guaranteeing that they would put players in the best place to be successful and keep them healthy. Well, only half of that’s been true. So you never talk about keeping them healthy, because they know that doesn’t work.”

Smoltz called out teams for relinquishing strict caps on pitch totals and more during the postseason, arguing this showed it was not based in fact.

He suggested Major League Baseball knows there’s an issue and will mandate a change among teams sooner than later. Smoltz believes the league is just waiting for recent changes to game speed, defensive rules, and the basepaths to become normal before disrupting the game further.

“This is the one area that won’t change until there’s a rule change, and it’s coming,” Smoltz said. “They just can’t enforce it right away because they just made … three great rule changes. But the starting pitching has been trying to be eliminated by analytics for a long time.”

Smoltz’s suggestion would be to link the availability of the designated hitter to only the portion of a game in which the starting pitcher is still in place. Either way, he believes MLB needs to think big to solve its problems.

“There are no such thing as dumb things anymore when you want to change the course of action,” he said.

In the past, former executives like Meadowlark Media’s David Samson have confirmed that over time, MLB teams built in an expectation of Tommy John into their predictions of players. Samson has said teams brought young pitchers in knowing they had limited chances of a long career in order to chew through their arms as depth for the 162-game season.

There are many components to baseball’s pitcher injury issues, but Smoltz clearly believes the evolution of the game in recent decades had a tangible effect on arm safety.

[Business of Sports Podcast]

About Brendon Kleen

Brendon is a Media Commentary staff writer at Awful Announcing. He has also covered basketball and sports business at Front Office Sports, SB Nation, Uproxx and more.