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July 27, 1999

Pitcher Abuse Points: Midseason Update

A workload check at the halfway mark

by Rany Jazayerli and Keith Woolner

As teams close in on the 100-game mark, enough pitches have been thrown and enough starts have been made that we can begin to draw significant conclusions from the Pitcher Abuse Points data. But before we get to that, here's a demonstration of how PAP differs from looking at average pitch count totals:

                                  1-  91- 101- 111- 121- 131-
Name   GS PAP PAP/S   Pit  Pit/S  90  100  110  120 130  140  141+
Garcia 18 269  14.9  1843  102.4   5   1    4    3   5    0    0
Daal   18 217  12.1  1948  108.2   0   3   10    3   2    0    0

Omar Daal has averaged more than 108 pitches per start, Freddy Garcia barely 102. Daal ranks 11th among all starting pitchers in average pitches per start, while Garcia ranks behind him: 42nd. Yet despite the huge difference in their pitch counts, Garcia has the higher PAP total!

A breakdown of the pitch counts explain this: while Daal has thrown more than 90 pitches in every start, Garcia's total is lowered by throwing fewer than 90 pitches on five occasions. But to compensate for that, he has thrown at least 120 pitches in a start five times, and that is where the real damage is done. For two pitchers with a comparable number of total pitches thrown, the one with greater variance in his outings will have a higher PAP score. Buck Showalter has kept Daal's workload very consistent from start to start, while Lou Piniella--not surprisingly--has been erratic with Garcia.

Pitchers 30 and Older

Here's the list of highest PAP scores, through the All-Star Break, for pitchers 30 and over, along with where they ranked in our last update:

Name               Team           Age   PAP   GS   PAP/S  Rk 5/31
Randy Johnson      Arizona         35   743   20    37.2     1
Curt Schilling     Philadelphia    32   523   19    27.5     2
Scott Erickson     Baltimore       31   359   19    18.9    NR
Mike Mussina       Baltimore       30   352   19    18.5    NR
Al Leiter          New York (NL)   33   338   17    19.9     3
Jamie Moyer        Seattle         36   281   19    14.8     6
Tom Glavine        Atlanta         33   271   19    14.3     9
Dave Burba         Cleveland       32   262   18    14.6     8
Steve Sparks       Anaheim         33   250   16    15.6     4
Mark Gardner       San Francisco   37   248   15    16.5    NR
Jeff Fassero       Seattle         36   248   19    13.1     7

Dropping out of the top ten: David Cone (5th to 12th) and Kevin Brown (10th to 16th).

There's been little significant change since the end of May, with the glaring exception of pitchers sporting an ornithologically-correct bird on their caps. The Inner Harbor Zoo shows no signs of closing its doors, and now Ray Miller is desperately putting even more strain on his best starters to shoulder the load. We really don't care that much about Scott Erickson, but Mike Mussina has been put through this before, and historically has not taken well to being overworked, going back to the days when Johnny Oates was his manager.

The rest of the list is more or less the status quo, though it's nice to see David Cone dropping out of our rankings. As almost any baseball fan will tell you, he's pitched much better in the second half so far. Much better.

The 26-29 Group

Name               Team           Age   PAP   GS   PAP/S  Rk 5/31
Pedro Martinez     Boston          27   547   18    30.4     1
Pedro Astacio      Colorado        29   447   19    23.5     2
Wilson Alvarez     Tampa Bay       29   371   16    23.2     4
Rick Helling       Texas           28   342   19    18.0     6
Orlando Hernandez  New York (AL)   29   305   18    16.9    NR
Jason Schmidt      Pittsburgh      26   301   18    16.7    NR
Shawn Estes        San Francisco   26   260   17    15.3     5
Brian Bohanon      Colorado        29   244   18    13.6     3
Jose Lima          Houston         26   238   19    12.5     9
Omar Daal          Arizona         27   217   18    12.1     8

Dropping out of the rankings are Mike Sirotka (7th to 14th) and Aaron Sele (10th to 13th).

We should keep our mouths shut and pay attention to the data. In Baseball Prospectus 1999, we commented that despite his PAP score, Kerry Wood didn't appear to be in any imminent danger of serious arm injury. And in our last PAP update, we reasoned that despite Pedro Martinez's enormous PAP total, there was good reason to think that he wasn't in harm's way. Now, despite the fact that his average PAP score dropped from 38.7 to 30.4, he's going to miss at least one start with a "tired shoulder", after getting bombed by the Marlins, of all teams.

In fairness, this does appear to be just a tired shoulder, and he may be back in a week or two without any lingering effects. Then again, the urgency of a playoff chase trumps the concern for Pedro's chance at 300 career wins in the minds of many Red Sox fans. This team has a small enough margin of error as is; losing Pedro for any period of time would end their wild-card aspirations.

The Red Sox have been patting themselves on the back for taking extra care of Pedro's arm by keeping him in a strict five-man rotation all year, even when off days gave them the opportunity to move him up a day. Pedro made only 18 starts before the break, and, were he to not miss a start, would finish with only 33 starts for the season. But despite one fewer start, he still racked up more PAPs than anyone in his age class, and it's extremely likely that letting him throw fewer pitches per start would do him a lot more good than having him make fewer starts.

Remember, it's not the number of pitches, it's the pitches thrown beyond a pitcher's endurance level. There's plenty of evidence that pitchers on three days' rest are no less fit than they are on four days' rest. Their stamina may be lessened, but that can be corrected by limiting their pitch counts even further.

