One of the glaring weaknesses in the injury analysis game is the lack of data. As the injury database is built and populated, we are left with spotty research and anecdotal knowledge, especially when it comes to the crossroads of sports medicine and pitcher workloads. Adding to the problem is the lack of data for both minor league and college pitching. Since pitching is pitching, opponents of workload limitations often bring this up.
In one of the first systematic studies of early pitching workload, Lee Sinins, creator of the Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia, studied 135 pitchers who threw 175 innings or more before the age of 22. Age 22 is equivalent to the age-point found in Nate Silver’s study on pitcher injury and age–the Injury Nexus–but was selected by Lee prior to the publication of Nate’s study. Lee selected the pitchers from The Sporting News 1997 Baseball Register, giving us a distant enough perspective on many of the pitchers and allowing objective analysis on the possible effects of heavy workloads at such a young age. Unfortunately, innings thrown in winter leagues or in spring training could not be counted in this study as the data were not available. Innings were not adjusted for level and the totals are a sum for all levels in a season.
There were a few basic theories being tested in this study. First, the injury nexus would be tested. Despite the strong correlations between age and injury found by Nate Silver, real world numbers should match up closely. Second, while somewhat arbitrary, the 175-inning threshold seems to be a point where fatigue sets in for almost all pitchers. Young pitchers usually have not reached this threshold in their careers and the first test of this level often results in injury, massive failure, or a survivor effect.
Of the players included in the study, a large percentage went on to have severe injury problems or lost their effectiveness early in their career. Unfortunately, this loss of effectiveness cannot always be clearly tied to an injury, but it is a safe assumption in most cases. There appears to be an interesting pattern. Of those pitchers in the study that were able to absorb the workload without immediate damage, there was an ability to pitch into their early 30s before breakdown. Again, there is no clear cause and effect between early workloads and later injuries, but the pattern appears to imply that this would be the case. It should be noted that according to major league data, the breakdown of older pitchers begins around age 34; for pitchers in this study, it appears to begin at ages 30 and 31.
There are also two generalizations to be made regarding the pitchers in this study. In order to pitch such a high amount of innings in the minor leagues, these pitchers were being used as starters and organizations appeared to have high expectations for these “prospects.” Few, if any, of these pitchers were not expected to be at least major league-average starters and most were able to reach the majors in some capacity.
As with any study, there are exceptions. Pitchers such as Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, and Tom Glavine were included yet show no problems and have had what could be called successful careers. Clemens, to be noted, did have early arm problems, but overcame them to continue what will become a Hall of Fame career. Others, such as David Cone, Doug Drabek, and Dennis Eckersley, had quite successful careers, but perhaps did not reach their full potential due to early usage patterns. This, however, is impossible to prove with available data, and few if any teams would be dissatisfied with their results. Several others, including Doug Jones, John Wetteland, and Randy Myers, had successful careers in the bullpen. It is unclear if or how early workload impacted their careers, or if a switch to the bullpen might have been effective for some of the other pitchers in the study.
It is easy to see that the small number of exceptions make it clear that using a pitcher too much too soon can have a negative effect on that pitcher’s career. Despite the possible high return of an Avery or Clemens, those in player development must consider the longer-term consequences to an organization. While this study cannot be considered exhaustive or any conclusions contained within as proven, the patterns discerned recur with enough frequency to note several possible career paths. In the case of a Doc Gooden, his early workload led to a World Series win, but sacrificed longevity. At worst, this cursory study shows that heavy workloads at or before age 22, at any level, are not an ideal path for pitcher development. The next step–after ruling the current paths out–is to identify ones that do promote success.
PITCHERS WITH 175+ IP AT AGE 22 OR YOUNGER
- Jim Abbott: 181 1/3 IP at age 21 in 1989; 211 2/3 IP at age 22 in 1990
Result: While Abbott had early success, his jump from college to the majors without a minor league stint colors some of the data. As well, Abbott’s results were always taken in light of his challenges. It does appear however that his early workload may have created an early end to his career.
- Wilson Alvarez: 208 2/3 IP at age 21 in 1991
Result: Alvarez had a reasonably successful, but injury-prone career. While it is difficult to state that his early workloads contributed to these injuries, it is worthy of mention as a possibility.
