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July 24, 1998
PAP Scores Revisited
Current Pitcher Abuse Points and commentaryLast month, in introducing a new method for evaluating the usage of starting pitchers, I was hopeful that the concept of PAP would mark a small first step towards a better understanding of the natural limits a pitching arm can take, and that it might help to establish better guidelines for pitchers to avoid disabling arm injuries.
After introducing it, PAP has received lots of positive feedback from our readers, which is proof of how seriously fans take the issue of pitcher abuse. It also reflects how limited our knowledge of this area is - from both a baseball and a medical viewpoint. So I'm building on my original idea.
For more information on what PAP is, please read the original article.
One potentially significant use of PAP scores is in the evaluation of managers. Indeed, one of the ways in which a modern manager can impact his team the most is in his handling of his pitching staff. Whether a manager coddles his starters' arms (or simply doesn't trust them too deep into a ballgame), or considers a pitch count as synonymous with a pitcher's manhood (Dallas Green, take a bow) differs widely between managers. So let's take a closer look. (All data is through July 11.)
The following column lists games played, the number of games in which the starting pitcher threw at least 115+ or 130+ pitches; the team PAP score; the highest pitch-count of the year; and the highest cumulative PAP scores on the staff.
Gee, who's that leading the National League? Although the Mariners, Yankees, and Blue Jays have higher PAP scores in the AL, all three teams have largely veteran staffs. Jim Leyland's rotation is made up of four rookies and a sophomore. Livan Hernandez has the longest outing of the year - AND the second longest, both coming in a span of ten days in mid-June. If a Workman's Compensation lawsuit is ever filed by a pitcher - and if Hernandez gets injured, there really should be - don't be surprised if you see Leyland's name as a defendant.
The Phillies' high position on this chart is due solely to the workhorse effort being put out by Curt Schilling. Ignore his starts and the Phillies would rank next-to-last in all of baseball, which suggests that Terry Francona is protecting his younger arms well. Of course, you can't ignore the fact that Schilling has been worked harder than anyone in the National League. I know he's 31--and has asserted himself as one of the dominant power pitchers in all of baseball. But Schilling had already established himself as one of the NL's top hurlers in 1992, and after completing 10 of just 26 starts that season, he had a subpar 1993 and missed parts of the next three seasons with injuries, finding his form again only last season. His imposing presence on the mound and his don't-give-a-damn attitude may fool people into thinking he's a machine, but I'm worried about his future. Tommy Greene came back once from injury, but he's five years into his second comeback, and it hasn't gone well.
Please, Mr. Riggleman, please... unlike Leyland and Francona, Jim Riggleman hasn't picked on any one pitcher, spreading the PAPs around. But when your staff leader is 21 and has the most promising arm of the decade, it's not enough to be cautious - you have to be downright paranoid. Riggleman hasn't let Kerry Wood crack 130 yet, but he's thrown 128 once, 122 four times, and 121 once. Rule of thumb, Jim: don't let Wood start the 7th unless his pitch count is still in double digits.
The Dodgers are the only team to fire their manager so far this season, which might provide us an opportunity to compare two managers with the same staff to work with, except that it isn't the same staff. Bill Russell finished off the job Tommy Lasorda started nearly a decade ago, running Ramon Martinez ragged despite an already-diagnosed rotator cuff tear. For that alone he should have been fired. Glenn Hoffman has been much less abusive of his pitchers so far, though in fairness Martinez was already injured and Hideo Nomo out the door by the time he took over.
The Rockies are an interesting look at how park effects might influence pitch counts. A colleague of mine has stated that good pitchers' parks might induce higher PAP scores because a manager would be more inclined to leave his starters in the game when they were pitching well. Conversely, you would expect Rockies' pitchers to have low PAPs, as they seem to be out of the game by the 6th inning anyways. But the greater offense also leads to more batters per inning, and more pitches per batter, so the effects may cancel out. In any case, Don Baylor ranks as slightly above average in pitcher abuse, with the main victims being veterans Darryl Kile and Pedro Astacio. Astacio has averaged barely six innings a start, but in Colorado, that can mean a lot of pitches. Jamey Wright has been fairly well protected (138 PAPs), despite roughly the same number of innings per start as Astacio.
Jack McKeon has a weird tendency to pick on Mike Remlinger. Remlinger, despite fewer innings per start than either Brett Tomko or Pete Harnisch, ranks 7th in the NL in PAPs. Tomko (158) and Harnisch (180) are both being treated fairly well, while rookie Scott Winchester leads all of baseball with 13 starts without a single PAP.
