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May 30, 2008

UTK Wrap

Pitch Counts and Usage Patterns

by Will Carroll

Time flies, but sometimes the story remains the same. Four years ago, I wrote an article that detailed an exceptionally high pitch count game by an Indianapolis-area high school pitcher named Lance Lynn. Lynn came out of that game with a sore arm, missed some time, but went on to help his team win the state title and then went on to college. Nowadays, Lynn is expected to go in the first or sandwich round of next week's draft. Lynn is still racking up some high pitch counts at Ole Miss, but nothing like he did in high school. Boyd Nation, who watches pitch counts in college baseball as one of his many admirable areas of interest, has Lynn's single-game high this season at 121. Lynn is a couple of years older, hasn't had arm problems, and has seemingly earned that high slot. If I'm a scouting director watching him, I'd have to wonder a bit about the past usage (and his falling off to the first base side) before I risk such a high pick on him, but he's hardly alone, just an example. As you can see on Nation's list, starts with pitch counts in the 140s happen regularly in college baseball, and can go as high as the 170s. Not a week goes by that I don't get sent an article about some high school pitcher throwing over 150 pitches, and too often I get a note from a parent telling me about kids-12 or 13 years old-throwing insane workloads, such as both sides of a double-header. (Little League pitch counts haven't helped, you ask? Sure they have, but they've also driven many to the more cavalier travel teams.) Some make it through, like Lynn, and some don't, like another Indy-area pitcher, Garrett Berger. I wish Lance Lynn all the luck in the world as he finishes his college career and starts his professional one. I just hope I don't have to write this kind of article in another four years.

Daisuke Matsuzaka (7 DXL/$0.5 million)
Uh-oh. A fatigued shoulder on a pitcher known for his workload? That doesn't sound good, but how do the facts match up for Matsuzaka? Reports say that Matsuzaka's shoulder "compared favorably" to his baseline, but that's a very broad and intentionally vague statement. What's the definition of "favorably, 80 percent? Fifty percent? It's a broad range. More telling is the MRI scheduled for Friday. No, it's not that he's having an MRI, but that he's having to wait more than 48 hours. That indicates some swelling, and that tells us that Matsuzaka isn't going to make even a delayed throw day; his next start is all but out of the question. So with that out of the way, sources are telling me that this isn't that bad-not good mind you, but not devastating. The Sox are very cautious with pitchers, but they have some depth and a favorable upcoming schedule to work with. They have a lot invested in Matsuzaka, so expect a very conservative play here, but nothing more than conservatism. Why seven on the DXL? It's almost assuredly one start, or five days, and I'm hedging my bet on the second start.

Jorge Posada (30 DXL/$2.6 million)
There's a gentleman's agreement that, in extended spring training games, conditions are controlled. That means that teams won't run on Jorge Posada as he rehabs his shoulder, or at least until the Yankees give them the okay to test him. I guess that's the sporting thing to do, but I don't understand how this really helps. No one questions that Posada can squat and catch a ball. There really hasn't been much question about his bat's potency, as a 3-for-6 performance showed in his first game back. He'll turn it loose this weekend, testing the shoulder on throws, but there are going to be some "common sense" limitations on him, according to sources. "Guys are going to run," says one advance scout I spoke with about the situation, "which makes him, what, Mike Piazza?" It's an apt comparison, and makes me wonder (again) how a team could try and control the running game with a catcher who has no arm. I said "no arm" in the baseball sense, but two front office types both called it the "Def Leppard scenario," so I'm not the only one thinking this way. Some combination of more throws to first, more pitchouts, and an increased focus on keeping stealing threats off the bases seems to be current thinking, but I'm curious how you might do it. Any thoughts? Drop me an email.

Joba Chamberlain (0 DXL/0)
The Yankees will piggyback Chamberlain with a tandem reliever once he's ready to shift over to a starting role, finally proving that such an arrangement can work above A-ball. There's really no difference between throwing 55 pitches in middle innings and 55 at the start of the game; you can put any sort of number in there, and as long as you're short of a complete game, pitching is pitching. I rant a bit about this in my look at Joe Nathan (later in the column) in regards to selecting role fillers rather than the best pitchers, but this use of Chamberlain and another pitcher-perhaps Kennedy, once he's healthy-shows that it's usually smarter to get the best talent in the room first, and then let the roles sort themselves out. Sure, there are certain pitchers that can't succeed in certain roles. I wondered for years why Kerry Wood couldn't close, and was told over and over that he couldn't warm up fast enough, but desperation gets things done. Of course, a good plan works pretty well too. I didn't think the Yanks could stick to plan with Chamberlain, so I'm tipping my cap to them for actually doing so. Now they just have to hope everything around it works, because the second-guessers who'd rather do things by the book already have their knives sharpened.

Troy Percival (15 DXL/$0.3 million)
It did not look good when Troy Percival crumpled, just one out away from a save. His leg has been troubling him for a while, and his "cowboy up" act that worked for a week finally gave out. There's some question as to whether this was an injury that involves significant damage, though no one is questioning the pain. Percival will have further tests on Thursday; at a minimum, he's going to miss a week. The Rays are often 'slow' to DL players, electing to make sure that their crack medical staff can't get them back earlier; there's certainly enough depth in their pen to wait a few days. The imaging made the decision for them; sources told me that the Rays expected to DL him, and did so once they got the image. That puts the ball in the hands of Dan Wheeler and Al Reyes at the end of games for now. I don't expect this to extend beyond the fifteen days; if anything, this could help recharge Percival a bit.