- Steve Avery: 181 1/3 IP at age 21 in 1991; 210 1/3 IP at age 22 in 1992
Result: Avery was an excellent pitcher whose early workloads clearly contributed to a “burnout.” By age 24, Avery’s career was all but finished as an effective pitcher. While the Braves were able to ride Avery into the playoffs as part of a dominant staff, his loss would have been much more damaging to an organization unable to develop pitchers.
- James Baldwin: 175 1/3 IP at age 20 in 1992; 189 IP at age 21 in 1993
Result: Baldwin was able to pitch effectively, but never at a level expected of him. His inability to stay healthy impacted his career, which appears over after 2002. It is very notable that Baldwin’s ascent to the major leagues was derailed by injuries in the two years after his early workload.
- Rod Beck: 177 IP at age 19 in 1988; 196 1/3 IP at age 20 in 1989
Result: Beck had arm problems throughout his career, which ended in major elbow surgery. Despite his recent comeback attempt, it is safe to assume that Beck’s time as a dominating pitcher ended at 29. The open question remains–did his heavy workload early in his career result in him being moved to the bullpen and did that move do much to preserve his arm?
- Andy Benes: 201 2/3 IP at age 21 in 1989; 192 1/3 IP at age 22 in 1990
Result: Benes never had major injury problems with his arms and had what could be best described as a good career. Benes’ body type and pitching style appear to be well-suited to heavy workloads–strong lower body, over-the-top power pitcher.
- Jason Bere: 171 IP at age 21 in 1992; 192 IP at age 22 in 1993
Result: Bere had major arm problems that derailed his career. He was able to come back and pitch again in the majors, but he never matched his early expectations.
- Mike Bielecki: 192 IP at age 21 in 1981
Result: While Bielecki’s career never matched early expectations, including being named Baseball America’s Player of the Year, he did have a couple of good seasons and never had major arm problems.
- Rodney Bolton: 192 2/3 IP at age 22 in 1991
Result: By age 27, Bolton had ended with a major league record of 2-8. 7.69 ERA
- Ricky Bones: 175 1/3 IP at age 19 in 1991
Result: Not putting Bones on the postseason roster could have contributed to the Yankees’ 1996 World Championship. Bones became at best a league average pitcher.
- Chris Bosio: 181 IP at age 21 in 1984; 181 1/3 IP at age 22 in 1985
Result: Bosio had an injury-plagued career in which he was on the DL eight times and twice was out for the year with either half or a third of the season left to go. Now the pitching coach for the Devil Rays, one can only hope that he learned from his experiences and can save some young arms from the same abuse.
- Shawn Boskie: 186 IP at age 21 in 1988; 181 IP at age 22 in 1989
Result: I can’t even call him a journeyman. Just hard to think of him as a prospect at any level. No major league success, but enough remembered his potential that he got more than his deserved chances.
- Kent Bottenfield: 181 IP at age 19 in 1988
Result: The definition of journeyman.
- John Burkett: 183 1/3 IP at age 22 in 1987
Result: While Burkett has had a good career, he has been marked by ups and downs. It is possible, but cannot be proven, that his early workload and regular arm problems have contributed to this lack of consistency.
- Dan Carlson: 181 1/3 IP at age 21 in 1991; 186 IP at age 22 in 1992
Result: Once a prized Giant prospect, Carlson has been a career minor leaguer. Carlson has led the league in wins four times in his minor league career. Carlson was drafted by the Devil Rays in the 1998 expansion draft, but accumulated less than 50 innings in the majors.
- Larry Casian: 176 2/3 IP at age 22 in 1988
Result: It’s hard to wrap the 2003 mind around the idea that Casian was a name to know in 1988.
- Bobby Chouinard: 181 2/3 IP at age 20 in 1990
Result: A career minor leaguer.
- Mark Clark: 173 2/3 IP at age 21 in 1989; 177 1/3 IP at age 22 in 1990
Result: Not good enough to be considered an exception, but he’s made a career out of being mediocre. It would take a John Sickels to know if he was ever expected to be more.
- Roger Clemens: 180 IP at age 21 in 1984
Result: Well, Clemens has turned out to be an extreme exception. But, let’s not forget that the year after he had that heavy workload at a young age, he suffered an arm injury that was potentially career-ending.
- David Cone: 177 IP at age 19 in 1982; 178 2/3 IP at age 21 in 1984
Result: Another high-profile exception. But, he didn’t survive this experience completely unscathed. Cone missed the entire 1983 season due to injury and his later more serious injury problems may have some relationship.
