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Thread: 10 for '10: Young aces among those at risk of Verducci Effect

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    10 for '10: Young aces among those at risk of Verducci Effect

    10 for '10: Young aces among those at risk of Verducci Effect

    Nothing is more inspirational this time of year than the pop of a well accelerated fastball into the cavern of a catcher's mitt -- so welcome after a long, cold winter that the fastball's usual antagonist, the hitter, is unnecessary to its drama. Such a sound is all the more inspiring when at its origin is a young arm, as full of promise as Chapter 1. The scene plays out this week in every camp in Florida and Arizona, at once prompting joy and fear from the club elders who watch them. For as they imagine young pitchers' success, they also must ask the question no one has yet truly cracked: How do we keep them healthy?

    The question is particularly timely in today's game. A wave of young pitching has washed ashore. Last year more 25-and-under pitchers made at least 10 starts than any time in the history of the game (71), including a 69 percent increase from five years ago. In just the past 13 months teams have handed out contract extensions that bought out free agent years of young homegrown stars Zack Greinke, Jon Lester, Josh Johnson, Ubaldo Jimenez, Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander.

    This spring offers more potential stars: Madison Bumgarner with San Francisco, Brian Matusz with Baltimore, Stephen Strasburg with Washington and Aroldis Chapman with Cincinnati. Meanwhile, pitchers such as Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer with Detroit and Joba Chamblerlain with the Yankees, like Milo of Croton, bear the heavier burden on their shoulders of a second year of full-time starting duty.

    The only task harder than a breakthrough season is trying to do it again. Breakdowns are almost inevitable in pitching, but difficult to see coming. The best we know is that the two factors that most elevate risk of injury are overuse and poor mechanics, which often are interconnected.

    More than a decade ago, with the help of then-Oakland pitching coach Rick Peterson, I began tracking one element of overuse which seemed entirely avoidable: working young pitchers too much too soon. Pitchers not yet fully conditioned and physically matured were at risk if clubs asked them to pitch far more innings than they did the previous season -- like asking a 10K runner to crank out a marathon. The task wasn't impossible, but the after-effects were debilitating. I defined an at-risk pitcher as any 25-and-under pitcher who increased his innings log by more than 30 in a year in which he pitched in the big leagues. Each year the breakdown rate of such red-flagged pitchers -- either by injury or drop in performance -- was staggering.

    I called the trend the Year After Effect, though it caught on in some places as the Verducci Effect. As I was tracking this trend, the industry already was responding to the breakdown in young pitchers. The Yankees instituted the Joba Rules. The Orioles shut down pitchers late in the year. Teams set "target innings" for their young pitchers before camp even began. Clubs sent underworked starters to the Arizona Fall League to build their arms to better withstand regular work the next year.

    Still, by oversight, circumstances or old school "take-it-as-it-comes" thinking, teams continue to overload young pitchers, which is why the Verducci Effect is still in business, with 10 pitchers red-flagged for 2010. Imagine my surprise when I first ran the numbers and found two pitchers from the earliest adapters of the Year After Effect, the Oakland Athletics. How could they of all teams, I wondered, let Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill take jumps of 55 and 54 1/3 innings in 2009?

    "Oh, no," Oakland GM Billy Beane told me. "We didn't. We always keep an eye on the Verducci metrics."

    Beane explained that Anderson and Cahill pitched for the 2008 U.S. Olympic team, so their innings jump was not nearly as large or as dangerous as their professional innings would suggest. Goodbye red flags.

    "We always keep an eye on that, especially when we get to September," Beane said. "In fact, we backed off them in September [with extra days of rest and lower pitch counts] just because of that. They each wound up in the 170s in innings, which was perfect. They're right on track this year to go out and make 30 to 35 starts and throw right around 200 innings. We think that's the natural progression."

    Peterson convinced Beane back in 1998 that young pitchers needed their workload to "staircase," with modest annual increases so the body could grow accustomed to, rather than be shocked by, greater work capacity. It was an idea that was not radical to road running or weight training, but was new to pitching. Beane is a proponent of the "only so many bullets" theory -- that pitchers have only so many throws in their arms -- so when Peterson backed up his theory with data, Beane, who by the next year was sitting on a gold mine of young pitching in Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson and Barry Zito, was sold.

    "One thing I told Rick was, 'I can be sold if you give me information,'" Beane said. "I don't pretend to know the answer. Nobody knows. But this just makes sense. Given a choice between too much throwing at too young an age and being conservative, we'll always take the conservative route. Look, Hudson, Mulder, Zito . . . we took good care of those guys."