Pedro Martinez (60 DXL/$3.0 million)
David Price (0 DXL/0)
Pedro was good, but Price was better. At least on Wednesday, that's the story from Port St. Lucie. Martinez went six innings on 82 pitches, hitting a bit of a wall in the fourth but battling through; one observer said it was "the best thing about his outing. He was really pitching." Price, making just his second start as a pro, was flat-out dominating, and looks to tear through the FSL. Martinez has nothing left to prove in the minors and will make his next start for the Mets early next week, though the exact date is yet to be determined. Price doesn't seem to have much left to prove either, though his journey to Tampa is going to take a more circuitous route than I-4.

Andruw Jones (40 DXL/$2.5 million)
After testing the knee a couple of times, Jones went with the Dodgers' suggestion to go ahead and have his knee 'scoped now rather than trying to play through the season. It is not, as some have called it, insurance fraud, but simply one way to try and get to the root cause of Jones' prolonged slump. Some have speculated that Jones' injury kept him from off-season workouts, leading to the weight gain and lost timing, but it's unlikely that this could have completely snuck by the Dodgers when they signed Jones in December. Instead, this is just one of those mild yet traumatic injuries that can happen, combined with a need for some kind of break in order to get Jones back on track. It's entirely possible that the Dodgers will use a longer than medically necessary rehab period to try and let Jones get his stroke back, so be aware of that. He should miss about six weeks, though there's probably two weeks of margin on either side of my initial DXL estimate.

Ryan Zimmerman (5 DXL/$0.6 million)
There's a rumor that Zimmerman has some structural damage in his left shoulder, but as of yet there's no fire to go with the smoke. Zimmerman initially injured himself on a head-first slide over a week ago, and since then, he's been showing almost no power. It's the non-throwing shoulder, but some sources say that Zimmerman it's affecting his fielding. "He's not as quick to the left. I'm not sure if there's a problem or if he's just hesitating," noted one observer. Sources insist that the problem is minor and that some extra days of rest will help him, something Manny Acta is trying to do by scheduling days off for Zimmerman after offdays and the like. In the short term it's worth keeping an eye on, especially his power numbers. Keep in mind that the Nats have been pretty bad at keeping lingering injuries like this from getting worse.

Clayton Kershaw (0 DXL/0)
I'm not going to discuss Kershaw much in UTK-I hope. His mechanics are solid, he's certainly being watched closely, and he has one of the best medical staffs around to keep watch on him. What surprised me in this article isn't that Albert Pujols wasn't that impressed, it's that so many of the players seemed lost without video. It wasn't long ago that Tony Gwynn was ridiculed for his video collection; now it seems that,without it the players are lost. If that's the case, after we hear from whoever the hitting equivalent of Bob Feller tell us how things were better in his day, I think that teams will have to start making more of an effort to get video scouting done on the minors. We're already seeing more from MLB.com, including Gameday data. I'm curious to see if PitchFX will help hitters (or pitchers) in the continual struggle. For hitters, I think video is always going to be necessary, at least until we get motion capture in some future iteration of PFX. For the record, I love Kershaw's motion, though he has some wasted motion in it.

Joe Nathan (0 DXL/0)
Aaron Gleeman nails it here with his take on the evolution of closers and the misuse of many of them. In the modern game, we've moved from taking the best 10 pitchers and making a staff, and started finding people to slot into 12 defined roles. That's leaving a lot of people that might not be the best pitchers on teams while the rest stack up in the minors or float around the league because they do or do not fit into these pre-designed roles. What frustrates me is that what works for one team might not work for another. The fact that teams slavishly follow contemporary fashion means they're giving up potential advantages. Experiments-like the ones with Joba Chamberlain, or enlightened moves like last season's shut-down of Clay Buchholz-are criticized (and praised) on a lack of evidence. Take a hard look at your team and tell me if they've got their best-possible pitching staff. Is there a starter at Triple-A who could be more than just an insurance policy and would be suited for long relief? Could having a couple guys who can go multiple innings buy an "extra" roster spot by shortening the pen? What we're left with is a lack of originality, a bunch of teams letting Tony La Russa fill out their roster cards by his decades-old gambit.

Quick Cuts: Jake Peavy is expected to start throwing from a mound this weekend. It's unlikely that he'll go on a rehab stint, so he could be back in the Pads rotation by late next week, though I can't recommend starting him. ... Roy Oswalt fought through his last start, clearly bothered by his groin strain. He stayed very efficient and kept his team in the game. ... John Smoltz is expected back on Monday. He'll be part of a closer committee, though I'd expect he'll get most of the chances when he's available. ... Frank Thomas had a birthday and ends up injured. They're not connected, of course, but the quad problem is pushing Thomas to the DL. This does open up a little more space for Eric Chavez, who's still struggling to play in the field. ... Rafael Furcal could be back late this week, one source told me, though he admitted that this timetable is very fluid. ... The Rangers are hoping Thomas Diamond progresses quickly now that he's pitching again after a year lost to Tommy John. ... Aaron Hill came away with a concussion after a collision on Thursday. As we've seen with Ryan Church, there's no such thing as a mild concussion. ... Jorge Campillo has been a real find for the Braves, though his fingers' tendency to blister has been problematic. He left his last start after a blister on his pitching hand burst, so his next start is in some doubt. ... Does it bug anyone that Tim Beckham was born in 1990? I know, time flies.

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