- Rocky Coppinger: 187 IP at age 21 in 1995; 198 IP at age 22 in 1996
Result: Never lived up to early hype and out of baseball early.
- Carlos Crawford: 188 1/3 IP at age 20 in 1992
Result: Career minor leaguer who got a one-game cup of coffee with the 1996 Phillies.
- Jeff D’Amico: 182 IP in 1996 at age 20 in 1996
Result: The definition of an injury-prone young pitcher and just one example in a Brewers organization filled with just this type of player.
- Doug Drabek: 192 2/3 IP at age 22 in 1985
Result: Drabek didn’t have enough of a career to call him “great” but he had a nice peak. He certainly wasn’t burned out, but did early usage shorten his stay?
- Dennis Eckersley: 202 IP at age 18 in 1973; 187 IP at age 20 in 1975; 199 IP at age 21 in 1976; 247 IP at age 22 in 1977
Result: Tough to say much bad here. Succeeded as both a starter and reliever. He’s certainly deserving of a spot in Cooperstown, but if Lee Smith doesn’t make it, does Eck’s starting career give him enough of an edge?
- Mark Eichhorn: 183 IP at age 19 in 1980; 192 IP at age 20 in 1981; 194 2/3 IP at age 21 in 1982
Result: Had a good career at a setup man.
- Robert Ellis: 185 1/3 IP at age 22 in 1993
Result: Career minor leaguer with three games of major league experience.
- Alan Embree: 198 IP at age 22 in 1992
Result: While he’s had a good career in the bullpen, he was expected to be a plus starter. His lack of durability calls his early usage into question.
- Scott Erickson: 214 IP at age 22 in 1990
Result: Inconsistent major league career, plagued with arm injuries, but he was able to absorb innings in his good years.
- Alex Fernandez: 191 2/3 IP at age 21 in 1991; 216 1/3 IP at age 22 in 1992
Result: By age 28, his arm gave out and only the Devil Rays would take him on. The World Series ring is nice.
- Sid Fernandez: 195 1/3 IP at age 21 in 1983; 205 2/3 IP at age 22 in 1984
Result: Very injury-prone career, but how much had to do with workload and how much had to do with fried foods? Fernandez started to have injury problems in his late 20s.
- Tom Fordham: 173 2/3 IP at age 20 in 1994; 178 IP at age 22 in 1996
Result: Never a top prospect, his innings are a bit of an unusual data point.
- Tony Fossas: 197 IP at age 22 in 1980
Result: Major league journeyman who’s had an inconsistent career with a serviceable bullpen arm.
- Tom Glavine: 185 1/3 IP at age 20 in 1986; 200 2/3 IP at age 21 in 1987; 195 IP at age 22 in 1988
Result: I think we all agree that he is a candidate for the Hall of Fame.
- Dwight Gooden: 191 IP at age 18 in 1983; 218 IP at age 19 in 1984; 276 2/3 IP at age 20 in 1985; 250 IP at age 21 in 1986; 205 2/3 IP at age 22 in 1987
Result: Gooden started to have arm problems by the age of 24 and while he is remembered fondly, mostly by Mets fans, his career was clearly shortened by his workloads. It is however hard to blame the Mets for his usage.
- Tom Gordon: 201 1/3 IP at age 20 in 1988; 195 1/3 IP at age 22 in 1990
Result: Flash never became the pitcher he was expected to be, mostly due to arm injuries. A nice career in spite of those problems.
- Jason Grimsley: 190 2/3 IP at age 21 in 1989; 185 2/3 IP at age 22 in 1990
Result: Another hot prospect that never lived up to his hype. At best a journeyman, he never had significant injury problems.
- Buddy Groom: 195 IP at age 22 in 1988
Result: Serviceable bullpen arm with an interesting career pattern.
- Kevin Gross: 192 IP at age 20 in 1981; 176 IP at age 22 in 1983
Result: Had a good year every once in a while; retired with a 140-157 record and a 4.09 ERA.
- Mark Gubicza: 196 IP at age 20 in 1983; 189 IP at age 21 in 1984; 177 1/3 IP at age 22 in 1985
Result: Despite some good years, his career was shortened considerably when he started to have injury problems in his 20s.
- Eric Gunderson: 186 IP at age 22 in 1988
- Mark Guthrie: 171 1/3 IP at age 22 in 1988
Result: Hasn’t had an impressive career–at best, we call him serviceable from the pen. Naturally, he’s a Cub now.