    The reality is that the cost-effectiveness and durability of those three young starting pitchers defined what made those Oakland teams successful more so than all the attention given to finding guys with good on-base percentages. In their 15 combined individual seasons in Oakland (not including partial rookie years), Hudson, Mulder and Zito averaged 17 wins, 33 starts and 219 innings.

    "With Rick, he did his homework, sold me on it and we're abiding by it," Beane said.

    Of course, baseball is such a beautiful, analog sport that circumstance and 30 franchise cultures defy a one-size-fits-all philosophy. That's how I wound up with 10 young pitchers this year who fall into the danger zone. It's not a prediction that they will break down, but only an estimate that they are at risk of a fallback season because of an aggressive workload increase in 2009. Here they are, the 10 at '10 (includes all professional innings, including postseason and AFL):

    Code:
    Pitchers At Risk 
    Pitcher Age IP Increase 
    Cesar Carillo, SD 25 160.2 +84.1 
    Bud Norris, Hou. 24 175.2 +73* 
    Mat Latos, SD 22 123 +66.2 
    Joba Chamberlain, NYY 24 163.2 +47.2* 
    Homer Bailey, Cin. 23 203 +55.1 
    Josh Johnson, Fla. 25 209 +52* 
    Rick Porcello, Det. 21 170.2 +45.2 
    Max Scherzer, Det. 25 175 +42 
    Felix Hernandez, Sea. 23 238.2 +38 
    Wade Davis, TB 24 195 +35.1
    * = Previous career high occurred prior to most recent season

    In general, the younger the pitcher and the greater the increase the greater the risk. Likewise, the risk minimizes the closer guys are to the age and innings cutoffs. Here are thumbnail looks at the young pitchers at risk:

    • Carillo, Norris, Latos: I hate to see guys with non-contenders getting pushed, as Kansas City and Pittsburgh used to do, but these guys have a common denominator: their previous workloads were depressed by injuries in minor league seasons. Carillo had Tommy John surgery, Norris suffered from an elbow strain (the Astros sent him to the AFL in 2008 and he still made the at-risk list) and Latos was bothered by oblique, ankle and shoulder injuries. The size of those increases remains significant.

    • Chamberlain: Even with Yankees fans complaining about the Yankees treating him with kid gloves, Chamberlain made the list because he transitioned from a reliever into a full-time starter.

    • Bailey: This is probably the most troubling case on this list, if only because there was no reason to lean so hard on Bailey down the stretch. The Reds finished 13 games out. In his last nine starts, Bailey averaged 112 pitches and was given an extra day of rest only twice even as he far exceeded his previous high in innings. The club kept leaning on him because he was pitching well, but to what end?

    • Johnson and Porcello: These are understandable to a certain degree. Both clubs were playing meaningful games late in the season, when backing off one of your best pitchers is very hard to do. Porcello, because of his age, is more at risk of paying for the workload than is Johnson.

    • Scherzer: Like Johnson, he took his increase at age 25, which minimizes the risk. But Scherzer bears close scrutiny because, like Chamberlain, his pitching health has long been questioned because of his throwing style. The Diamondbacks traded Scherzer in part because they never were sure that he would develop into the kind of workhorse starter that Edwin Jackson became in Detroit.

    • Hernandez and Davis: They barely made the list, though Hernandez's innings do not reflect the two high-intensity games he threw in the World Baseball Classic -- once out of the bullpen.

    At this time last year Mets pitcher Mike Pelfrey tried to convince me why he should not be on my 2009 list despite his 48-inning jump. He was a big guy, he said, who learned to be more efficient with his pitches. What happened? His ERA shot up from 3.72 to 5.03.

    I try to stress that the effect is not a predictor -- it's just a guideline of risk. In the previous four years, I have identified 34 at-risk pitchers. Only four of them made it through that year without injury and with a lower ERA: Jimenez and three studs who did it last year, Tim Lincecum, Clayton Kershaw and Jair Jurrjens. (Jurrjens may not have escaped the effect after all. He reported to camp this week with a sore shoulder and will undergo an MRI to determine the extent of the problem.) Jon Lester, with only a slightly higher ERA in a fine 2009 season, merits mention, too. The at-risk pitchers last year who confirmed the effect included Pelfrey, Cole Hamels, Chad Billingsley, John Danks and Dana Eveland.

    Past red-flag lists presaged the breakdowns of pitchers such as Jose Rosado, Chris George, Runelvys Hernandez, Dustin McGowan, Gustavo Chacin, Francisco Liriano, Anibal Sanchez, Fausto Carmona, Adam Loewen and Scott Mathieson. It's not perfect nor is it meant to be. But to borrow from Beane, given a choice, why not take the conservative route?

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    Re: 10 for '10: Young aces among those at risk of Verducci Effect

    That doesn't sound like anything Dusty has been accused of in the past.

