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March 3, 1998


This year's risks to go under the knife

by Clay Davenport

The Orthopedic Award goes to those pitchers and organizations who pushed their arms to the highest limits in the past season. Those limits are determined by considering multiple factors, including
  • Batters faced. More innings, more batters faced, more pitches thrown equals more strain.
  • Age. Younger pitchers, below the age of 25, are less capable of taking the strain as older, fully-grown pitchers.
  • Pitching style. More walks and strikeouts mean more average pitches per batter. On the other hand, more strikeouts generally indicate a stronger arm, with higher capacity for work.
  • Baserunners. The more you pitch from the stretch, the more strain you put on your arm.
These factors have been useful in the past to identify pitchers' likelihood for injury. There is a movement afoot to rename the award in honor of the champion for the 1995 and 1996 seasons, Bill Pulsipher, an example of everything the system rates highly: a young pitcher given lots of innings, with relatively high baserunner counts, somwhat high walk rates, and a moderate strikout rate. The anti-Pulsipher is Greg Maddux, although Rick Reed has made a strong run of his own recently.

The nature of the problem dictates that many of the most vulnerable players will be non-prospects; young pitchers who get shelled in a place like High Desert may amass high strain without piling up the innings, and their very inability to keep runners off base makes them non-prospects.

The envelope, please:

Number 15 on this year's chart is RHP Fausto Macey, the first of several Angels on the list, who logged 25 starts between the PCL and Texas League with unadjusted ERAs over 8 and strikeout:walk ratios under 1.

14th was LHP Doug Million, the much-heralded prospect in the Rockies organization. He died of asthma last September, three weeks shy of his 22nd birthday.

The 13th spot belongs to lefty Mark Redman, a PCL hurler for the Twins in Salt Lake City. The PCL is a tough place to pitch, with a lot of high-altitude parks that make for lots of base runners. Their #1 pick in '95, he is rated for a higher workload in '97 than the year before, even though he pitched fewer innings, and in translation had roughly equal performance, but the differences in leagues made this season much tougher on his arm.

Number 12 is Angels LHP Jason Stockstill. Knocked around the Midwest League for 27 starts, he was the team's 9th round pick in 1995 out of high school, and '97 was his first season above rookie ball. So far, the future doesn't look good.

Coming in at #11 is righty Jared Fernandez of the Red Sox, who played at Trenton and Pawtucket last year. In 360 career innings at AA/AAA, he's struck out just 23 more batters than he's walked. That's why he's on the list. And now here's why he probably shouldn't be: k-n-u-c-k-l-e-b-a-l-l.

Tenth place is the domain of righty Jimmy Haynes. A touted Oriole prospect prior to a disastrous 1996 season, he was pitching well for Rochester when he was traded to the A's for Geronimo Berroa. After some shaky outings in Edmonton, he pitched pretty well for Oakland down the stretch. Control problems continue to haunt him, and that's what put his name on the list.

Number 9 is young RHP Justin Kaye. A 19th round pick of the Mariners in 1995, he reached triple digits in runs, walks, and strikeouts despite throwing only 127 innings. That's a lot of stress for him, not to mention Wisconsin manager Gary Varsho.

The only full-time major leaguer in the top 15 is Jaime Navarro in 8th place. It takes quite a season for a 30-year-old with good control to make the list, but Navarro led the league in hits to earn his spot.

Seventh is a man who's taken the term "journeyman" to a whole new level this offseason. Lefty Matt Perisho worked last year for the Angels organization, picking up 27 starts and 3 relief appearances. He was very good in Midland, very bad in Vancouver, and just ordinary bad in Anaheim, and its the last two that ran his pitch counts up for this list. Next year he'll work in Texas.

RHP John Ambrose holds the sixth spot on the chart, following 27 wild starts for the White Sox' Carolina League affiliate, Winston-Salem. And I do mean wild: 117 walks in 150 innings, not to mention 16 wild pitches.

The five spot belongs to the best pitcher on this list: Cubs' phenom RHP Kerry Wood. I'm sure people think that he's being handled carefully, after throwing just 152 innings last year, but when you have as many walks and strikeouts as Wood, it takes a lot of pitches to get those innings; literally as many as it takes Greg Maddux to go 250. He does have an extraordinary arm, so it might be strong enough to handle this. Since I'm a baseball fan, I hope so.

4th, actually in a dead-heat tie with Wood, is LHP Brian Barkley. Like Fernandez, he's a second-line Boston farmhand, and managed to stick around Trenton for 29 starts. His spot on the list just comes from being a bad pitcher with a lot of innings. He's not horrible, he's not wild, he strikes out a few batters; there's no single hook on which to blame his arm strain. None of those qualities are good enough to build a prospect label from, excepting perhaps "left-handed".

In 3rd place is hefty lefty Dennis Reyes. Reyes and Million are the two repeaters from last year, when they finished 14th and 11th respectively. For Reyes, it's the result of numerous innings (about 185) at a young age (20). He's a Valenzuela clone, and tore through San Antonio and Albuquerque last year to reach the Dodgers, pitching well at every stop, IMO. The raw numbers say he got smacked around some in Albuquerque, and that's what really inflates his arm strain numbers; but if you look at the performance, I mean, c'mon, its Albuquerque, and it wasn't really bad at all.

Second place goes to the highly touted RHP Chris Carpenter, who logged just over 200 innings split between Syracuse and Toronto. Its hard to see just how he got here; none of his performance indicators are that bad in and of themselves, but they combine to give us the player credited with the most arm strain who appeared in the major leagues in 1997.

The winner of this year's award finds himself at the top of the charts despite only throwing 133 innings of minor league ball in '97. He is regarded as a pretty good prospect, due to a powerful fastball and a big curve. But this would-be Cardinal, like several others on this list, can't figure out where the ball is going to go. He walked 113 batters in those 133 innings, striking out 144, meaning he used a lot of pitches. Unlike other such pitchers, though, he also yielded hits at the rate of one an inning. The sum total of those statistics is a sharp disagreement with the scouts about his future potential, especially given his status at the top of this list. And so join me please in condoling Corey Avrard for his signal achievements last season.

The top 15 aren't the only ones in trouble. Darryl Kile ran pretty high for the second year in a row, and throws a curve ball to boot; I can see a lot of potential for a spectacular flameout there (and I guarantee you, a pitcher flaming out in Colorado would be enormously spectacular). Phillie farmhand David Coggin is another pitcher who gets lauded as a prospect without finding the strike zone, and gets a spot on my list. Charles Nagy ran pretty hot, and then had a post-season on top of it which I didn't include. The Mets are grooming Arnie Gooch to be the next Young Patient. Him or maybe Lindsay Gulin. Jamey Wright up in Colorado deserves a mention. Orioles farmhand Francisco Saneaux was mostly a reliever last year, but his numbers are practically off the charts because of his unbelieveable wildness.

Consider yourself warned.

Related Content:  The Who,  Year Of The Injury,  Innings Limits

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1998-06-10 - BP Polling: Clay Davenport's Ballot
1998-06-05 - Prospect Focus
1998-03-12 - Shortstops and DFTs
1998-03-03 - Orthopedia
1998-01-30 - DTs vs. MLEs - A Validation Study