Bobby Cox has the Braves in the middle of the pack, despite an incredibly effective veteran staff. That is a huge accomplishment, one the Blue Jays, as you will see, need to master. The stress has been spread around the staff, and while youngster Kevin Millwood has received his share, it pales compared to the workload endured by other youngsters around the league.
The days of Dallas Green are over in New York, and while Bobby Valentine doesn't baby arms, he does show some common sense. Aside from veteran Al Leiter, no one on the staff has a PAP higher than 121. Of course, Leiter did tear his knee up, but you can hardly blame Valentine for working Leiter a little, given that 1) he's 32; 2) he's a free-agent at year's end, and 3) he's been cutting hitters up all season.
Phil Garner really may have learned from Cal Eldred. Eldred, you may recall, broke into the majors in a big way (1.79 ERA in 14 starts in 1992), but after a league-leading 258 innings in 1993 (when he was just 25), Eldred lost his effectiveness and ultimately required arm surgery, and is still not his pre-injury self. Garner later admitted that he may have worked Eldred too hard, and to his credit appears to be taking it easier on his pitchers these days. Jeff Juden has been worked a little, which isn't that surprising given his lapses in control, but Scott Karl (98) and Eldred himself (115) have been treated more gingerly.
Bruce Bochy doesn't get much credit for managing a team in first place, but he deserves some for resisting the temptation to over-use a largely veteran - and largely successful - rotation. Keep in mind that behind Trevor Hoffman, they don't exactly have the Nasty Boys out there. I mean, how many people would trust their leads to Dan Miceli in the 8th inning?
It's a one-man show in St. Louis, where aside from Todd Stottlemyre, Tony LaRussa arguably hasn't had anyone in the rotation or on the mound long enough to abuse with big pitch counts. This is the man that introduced baseball to the one-out left-hander, as well as the 9-man revolving rotation in one brief experiment, so you might not think he would have any qualms removing a starter at the first sign of danger. Then again, the Cardinals might be in contention if Donovan Osborne, Alan Benes, and Matt Morris hadn't missed most of this season, so there's more here than meets the eye.
Buck Showalter and the rest of the Diamondback organization have received a much-needed dose of humble pie this year. Nevertheless, Showalter deserves credit for not overworking his staff. Ace Andy Benes has not been used out of line with his age and experience, and young starters Jeff Suppan and Brian Anderson have combined for just 31 PAPs. Anderson has responded with some of the best pitching of his career.
Gene Lamont, despite his personal ties to Leyland, has proven a much gentler handler of pitchers, although he has worked Jason Schmidt for more PAPs than the rest of the team combined. Schmidt is only 25 and Lamont would be well-advised to treat him as carefully as he has Jon Lieber (105) or Francisco Cordova (45).
Dusty Baker has the luxury of one of the deepest bullpens in the game - Robb Nen and the dearly departed Steve Reed are two of the five best relievers in the game this year, and John Johnstone and Julian Tavarez have both been very effective as well. So it's not surprisng that despite veterans like Orel Hershiser and Mark Gardner, the Giants should rank towards the bottom in PAPs. But if Baker had treated Shawn Estes with the same restraint he has shown the rest of the staff (like Schmidt, Estes is just 25 and has more than half his team's PAPs), the Giants' best young starter might not be on the DL right now.
I'd like to take this paragraph to sing the praises of Larry Dierker, who is probably one of the best managers in the game today. When Dierker, despite absolutely no managerial experience, led the Astros to the division title last year, a lot of the credit for the success of the pitching staff was attributed to Dierker's penchant for letting his starter pitch deep into ballgames. The conventional wisdom appears to be completely off, however: the Astros rank ahead of only the Expos in PAPs, as Dierker has a couple of historic underachievers (Shane Reynolds and Mike Hampton), and two castoffs (Jose Lima and Sean Bergman) ranking 4th in the NL in starters' ERA. He's turned C.J. Nitkowski into an effective reliever, he's making use of Scott Elarton as a terrific long man, and he was somehow able to get a good season out of Mike Magnante last year. Give Dierker his due: the Astros wouldn't be headed for their second straight postseason without him.
And finally, there is, of course, Felipe Alou, whose ability to get the most out of his pitching staff is legendary. Carlos Perez, the most "abused" of his pitchers, would rank 5th on the Yankees or Blue Jays. And Dustin Hermanson, despite another good season as a converted ex-reliever, has only 25 PAPs all year. Alou can get effective seasons out of journeymen like Anthony Telford and Miguel Batista. Great prospects like Carl Pavano and Javier Vasquez - and now Jeremy Powell - are in the best possible hands to mold them into top starters.
