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Must-click link: Rany Jazayerli on the last 20 years of pitcher abuse

Sep 12, 2012, 5:50 PM EDT

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Well, OK, the Grantland article is actually titled “A National Mistake” and the beginning and end discusses how the Nats were wrong to shut down Stephen Strasburg this month.

Personally, I found the middle more interesting, as Rany Jazayerli, who invented Pitcher Abuse Points for Baseball Prospectus back in 1998, presents a lengthy rundown of how pitcher usage has changed the last 20 years and makes his case that the reduction in the workloads of young pitchers has reduced injuries by a third.

There’s a lot of good stuff in there. My favorite: “Mark Prior threw as many games with 130-plus pitches in September and October of 2003 as every pitcher in the major leagues combined in 2012.”

As for his Strasburg take, I’m not sure I agree. I think the Nationals went about it wrong — they could have worked things out differently and not had to shut Strasburg down in advance of the postseason — but I believe the idea of limiting to about 160 innings was the right call.

  1. djpostl - Sep 12, 2012 at 5:57 PM

    If you are trying to argue AGAINST the Nationals shutting their young phenom down…word to the wise.

    Don’t point to Mark Prior’s 2003 workload as if it favors your position.

    • thefalcon123 - Sep 12, 2012 at 6:26 PM

      I think you missed Craig’s point. He was pointing out that the Prior/Strasberg situations aren’t actually very similar at all, but advocates of shutting down Stasberg often point to Prior.

      • goskinsvt - Sep 12, 2012 at 7:14 PM

        I think you mean Matthew.

      • thefalcon123 - Sep 12, 2012 at 7:35 PM

        Whatever, Craig is just using an alias. I stand by my statement.

      • raysfan1 - Sep 12, 2012 at 9:54 PM

        Djpostl is talking about the original, linked, Grantland artical–not about Matthew.

        Also, no, Craig Calcaterra and Matthew Pouliot are not the same person.

      • djpostl - Sep 13, 2012 at 2:36 AM

        I think the Prior reference is right on point.

        You ride your young pitcher into the dirt chasing a title (and that is EXACTLY what the Cubbies did in 2003) and you risk him never being the same again (which is EXACTLY what happened after they did such a thing).

  2. natstowngreg - Sep 12, 2012 at 6:39 PM

    Of course, it’s proverbial water over the proverbial dam, but I agree that they could have handled his workload differently. As Orel Hershiser has pointed out, teams shut down pitchers during the season (if they’re injured). Though for Strasburg, it would have been complicated because he wasn’t injured. It might have involved optioning him to a farm club, which would have left that farm club minus one usable player.

    The negative might be this: would the Nats’ record be this good if Strasburg missed part of the regular season? Of course, there’s no way to know for sure, but it seems unlikely.

    I’ve long thought that putting a number to the limitation just made things worse. Jordan Zimmermann worked a little over 160 innings last season and came back strong in 2012. Doesn’t mean that the same number would work for others.

  3. thefalcon123 - Sep 12, 2012 at 8:34 PM

    “They might be right, but given that the injury risk has already been reduced so significantly, it’s likely that any further benefit to shutting down Strasburg will be minuscule. Meanwhile, the risk that shutting him down costs the Nationals the NL pennant or a world championship is a lot more than minuscule. The point of having a pitcher like Stephen Strasburg is to help you win a championship. Preventing Strasburg from helping you win a title this year — so that he might be more likely to help you win a title in the future — is causing certain harm to your team in the present for a theoretical benefit in the future. That is, in a word, dumb.”

    This is what many of us have been trying to say. Rany just says it better because he has studies this issue significantly in his career and is a much better writer than me.

  4. paperlions - Sep 12, 2012 at 9:03 PM

    I admit, I got bored 2/3 of the way through the article as the horse he was beating was no more than a bloody stain at that point….but the VAST majority of the article seemed to miss the point. They aren’t shutting Strasburg down because he’s young, they are shutting him down to limit the increase in work load (what did he throw last year? about 40 innings) between years after TJ surgery.