    I'm keeping my fingers crossed on Homer because he looked like he was finally getting in together. The Verducci Effect (from what I've heard) is normally pretty accurate.
    I know a lot of people are talking about his on-base percentage (.308 in 2008), but I like to think more in terms of him his in-scoring position percentage. - Our Beloved Manager

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    Re: 10 for '10: Young aces among those at risk of Verducci Effect

    It would be interesting to see the pitch breakdowns of these guys. A possible protection for Bailey is that he was throwing a high percentage of fastballs.
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    Re: 10 for '10: Young aces among those at risk of Verducci Effect

    I remember late in the season when many of us were questioning why Bailey was pushed so hard. At one point Bailey had six straight starts where he threw 114+ pitches. I had no problem running him out there every five days because he obviously had something to prove since he was out of options, but he should have been given a pitch count, IMO. Hopefully Bailey and the Reds can dodge a bullet and he can build on his late season success and put together a good 2010 season.

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    nothing more than a fan Always Red's Avatar
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    Re: 10 for '10: Young aces among those at risk of Verducci Effect

    Chances are that 80% of the guys on that list (or any list) will wind up with some injury or another this year.

    There are so many variables to it; it's not very unscientific.

    Teams are more cautious with pitchers than they EVER have been, and pitchers are still getting hurt. I'm not sure that pitching guys LESS results in less injury?

    I didn't see any reason to hold Homer back at the end of last season; he was throwing free and easy, in non-stressful situations, his confidence was sky-rocketing, and he was really learning how to perfect his craft. And he wasn't hurt.

    I'm not a believer in the adage that "there are only so many bullets (pitches) in the arm." Some arms can simply stand more work than others can- the science (and fun and useful part of this) will be in identifying those arms and leveraging them to the hilt.

    Maybe some combination of the Pitching Abuse Points leaders who do Not get hurt, and guys like Lincecum and Kershaw who escaped the Verducci Effect (interestingly are called "studs" in this article), are outliers, guys who maybe really are studs and can pitch more injury free innings than the average guy?

    The only SP the Reds have had of late who has not been injured is Arroyo, who is a freak of nature.

    Plus, I think we also have to factor into this how much better medical diagnosis is these days, and how careful most teams are with SP's- any twinges at all, and they're skipping a start.
    Last edited by Always Red; 02-16-2010 at 01:28 PM.

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    Re: 10 for '10: Young aces among those at risk of Verducci Effect

    Quote Originally Posted by OnBaseMachine View Post
    I remember late in the season when many of us were questioning why Bailey was pushed so hard. At one point Bailey had six straight starts where he threw 114+ pitches. I had no problem running him out there every five days because he obviously had something to prove since he was out of options, but he should have been given a pitch count, IMO. Hopefully Bailey and the Reds can dodge a bullet and he can build on his late season success and put together a good 2010 season.
    Whats the difference between 105 and 114 pitches? Whats more important, innings pitched or pitch counts? I think you can make a pretty good argument that a pitcher who doesn't have his top stuff could put more stress on his arm throwing 5 innings of 90 pitches vs a pitcher who has his stuff and throws 7 innings of 115 pitches.

    IMO too much time spent worrying about codling young pitches vs building up their arm strength over the course of a season.

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    Re: 10 for '10: Young aces among those at risk of Verducci Effect

    I think the difference is where fatigue sets in and mechanics start to suffer. It's a fine line but until the young guys are used to pitching over 100+ pitches or throwing 175+ innings, I would be more carefull. I know there isn't an exact science on this sort of thing, but I don't exactly like Dusty's track record on the subject.
    I know a lot of people are talking about his on-base percentage (.308 in 2008), but I like to think more in terms of him his in-scoring position percentage. - Our Beloved Manager

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    Re: 10 for '10: Young aces among those at risk of Verducci Effect

    The Verducci Effect is highly inaccurate and should not be taken seriously.

    Raising a young pitchers innings too much from one year to the next is something that should be monitored, but is far to general a concept to used as a real measure of overuse. It does not take into account pitches thrown, the type of pitches, when the innings were pitched or many other particulars that are essential for understanding the true wear on a pitchers arm.

    For instance, if a pitcher becomes more efficient, and goes from throwing 100 pitches in 5 innings to throwing 100 pitches in 7 innings, his innings rise by around 50 innings that year, but he putting the same wear on his arm.

    Likewise, if a pitcher doesn't pitch much for most of the season, but then finishes the last two months with a lot of 7, 8 and 9 inning games, he will put more wear on his arm, than a pitcher who steadily increases over the year from averaging 4 innings a game to 6 innings a game, even though both pitchers will have pitched around the same number of innings.