And now a look at the AL:
Ah, sweet Lou. How could we ever question your managerial skills? Your bullpen is a mess year after year, you can't win with the two most valuable players in the game, and you work your starters harder than anyone in the game. Okay, that last statement may be a little unfair, given that Randy Johnson is a fairly unique case. Not to suggest that Johnson is the only pitcher that Lou Piniella has picked on, but the NINE longest outings by a Mariner this year all belong to him. But consider that Jamie Moyer - who has already had major arm surgery in his career - has been worked harder than all but seven starters in the AL. Kenny Cloude's struggles this year may be in his long-term interests, as Piniella has only worked him for 67 PAPs all year.
It was hard to know what to expect from Tim Johnson when the season began, so the numbers for him are particularly instructive. Basically, he's an arm-slagger. Only Piniella has worked his pitchers harder, and aside from the Mariners, no other staff has even two members with over 300 PAPs, while the Jays have three. Five different starters - the three listed above, Pat Hentgen, and youngster Chris Carpenter - have thrown 130+ pitches in a game at least once, and Toronto leads all of baseball with 33 starts of 115 pitches or more. Yes, there are some good veteran pitchers on the staff - but Juan Guzman has had injury troubles, Woody Williams is only now developing into a consistent starter, and Hentgen has already begun to show the effects of the workload Cito Gaston placed on him the last two seasons, as he led the AL in innings and batters faced in both 1996 and 1997. This could be a disaster waiting to happen.
The Yankees may be the best team of the past half-century, but all that domination hasn't been enough for Joe Torre to give his starters some rest. Andy Pettitte, still only 26, has racked up 476 PAPs, and three other starters have over 200. Of particular note is Orlando Hernandez, who has 230 PAPs in just 5 starts! Yeah, I know he's 28 or 32 or whatever and not your typical rookie, but Randy Johnson is the only pitcher in all of baseball with more PAPs per start. Does Major League Baseball have something against the Hernandez brothers?
We know there's more of a difference between Terry Collins and Larry Dierker than just their intensity level. Collins is, shall we say, a demanding manager, and that extends to his starters. Ken Hill is already on the DL, Omar Olivares is rapidly fading, and Chuck Finley is slowly watching his great start deteriorate. The Angels are trying to win the AL West with a 3-4-5 of Jason Dickson (and his 6+ ERA), rookie Jarrod Washburn, and back-from-the-dead knuckleballer Steve Sparks. And they wonder why they're in a July swoon.
Mike Hargrove has it pretty easy in Cleveland, where no one in the division has really challenged the Indians in four years. So why does he insist on placing Bartolo Colon and Jaret Wright - two of the best young arms in the game - in grave danger of arm trouble? Wright, at least, has built up to this level of use slowly, has no injury history (well, to his jaw only), has a very strong build, and hasn't been used nearly as much as Colon. But Colon had arm troubles in both 1996 and 1997 - and yet only Livan Hernandez has been worked harder among young starters. The question is, why? What, Hargrove can't spare Paul Assenmacher in the 7th (or even 8th) inning? Despite the Indians' success the last several years, John Hart had been reluctant to give Hargrove a long-term contract to reward that success - and he's probably right to feel that way.
Art Howe may want to cut his starters a little slack as the A's try to rebuild one of the league's worst pitching staffs. The A's rank 7th in the majors in PAPs, though a lot of that use has been placed on the safest of shoulders, veteran knuckleballer Tom Candiotti. Still, Jimmy Haynes, the A's best young starter and still just 25, has 207 PAPs, and Blake Stein has 153 in just 11 starts. A little more discretion could go a long way here.
Johnny Oates finally has a pair of good young starters - Rick Helling and Aaron Sele - to go along with the Rangers' league-leading offense. (And by the way, give Bob Melvin some credit for getting Sele and Helling for next to nothing.) Unlike Terry Collins, he has been reasonably gentle on his best starters; Helling is 27 and Sele is 28, yet neither of them has reached 300 PAPs yet. Oates' saner handling of his starters may be a big reason why the Rangers are now in first, and the Angels are playing catch-up.
