Corey Brock brings word that right-hander Mat Latos’ workload won’t be as closely monitored in 2011 as it was last year. Latos is understandably excited about this, saying “It’s a weight lifted off my shoulders.”
I am a little less excited, but this is a knee-jerk reaction.
One problem with the alleged Verducci Effect is that it plants a seed of doubt in our minds. It lends credence to our fears, regardless of whether said effect holds up to scrutiny, that Latos could be at risk.
Such fears caused this observer to momentarily cringe at the thought that Latos, who pitched 184 2/3 innings last year at age 22, might be asked to work even harder in 2011. Then I remembered that knowledge is an excellent remedy for fear and examined the data.
Since 2001, 16 pitchers have worked at least as many innings as Latos at age 22. All are currently active (although we stretch the definition by including Mark Prior, who pitched 1 inning at Triple-A last year after missing three seasons due to injury). Here is the full list (name, year, IP):
- Mark Buehrle, 2001, 221.1
- Carlos Zambrano, 2003 214
- Mark Prior, 2003, 211.1
- Clayton Kershaw, 2010, 204.1
- Felix Hernandez, 2008, 200.2
- Matt Cain, 2007, 200.0
- CC Sabathia, 2003, 197.2
- Dontrelle Willis, 2004, 197
- Trevor Cahill, 2010, 196.2
- Oliver Perez, 2004, 196
- Jake Peavy, 2003, 194.2
- Brett Myers, 2003, 193
- Jon Garland, 2002, 192.2
- Rich Harden, 2004, 189.2
- Jeremy Bonderman, 2005, 189
- Jair Jurrjens, 2008, 188.1
By definition, these are special young men. Most guys their age — even the ones who pitch professionally for a living — are not taking their turn in a big-league rotation. Here’s the average line of those pitchers at age 22:
No. GS IP H R ER HR BB SO ERA BA OBP SLG 16 31 199.0 182 87 80 19 72 162 3.59 .244 .315 .381
Here’s how they did (except Kershaw and Cahill, who haven’t gotten there yet) the following year:
No. GS IP H R ER HR BB SO ERA BA OBP SLG 14 30 188.2 174 80 74 18 66 153 3.52 .246 .314 .387
Let’s put those two together, using ratios for easier digestion:
Age No. GS IP ERA H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9 BA OBP SLG 22 16 31 199.0 3.59 8.23 0.84 3.25 7.31 .244 .315 .381 23 14 30 188.2 3.52 8.32 0.86 3.13 7.30 .246 .314 .387
At an aggregate level, there is virtually no difference between age 22 and age 23 seasons of pitchers who worked harder than Latos did at age 22.
Because no two snowflakes are alike, we must also take a closer look at individual cases. Here are the deltas from age 22 to to age 23 in durability (GS and IP) and effectiveness (ERA+) for the 14 pitchers who have completed their age 23 campaigns. Positive numbers are good:
Pitcher GS IP ERA+ Buehrle +2 +17.2 -14 Zambrano -1 -4.1 +21 Prior -9 -92.2 -69 Hernandez +3 +38.0 +49 Cain +2 +17.2 -5 Sabathia 0 -9.2 -16 Willis +2 +39.2 +50 Perez -10 -93.0 -73 Peavy -5 -28.1 +75 Myers -1 -17.0 -9 Garland -1 -1.0 +4 Harden -12 -61.2 +59 Bonderman +5 +25.0 +18 Jurrjens +3 +26.2 +44
- The only two that completely tanked were Prior and Perez. There have been questions about the way Prior was handled in Chicago, and I’ve never liked the fact that Perez and his inconsistent mechanics stuck in the big leagues after just four starts above A-ball. But we’re making excuses; what’s done is done.
- Myers was marginally less effective at age 23. Peavy and Harden improved, but both spent time on the disabled list.
- Hernandez, Willis, and Jurrjens all took huge leaps forward. Bonderman made more modest gains.
- Taking a longer view, Buehrle, Zambrano, Sabathia, Peavy, Myers, and Garland have enjoyed sustained success over several years. Hernandez and Cain have done the same over a shorter time period but appear to be head down a similar path.
- Prior and Perez never recovered. Willis saw his game deteriorate quickly and hasn’t been effective since his age 24 season. Harden has pitched well when healthy, which is almost never. Bonderman took a step backward at age 24. He has battled injuries and ineffectiveness ever since. Jurrjens broke down at the same age and we don’t yet know how he’ll respond to that.
This is hardly a definitive study (heck, it’s not even a study at all), but it provides enough recent counterexamples to suggest that increased workload — in and of itself — won’t condemn Latos to some horrible fate. Still, all else being equal, I’d just as soon see the Padres be protective of Latos. He represents a huge chunk of the organization’s hope going forward, and you don’t want to see the team get careless with him.
Of course, all else isn’t equal and we don’t know all the variables, but the same can be said of life itself. Bad things happen to young pitchers. You take the necessary precautions, let them pitch, and hope for the best.
* * *
- Hall of Fame Voting: Where Groupthink Pulls a Massive Verducci (Management by Baseball). Jeff Angus discusses Larry Walker’s Hall of Fame worthiness and makes a larger point along the way. The comparison of Walker’s career road numbers to those of Jim Rice is particularly insightful. [h/t reader Didi]
- Scoresheet Kings Diary: Dispersal Draft (FanGraphs). Friend of Ducksnorts Paul Swydan is now an enemy of Ducksnorts. Well, that’s a bit extreme, but I still want to beat the guy.
- Top 5 Players to Ever Wear a Padres Jersey (LobShots). This is an interesting list. After seeing a photo of the PCL Padres at the top, I assumed Ted Williams would be on it, but only the MLB Padres are represented here. I’d probably bump Willie McCovey and Ozzie Smith in favor of Mike Piazza and Dave Winfield.
- Baseball’s Superheroes (Wezen-Ball). Larry Granillo delivers the fun.
- Harang hopes return to roots revives career (Padres.com). Speaking of pitcher workloads, this can’t be good: “Harang estimates that he threw close to 400 pitches, including warmup pitches, during a fitful eight-day stretch [in 2008] that started in San Diego with a 103-pitch start followed by a 63-pitch, four-inning relief outing three days later in an extra-inning game.”
- Testing the 2007-2010 Forecasting Systems – Official Results (The Book). This is long and dense, but projection mavens will find it interesting. [h/t reader Didi]
- Choosing the Right Friends and The Procurement of Stuff (Avenging Jack Murphy). More FanFest highlights.
- Happy 6th Anniversary, Gaslamp Ball! (Gaslamp Ball, duh). I remember when Ducksnorts turned 6. Eh, no I don’t; that was a long time ago. Congrats, guys!
- FanGraphs Audio: Matt Antonelli, Washington National (FanGraphs). Carson Cistulli chats with the former Padres first-round pick.