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?
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.
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.