    The Verducci Effect is something a sports writer came up with that is nice general concept, that is far too simplistic to have any real accuracy.
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    Re: 10 for '10: Young aces among those at risk of Verducci Effect

    Instead of the Verducci effect being based on innings pitched, it should be based on pitches thrown. Homer Bailey is a great example of that.

    1.) As a result of better pitching, he faced less batters per inning in 2009 than he did the year before.
    2.) He walked less batters per inning in 2009 than he did the previous year. This is another thing that will reduce pitches per inning.
    3.) His WHIP improved dramatically. This will decrease the number of pitches a pitcher throws.

    I can go on, but it's pretty obvious what I'm saying. 100 IP of bad innings can result in at least as many pitches thrown over the course of 120 good innings. Bailey's improvements were so big that I think it helps mitigate his increased workload.

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    Re: 10 for '10: Young aces among those at risk of Verducci Effect

    Okay, it looks like I was late to the party. Darn.

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    Re: 10 for '10: Young aces among those at risk of Verducci Effect

    What comes to mind on Bailey about his jump in innings and heavier than optimal usage at the end of last season was that success for Bailey at the big league level was real important given his previous struggles. Now, once he showed that a leap was underway, should they have backed off some of his innings pitched and total pitches thrown as September unwound? Yes. But I understand them also thinking that he needed to feed off some success and riding that a bit. I don't think his overall usage was that insane compared to previous years.

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    Re: 10 for '10: Young aces among those at risk of Verducci Effect

    Quote Originally Posted by membengal View Post
    What comes to mind on Bailey about his jump in innings and heavier than optimal usage at the end of last season was that success for Bailey at the big league level was real important given his previous struggles. Now, once he showed that a leap was underway, should they have backed off some of his innings pitched and total pitches thrown as September unwound? Yes. But I understand them also thinking that he needed to feed off some success and riding that a bit. I don't think his overall usage was that insane compared to previous years.
    I disagree with this. Homer finally looked like he figured it out at the end of last season. So why not let him go out there, on regular rest, and continue to improve on what he has learned? To me it would make little to no sense to have Homer finally figure it out and then shut him down for the year. I think the Reds handled him just fine at the end of last season. I also wonder how much Verducci actually saw him pitch at the end of the season last year.

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    Re: 10 for '10: Young aces among those at risk of Verducci Effect

    I think that's what I said. I understood why they did it and acknowleged that there was perhaps some value with that in his case. That was the point of my last two sentences.

    That said, ideally, they could have dialed it back a tad, but I don't know that I have issues with what they did, all things considered.

    I am not sure what you are disagreeing with.

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    Re: 10 for '10: Young aces among those at risk of Verducci Effect

    Quote Originally Posted by bucksfan2 View Post
    Whats the difference between 105 and 114 pitches? Whats more important, innings pitched or pitch counts? I think you can make a pretty good argument that a pitcher who doesn't have his top stuff could put more stress on his arm throwing 5 innings of 90 pitches vs a pitcher who has his stuff and throws 7 innings of 115 pitches.

    IMO too much time spent worrying about codling young pitches vs building up their arm strength over the course of a season.
    I couldn't agree more. Too much is being made out of this kind of thing. Especially when you consider that every pitcher is different. They'll throw different amounts in BP sessions and warmups and at different velocities. Then you've also got the individual's stamina, strength, body type, etc. The only thing I ever worry about (and this is with EVERY pitcher...not just young pitchers) is having a pitcher continue to pitch after he's exhausted and his mechanics begin to alter. A specific number of pitches is a bad way to compare this stuff. 80 pitches from Danny Ray Herrera is different than 80 pitches from Aaron Harang.
    Last edited by _Sir_Charles_; 02-16-2010 at 04:22 PM.
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    Re: 10 for '10: Young aces among those at risk of Verducci Effect

    Quote Originally Posted by camisadelgolf View Post
    Instead of the Verducci effect being based on innings pitched, it should be based on pitches thrown. Homer Bailey is a great example of that.

    1.) As a result of better pitching, he faced less batters per inning in 2009 than he did the year before.
    2.) He walked less batters per inning in 2009 than he did the previous year. This is another thing that will reduce pitches per inning.
    3.) His WHIP improved dramatically. This will decrease the number of pitches a pitcher throws.

    I can go on, but it's pretty obvious what I'm saying. 100 IP of bad innings can result in at least as many pitches thrown over the course of 120 good innings. Bailey's improvements were so big that I think it helps mitigate his increased workload.
    Fewer Batters. Less is something you can't count. Fewer is something you can. I have less money. I have fewer dollars.

    Sorry that was mean and picky. One of those things that's nails on a chalkboard to me.
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