Thursday, January 13, 2011

Hughes and Nova Make Verducci's Annual Injury Risk List

We post about this article every season, but here's a bit of a refresher from Tom Verducci:
More than a decade ago, drawing on the advice of pitching coach Rick Peterson, I developed a rule of thumb that pitchers 25 and younger should not increase their workload by more than 30 innings. It's the same theory as training for a marathon: you risk injury by jumping from a 10K to the marathon instead of incremental increases. I called it the Year After Effect because the wear and tear often was followed by regression or injury the next year.

The concept of capping innings for young pitchers has become an industry standard. One AL general manager told me during spring training last year that his club's organizational pitching reports now include a "VE" column -- for Verducci Effect, a measurement of innings increase.


Now it's time to identify the red-flagged pitchers of 2011 -- the 25-and-younger pitchers whose workload last year jumped by more than 30 innings. (All innings are considered: minors, Arizona Fall League, majors and postseason. Pitchers such as Jaime Garcia of St. Louis, who made a big jump from 2009 but were close to a total from previous pro seasons, were not included.)

Remember, this is a rule of thumb meant simply to identify pitchers who pushed the envelope to put them more at risk than others. And keep in mind that as Hernandez, Johnson and Scherzer proved last year, the risk is much lower for bigger-bodied pitchers who are at the older end of the age spectrum.
As you can see, both Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova made Verducci's list. Here's his list from last year.

That list included Joba Chamberlain, Bud Norris, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey, Josh Johnson, Rick Porcello, Cesar Carrillo, Max Scherzer, Wade Davis and Felix Hernandez. Here's how those pitchers' 2010s went:
  • Chamberlain: Made 73 injury-free relief appearances for the Yanks. Wasn't great, but did run into some bad luck which hurt his numbers. (His FIP was 2.98 and xFIP was 3.34. He ERA, however, was 4.40.)
  • Norris: Made 30 starts between the major and the minors.His 4.92 ERA with the Astros was slightly worse than the 4.53 ERA he had in 2009.
  • Latos: Made 31 starts and finished 8th in the NL Cy Young voting.
  • Bailey: Hit the 15-Day DL but was still able to make 27 starts between the majors and minors for the Reds. In his 19 major league starts he posted a career-best 4.46 ERA.
  • Johnson: Was on his way to a possible Cy Young award before being shut down in early September after complaining of problems with his back and shoulder.
  • Porcello: Did regress, but he was healthy and made 31 starts between Triple-A and the Majors.
  • Carrillo: Also regressed and bounced around a few teams at the end of the year after being designated for assignment several time. But like Porcello, remained healthy and made 27 starts.
  • Scherzer: Posted a 3.50 ERA in 31 starts (195 innings) for the Tigers.
  • Davis: Missed some time in early-August, but was still able to make 29 starts for the Rays while posting a respectable 4.07 ERA in the AL East.
  • Hernandez: Won the AL Cy Young award.
So, it would seem that while all of these guys stayed pretty healthy, some did regress and fall victim to the Verducci Effect (or the law of averages). The rest had pretty normal seasons by their standards and some were even better than they were the year before. We'll have to wait and see about this year's group, but I wouldn't be too concerned about Hughes and Nova.

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