I don’t normally completely steal someone’s idea when putting together an article, but in this case I’m going to do just that. Of course I will give full accredidation, so don’t go reporting me to the principle for stealing someone’s work.
Tom Verducci is a well known writer for Sports Illustrated, and a few years back he had a discussion with pitching guru Rick Peterson that led Mr. Verducci to the position about the innings pitched increase youngsters often face from one year to the next. Ultimately what he started espousing was that youngsters who realized a significant increase in innings pitched from one season to another were at an increased risk of breaking down or seeing their productivity decrease in the following season. Ultimately the research that was undertaken led to the Verducci Effect which states the following:
Pitchers who are 25 years old or younger, who see an innings increase from one year to the next of 30 frames or more, are at a greater risk of injury or ineffectiveness in the following campaign.
Now there is some debate about whether or not you should blindly accept this postulate as an accurate depiction of what occurs on the field – Michael Weddell did a study for BaseballHQ in which he determined there really was no increased risk of a burnout or injury in the following campaign – but logic obviously leads to the position that a major increase in inning pitched from one year to the next isn’t likely to be a good thing for a developing arm. I do think that too much is made of innings pitched in some circles, to me a more effective way to look at pitcher’s workload is to track pitches per start, and perhaps even more importantly pitches per inning (those high stress, big pitch count innings can be really detrimental). However, the Verducci Effect speaks to innings pitched, so let’s work with that.
Am I overly concerned when a young arm goes from 125 to 155 innings? Not really. I would be more concerned if that 30 inning jump shot a guy from 180 to 210 innings pitched. However, that doesn’t mean I’m not concerned when that innings pitched mark begins to substantially increase. Here are some of the men highlighted by Verducci as risks in 2011.
Madison Bumgarner (21 yrs old, 214.1 IP, +73 IP): This is a scary increase total in my mind, both because of the innings pitched number, and because of the age of Madison. He is a big kid, listed at 6’4″ and 215 lbs, and his performance in the playoffs was dominating suggesting that the innings weren’t an issue (he was 2-0 with a 2.18 ERA and 1.11 WHIP over 20.2 innings). Still, his IP increase is more than double the baseline for concern with the Verducci Effect, and even if Mr. Verducci is only 50 percent right, the doubling of his suggested baseline makes me 100 percent concerned with Bumgarner.
Alex Sanabia (22 yrs old, 170.2 IP, +66.1 IP): The youngster made 12 starts late in the year with the Marlins, but only three times did he reach triple digit in pitches (with a high of 109). He did have some soreness in his arm late in the year, though there is no way to tell if that was related to the substantial innings pitched increase.
Mat Latos (23 yrs old, 184.2 IP, +61.2 IP): Here’s the big worry with Latos – he has been on this list two years in a row. Moreover, his innings pitched increase has been massive from 56 to 123 to 184.1. That’s right, his innings pitched mark has gone up more than 60-innings in each of the past two years. I don’t need the Verducci Effect to tell me those are scary numbers. You think this massive innings increase is at least party to blame for Latos’ struggles down the stretch last year (1-5, 5.66 ERA, 1.51 WHIP over his last seven starts)?
David Price (25 yrs old, 221.1 IP, +58.2 IP): The Rays are as careful as any organization in the game with how they treat their pitchers. Given that, and the fact that Price is a bit older than the others on this list, I’m not as concerned as a might be if some other hurler boosted his innings total by nearly 60 frames.
Brandon Beachy (24 yrs old, 133 IP, +57 IP): Beachy pitched only 15 innings for the Braves but he did well with a 3.00 ERA an a 9.00 K/9 mark. He did struggle to throw strikes with a 4.20 BB/9 mark, a total that was double the rate he posted in the minors (2.10 per nine). Was that because of wear and tear on his arm or because of the level of the competition? We need more data to be sure.
In the end, common sense might be the best direction to take here. Would I take Jon Garland over Mat Latos because of the youngsters massive innings increase the past two years? Of course not. However, if I was debating between Latos and Dan Haren, well, then it’s a different story.