    The article (at least the part I waded through) focuses only on pitch counts and not on patterns of use among years or after TJ surgery….and then his examples for the Nats doing things wrong are Tommy John himself (from the mid-70s, right after spewing 10,000 words about how pitchers were horribly abused during that time) and Kerry Wood…his IP his first 2 years back from TJ surgery: 137 and 174…yeah, his pitch counts were high EVENTUALLY, but the ones sited are FOUR YEARS post TJ surgery, and Wood was 25 by then….according to the article, pitch counts in the 120s aren’t as big a deal once a pitcher reaches 25.

    Most of the article is completely irrelevant to Strasburg’s situation, and the best he can do is a contrived comparison to a pitcher that flamed out young by siting abuse 4 years after he had TJ surgery. If that’s the best argument he can make that the Nats are wrong, then a good one can’t be made.

    • thefalcon123 - Sep 13, 2012 at 9:09 AM

      If you stopped reading halfway through, he stopped almost exactly at the point where he starts talkinga bout Tommy John Surgery.

      That leaves the issue of Strasburg’s recovery from Tommy John surgery, which the Nationals will tell you is the entire reason behind their plan to shut him down. They’ll tell you that Strasburg is on the same plan that teammate Jordan Zimmermann was on, and that Zimmermann was limited to the same number of innings in 2011, and that Zimmermann has pitched just fine this year. (Never mind that the Nationals were miles from a pennant race last year, or that since August 1 Zimmermann has a 5.54 ERA, so it’s not like being babied last year has kept him from being gassed this year.)

      There are a couple of holes that need poking in this position. The first is that pitchers have been having Tommy John surgery for decades, and once they’re healthy enough to return to the mound, they’ve typically been healthy enough to pitch a full season. You know who wasn’t limited to 160 innings in his first season after Tommy John surgery? Tommy John.

      Patient Zero missed the entire 1975 season after Dr. Frank Jobe replaced his ulnar collateral ligament. John returned in 1976, made 31 starts, and threw 207 innings. He was so devastated by this flagrant overuse that he made at least 30 starts every year (not counting the 1981 strike) until 1984, when he was 41 years old.

      John was 33 years old when he returned from surgery, 10 years older than Strasburg. The Nationals have argued that there are no real precedents for Strasburg — a pitcher so young and talented who has returned from Tommy John surgery — so they had to be extra cautious with him. The Nats are right that it’s unusual for a pitcher of Strasburg’s caliber to already be a Tommy John survivor in his early 20s. Really, the most comparable is Kerry Wood. And as with Prior, the way the Cubs handled Wood is nothing like the way the Nationals have handled Strasburg.

      Wood returned from Tommy John surgery in 2000 and was handled reasonably at first, only reaching 120 pitches twice in his first season back. And here’s the thing: Wood recovered nicely — after a 4.80 ERA in 2000, Wood had a 3.36 ERA in 174 innings in 2001, then a 3.66 ERA in 2002, then a 3.20 ERA and a league-leading 266 strikeouts in 2003.

      “But once he showed he had returned to form, his workload ramped up quickly. In 2001 he threw more than 100 pitches in 21 consecutive starts. (Strasburg’s highest such streak is three.) And in 2003, with Baker at the helm, Wood was sent to the galleys. He threw 120-plus pitches in a game 13 times. On May 10, he threw 141 pitches, one of the 15 highest totals of any pitcher this century. In his last six starts, he went 125, 120, 122, 114, 125, 122. He threw 124 and 117 pitches in his two divisional series starts, 109 in Game 3 of the NLCS, and then 112 in Game 7 before he was pulled, having allowed seven runs in 5⅔ innings.”

      • paperlions - Sep 13, 2012 at 9:12 AM

        I got that far….if you read my post, you’ll see I covered those aspects, and the false comparisons they represent…as the abuse he cites for 2003 was FOUR years after Wood had TJS, and he was 25, past the threshold Jaz defined himself for high pitch counts to have less effect on arms.

  5. willclarkgameface - Sep 13, 2012 at 9:49 AM

    Fine, limit his innings, but call the Braves to get proper consultation on how pitchers need to be handled. Rizzo is a joke.

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