Tony Muser has done a lot of things right since taking over as the Royals' manager, but unlike his predecessor, he doesn't publicly congratulate himself for them. Among the things Muser does better than Bob Boone: he knows the limitations of his players. The Royals rank in the middle-of-the-pack as far as PAPs go, but two-thirds of them have gone to Pat Rapp (258) and Tim Belcher (193), the two veterans - and both free-agents at that - that the staff relies on to be inning sponges. But Glen Rusch and Jose Rosado, both just 23, have been used much more reasonably, combining for only 209 PAPs. One of Muser's greatest achievements has been his careful handling of Rosado, starting him in the bullpen before easing him back into the rotation, nurturing him back to health after his future was very much in doubt at the end of last year.
It's probably unfair to blame Ray Miller for the disaster that is the Orioles' season this year, given that canny fans everywhere predicted their collapse before the season began. He has done a reasonable job of protecting his pitchers, with the exception of Scott Erickson. Some of the praise being thrown at Erickson is ridiculous, like Peter Gammons saying "no one takes no-hit stuff to the mound more often than Scott Erickson" (then why has he given up over 10 hits per 9 innings?). But Erickson has been the Orioles most consistent starter, and has resurrected a career that was on life support two years ago. He is 30 and can handle a high workload, but Miller should never let him throw 149 pitches in a game again.
Larry Rothschild is an ex-pitching coach, and it shows; the expansion Devil Rays rank 5th in the AL in ERA, but sport one of the truly bad offenses of our time. They have scored 43 runs less than any other team in all of baseball (despite the advantage of the DH), and 69 runs fewer than any other AL team. Rothschild has done as well as could be expected with his pitching staff; Rolando Arrojo has been terrific, and neither he nor Tony Saunders (186), Tampa Bay's only two consistent starters, have been overworked very much.
Pedro Martinez has a higher percentage of his team's PAPs (487 of 544, or 90%) than any other starter in the game. Not that Martinez has been worked to death: his total ranks 5th in the league, which isn't surprising for the defending NL Cy Young winner (and perhaps the top AL Cy Young candidate). But Jimy Williams has done an especially good job protecting his other pitchers, whether you're talking about rehab case Bret Saberhagen (13) or knuckleballer Tim Wakefield (39), who in past years has been used with considerably less restraint. Williams' managerial history - particularly in the stretch run - has been pretty ugly, but so far his intelligent use of his pitching staff has kept the Red Sox on top of the wild card chase.
The White Sox, despite ridding themselves of Terry Bevington and hiring the well-regarded Jerry Manuel, are as underachieving as ever. But it would be hard to pin the blame on Manuel's handling of his pitchers. Like his former mentor, Felipe Alou (and completely unlike his other mentor, Jim Leyland), Manuel has been quite protective of his pitchers. Mike Sirotka, by far the Sox' most consistent starter, has a PAP score of 207, quite reasonable for his age (27). I was surprised Sirotka's score was so low; he's tossed five complete games, and seemed to work deep into a number of other games. The rest of the staff has been too inexperienced (Jim Parque, Scott Eyre) or just plain bad (Jamie Navarro, Jason Bere) to rack up high pitch counts.
The Tigers are finding out just how hard it is to become a contender, as their pitching staff is coming along much more slowly than they hoped. But Buddy Bell has been patient, and hasn't worked his best starters - Justin Thompson (130) and Brian Moehler (161) - very hard at all. Thompson, like Sirotka, seems to throw deep into a lot of ball games, and has averaged nearly 7 innings a start - but his overall PAP score is very low for a staff ace, a very encouraging sign given his history of arm trouble. And under Bell's careful handling, Moehler is beginning to prove that he's not John Doherty Jr. after all - he's actually becoming one of the better starters in the league.
And bringing up the rear in the AL are the Twins, where Tom Kelly is trying to restore some of the faith I lost in him over the years. Brad Radke, the undisputed ace of the staff at 25, has only been worked for 229 PAPs, which ranks ahead of only Justin Thompson, Mike Sirotka, and Rolando Arrojo among the top starters among AL teams (and Sirotka and Arrojo were not well-known quantities before the season began). The rest of the staff - from youngsters like LaTroy Hawkins (54) and Eric Milton (58) to veterans Bob Tewksbury (4) and Mike Morgan (13) - have been handled very carefully by Kelly. The Twins bullpen isn't great, but it is deep, and Kelly has used that to his advantage, particularly in bringing along the very talented Milton. It has yet to pay real dividends in the standings, but the Twins' rotation ERA ranks a surprising 3rd in the AL, behind only the Yankees and Indians. Give Kelly some credit for being patient with a team that appeared to be headed nowhere (or worse yet, to North Carolina) at the beginning of the year.