Imagine, if you will, a manager savvy enough to put his pitchers in a four-man rotation, and wise enough to keep them on a strict 100-pitch limit. The typical pitcher throws around 15 pitches per inning, so conservatively that's an average of six innings per start. Pedro Martinez throwing 41 starts at six innings a pop comes out to 246 innings. By comparison, to throw that many innings in just 33 starts, he would need to average just less than 7 1/2 innings per start. He might throw less often, but as we've seen this year, his pitch regularly soar well past 100. And even with four and sometimes five days' rest, his arm wasn't able to last the season without taking some additional time off.

The moral is this: to protect pitchers, don't restrict how often they pitch. Restrict how much they pitch.

The Young and the Rest-less

The ten hardest-working pitchers 25 and under:

Name               Team           Age   PAP   GS   PAP/S  Rk 5/31
Livan Hernandez    Florida         24   596   18    33.1     1
Russ Ortiz         San Francisco   25   549   18    30.5     2
Freddy Garcia      Seattle         22   269   18    14.9     5
Jose Rosado        Kansas City     24   265   18    14.7    10
Ismael Valdes      Los Angeles     25   207   18    11.5     7	
Bartolo Colon      Cleveland       24   177   17    10.4     4
Chris Carpenter    Toronto         24   164   14    11.7     3
Sidney Ponson      Baltimore       22   156   17     9.2    NR
Carlton Loewer     Philadelphia    25   147   12    12.3     6
Jaret Wright       Cleveland       23   147   18     8.2    NR

Dropping off the list: Kelvim Escobar (8th to 11th) and Odalis Perez (9th to 12th).

You have to admire his persistence: Livan Hernandez is as tough to get rid of as Joe Sheehan's can of spray-on hair. His average PAP score has actually increased since the end of May, from 30.1 to 33.1. Is there something about the humidity in south Florida that makes managers think they're in a pennant race when they're 20 games under .500?

Thank god that Hernandez has finally been traded away...straight into the arms of Dusty Baker. In addition to managing Shawn Estes and Mark Gardner above, Baker has actually increased Russ Ortiz's workload from 25.3 PAPs to 30.5 PAPs per start. I can't help but pity Hernandez; he's like a child abandoned by an abusive father, only to have a new stepdad come in and hit him some more. Now, finally taken away by Social Services and adopted by a well-to-do, respectable family, he's about to find out that abuse happens on both sides of the tracks.

Baker's Giants lead all of baseball in PAP, with or without adjusting for age. You think Baker won't have some explaining to do if the Giants fold in September? Of course he won't--everyone will just pin the blame on Barry Bonds.

The rising star here is Jose Rosado, who has finally been done in by what just might be the worst bullpen of all time. An ancillary benefit to a deep bullpen is that it makes it much easier for the manager to pull his starters after six or seven innings, even when they're pitching well. With options like Marc Pisciotta and a really bad Jeff Montgomery imposter out behind the bullpen gate, it's hardly surprising that Tony Muser has stepped up the pitch counts of his best starter.

Hardly surprising, but hardly forgivable, either. The Royals aren't winning anything this year, and it would be a crying shame if their playoff hopes in 2000 take a hit because Rosado loses his effectiveness much the same way he did the last time he was overworked. As it is, he's thrown between 120 and 125 pitches in five of his last six starts, with the outlier being a game delayed by rain after he had thrown 83 pitches. Like Pedro Martinez, he got bombed in his first start after the break.

The Freddy Garcia Train in Seattle shows no signs of being derailed by common sense, and Sidney Ponson joins the list along with his Bird brethren. Gee, there's a good idea: take the only positive development of a lost season and run it into the ground.

While Carlton Loewer is out indefinitely with a stress fracture in his arm, his place in Phrancona's Philly Phollies has been taken by Randy Wolf, who in only six starts has picked up 104 PAPs. Speaking of Wolf, let's run our final list of the 12 highest age-adjusted workloads (Min: 5 starts) in all of baseball. Keep in mind that this list ranks pitchers by their workload per start, whereas the previous charts ranked pitchers by their total workload.

Name               Team           Age PAP  GS  PAP/S   AAW  Rk 5/31
Livan Hernandez    Florida         24 596  18   33.1  77.3     2
Russ Ortiz         San Francisco   25 549  18   30.5  66.1     3
Pedro Martinez     Boston          27 547  18   30.4  55.7     1
Randy Wolf         Philadelphia    22 104   6   17.3  46.2    NR
Freddy Garcia      Seattle         22 269  18   14.9  39.9     8
Randy Johnson      Arizona         35 743  20   37.2  37.2     4
Pedro Astacio      Colorado        29 447  19   23.5  35.3    10
Wilson Alvarez     Tampa Bay       29 371  16   23.2  34.8     6
Jose Rosado        Kansas City     24 265  18   14.7  34.4    NR
Jason Schmidt      Pittsburgh      26 301  18   16.7  33.4    NR
Shawn Estes        San Francisco   26 260  17   15.3  30.6     5
Rick Helling       Texas           28 342  19   18.0  30.0    NR

Lucky enough to have dropped out of the rankings: Chris Carpenter (7th to 15th), Curt Schilling (9th to 14th), Bartolo Colon (11th to 23rd) and Brian Bohanon (12th to 30th).

Midway through the season, with the Red Sox backing off on Martinez a little, the path is clear for Livan Hernandez to do the unthinkable: repeat as winner of the Most Abused Pitcher award. Best of luck to him, and a few words of advice: get your agent talking to Brian Sabean about a long-term contract now. And start paying attention to those commercials for worker's compensation lawyers. Remember, there's no fee unless you collect.

Complete Pitcher Abuse Points Report

Rany Jazayerli is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Rany's other articles. You can contact Rany by clicking here
Keith Woolner is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Keith's other articles. You can contact Keith by clicking here

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