ONE TOPIC – TWO TAKES

By:  Holly Horning & Kurt Snyder

This week’s Thursday topic is derived from a reader question. So thanks to John L., our writers had a topic they could really sink their teeth into.

No answers were shared. No dialogue was had beforehand. It always makes for good, frank conversation starters. So let’s take a look.


How important are the modern innings limits for Fulmer, Boyd and Norris? How should management plan ahead if these guys do pitch the team into the playoffs?

HOLLY

Before anyone laments the good old days when pitchers threw complete games and managers didn’t care about pitch counts, it’s important to understand the changes happening in baseball. Changes based upon youth baseball, medical stats and the changing economics of the game.

Pitchers now have more mileage on their arms coming into the majors than anyone before them due to travel teams and year-round play. They are also throwing harder on average and at ages where arm strength is the most fragile.

Fifty percent of all Tommy John surgeries are done on 15-19 year old boys and over 25% of today’s MLB pitchers have been through the operation with the stats only increasing at an alarming rate.

Combine that with the economic reality that pitchers are the most highly priced players of any team. There is logically a concern by all organizations to protect their investments, especially with pitchers who are young and under club-control.

Agents are increasingly bringing in doctors to testify to teams about innings limits for their pitching clients and protecting young arms will be a big part of the Collective Bargaining Agreement this winter.

So yes, the Tigers will need to address this but probably not with all 3 young pitchers.

If you factor in the most conservative suggestion of 145 innings and use 7 innings per game as the measurement stick, it means Fulmer, Boyd and Norris have an allotment of approximately 21 games each. That’s on course for this time of year given that the top starting pitchers in 2015 has GS stats in the low 30’s.

Boyd has shown that he’s still a 5th – 6th inning guy which will ironically extend his starting capability. Norris has yet to make it up to Detroit so his IP is not a concern currently, combined with the fact that there are no rotation openings. Both of their inning totals will be dependent upon others’ injuries, whether Sanchez returns to the rotation and how Pelfrey fares.

Fulmer, realistically, is the only concern about innings limitations and we saw him being pulled the other night, despite pitching well, to help save some of those innings.

He appears to be one of those very special pitchers and the Tigers need to be seriously concerned with protecting his ability to pitch for them for many years to come. I expect they will continue to pull him as early from a game as possible and, depending upon how the rest of the rotation does, they may even draw out his starts.

As the season gets older, we’ll know more as the Tigers gauge their chances for October baseball. But I think all teams learned a lesson from the Stephen Strasburg saga several years ago where he wasn’t monitored well and had to sit out the playoffs. Playoffs that his team lost.


KURT

Today’s baseball is, excuse me, a different ballgame. Back in the days of Mark Fidrych, it was nothing to pitch complete games. You pitched your starter until he wasn’t effective anymore, with no regard for pitch count.

Today, teams are more apt to protect their starters. There is too much risk to send your starter out for even one more inning if they’ve reached 120+ pitches.

In fact, especially for young pitchers, the protection is even more intense. Innings pitched in a season for a rookie are extremely scrutinized and pitchers have been known to get shut down when they reach 140-150 innings. Their future is at risk; a future that, with continued success, will bring big money.

Well, you might ask, but what’s different? Pitchers are pitchers. Pay is relative. There was just as much risk in the ‘70’s as there is today.

But Tommy John Surgery wasn’t performed on seemingly every other pitcher across the board. Heck, in 1968, Denny McClain, the greatest pitcher on the planet at the time, pitched until his arm was so sore, he couldn’t lift it. But can you imagine treating a pitcher today like they treated them back then? Can you imagine, pumping someone like Justin Verlander full of pain killers so he could make it through another start?

Pitchers today, are treated like priceless jewelry. You can’t treat a guy in which you have invested $200 million, like a piece of meat. Teams have to consider the amount of innings like Michael Fulmer pitches, by taking him out earlier in a game then they normally would, by skipping an occasional start, anything to keep that workload down.

It’s a dangerous road, one where you have to decide what’s best for a pitcher. You can choose to protect your future that might include several championships. Or you can throw caution to the wind and shove all your chips to the middle of the table in order to win that one title.

11 thoughts on “ONE TOPIC – TWO TAKES

  1. Agree with all said above, but I think sooner than later they should be talking about pitch limits for rookie pitchers based on number of pitches rather than innings, which, IMO, is more accurate.

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  2. As I recall,back in the 70’s the common problem with pitchers was the dreaded Rotator Cuff injury, Rarely did we hear of the torn Ulnar Collateral Ligament. Today, we rarely hear of the Rotator Cufff injury. Why is that? The pitchers changed their mechanics to relieve the stress on the Rotator Cuff. Did this change in mechanics result in more UCL tears?

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  3. I’m curious. I frequently hear comments on pitching mechanics being “off” or needing to be “tweaked”. Is this simply a concern in terms of performance or do poor mechanics increase the likelihood of an injury that would lead to TJ surgery? Is it monitored as closely as pitch count/innings count?

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    • Helen – poor mechanics are generally a topic when discussing a pitcher struggling with effectiveness. I don’t recall much discussion about poor mechanics resulting in injury. But it does bring to mind Mark Fidrych’s knee injury. His mechanics were affected when he hurt his knee which ultimately caused damage to his arm. It became end of story for him. Thanks, Kurt

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      • Interesting as always. The example of Mark Fidrych’s knee injury resulting in poor mechanics expands the subject. While mechanics are monitored in terms of a pitcher’s performance rather than to prevent injury, being “off” could also signal another issue that may need to be addressed. Perhaps that’s why it is mentioned so often.

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  4. While the main point is spot on, it is a bit off in one area. Norris IS pitching, even if it is in the minors. Basically, innings are innings, at least for the current game. If the Tigers can stay healthy there will be issues for all 3 rookie/young starters.

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  5. Thx, y’all. Checking stats, JV threw 185 innings thru the playoffs in his rookie year. Good subject to be knowledgeable on. I’ve got twin 2nd cousins pitching in A+ ball in the Rangers organization. One had TJ surgery @ age 19. Also have 3 star grandsons that’ll be doing off season workshops this year. Above all they need to have fun.

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  6. I don’t disagree, but I wonder if pitch counts create a psychological limit. Once Bannister broke the four-minute mile, a bunch of other guys did as well. But can barriers go up as well as down? The 100-pitch limit may be the new four-minute mile, only we saw it come into being rather than be destroyed. Would Mickey Lolich be a seven inning pitcher today?

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  7. I will concede the argument on pitch counts even though I don’t like it. What I don’t get is why relievers only pitch one inning. Makes no sense at all. These are generally 20-something year old, world class athletes in their prime. Always been critical of Leyland and Ausmus,but all managers do it and it drives me bonkers.

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    • Tim, it’always a matter of pitch count, 100 is the mark for starters, 25 for relievers. Keeping relievers under 25 means they are available the next day, so you have all your weapons, that goes for the late inning guys which you want available as much as possible. Long relievers and blowout games are a different story.

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  8. Well, if the concern about over- pitching is based on the fact that they’re so highly paid, perhaps that’s the problem. Wouldn’t you want your most highly paid players to be the ones who bring the most return on the investment? Namely, contributing toward the most victories, i.e. an everyday player. Just saying.

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