- John Habyan: 192 1/3 IP at age 21 in 1985; 183 2/3 IP at age 22 in 1986
Result: Nondescript bullpen filler.
- Chris Hammond: 170 IP at age 21 in 1987; 182 2/3 IP at age 22 in 1988
Result: Became injury-prone and ended up on the DL four times in a two-year span during his 20s. His one-year, “prayer-inspired” comeback notwithstanding, his career has to be described as disappointing.
- Mike Hampton: 180 1/3 IP at age 21 in 1992
Result: Survived the early workload to excel in Houston and New York. Colorado was a different story, but even Dan O’Dowd doesn’t think it was an arm problem.
- Chris Haney: 178 1/3 IP at age 22 in 1991
Result: Journeyman who started having injury problems in his mid-20s.
- Erik Hanson: 178 2/3 IP at age 22 in 1987
Result: Has had injury problems throughout his career, starting at the age of 24.
- Pete Harnisch: 203 2/3 IP at age 21 in 1988; 190 2/3 IP at age 22 in 1989
Result: Not even counting his depression in 1997, Harnisch was on the DL three consecutive years in his late 20s.
- Jimmy Haynes: 187 IP at age 21 in 1994; 191 IP at age 22 in 1995
Result: A chronic disappointment through several organizations, he finally blossomed under Don Gullett, the retread master.
- Rick Helling: 188 1/3 IP at age 22 in 1993
Result: Serviceable rotation filler with one good season. Injuries haven’t been a major factor in his career.
- Butch Henry: 187 IP at age 19 in 1988
Result: Injuries beginning in his mid-20s.
- Pat Hentgen: 188 IP at age 18 in 1987
Result: Cy Young Award winner in 1996, his career broke down and he’s currently recovering from Tommy John surgery. There are many in this study with similar patterns.
- Gil Heredia: 206 1/3 IP at age 22 in 1988
Result: Journeyman with one good season in Oakland on his stat line.
- Xavier Hernandez: 216 1/3 IP at age 22 in 1988
Result: Yet another journeyman with one or two good years in the pen.
- Chris Holt: 186 1/3 IP at age 21 in 1993
Result: Had a 3.52 ERA as a rookie with the Astros in 1997, but quickly burned out and was out of baseball far earlier than expected.
- John Hope: 176 1/3 IP at age 21 in 1992
Result: No hope–he never amounted to much. He was up briefly in each year from 1993 to 1996, pitching less than 10 games in the majors in each year. He has a lifetime 1-5, 5.99 ERA in 24 major league games. In 1997, as a 26-year-old and in his fourth year in Triple-A he had a 7.22 ERA.
- Rick Huisman: 182 1/3 IP at age 22 in 1991
Result: He’s been a nobody.
- Jason Isringhausen: 192 1/3 IP at age 21 in 1994; 221 IP at age 22 in 1995
Result: Big, big injury problems. Retooled as a reliever, he’s been able to fashion something of a career, but even then, he’s fragile.
- Danny Jackson: 194 1/3 IP at age 20 in 1982; 186 1/3 IP at age 22 in 1984
Result: Twelve trips to the DL throughout his career, interspersed with occasional flashes of brilliance.
- Doug Jones: 190 IP at age 22 in 1979
Result: Longtime journeyman until he became a closer. Did he ever have velocity?
- Scott Karl: 180 IP at age 21 in 1993
Result: Sacrificed on the Brewers’ altar of the young. Perhaps Bud has a toupee god that demands burnt arms.
- Jimmy Key: 190 1/3 IP at age 22 in 1961
Result: Very good career, but he was on the DL four times during his 20s. He is the only one to both have a long, successful career and hit the secondary, late-20s injury pattern.
- Steve Kline: 185 2/3 IP at age 21 in 1994
Result: Found himself at a late age after drifting through several organizations. Now an effective short reliever with a bad lid.
- Rick Krivda: 179 IP at age 22 in 1992
Result: A 28-year-old with a 9-14 record and a 5.13 ERA in 45 major league games when he retired.
- Mark Langston: 177 1/3 IP at age 21 in 1982; 198 IP at age 22 in 1983
Result: Was first injured at the age of 24, but most of his injury problems were in his 30s.
- Jose Lima: 177 IP at age 20 in 1993
Result: Lima was a 25-year-old with a 9-22 record and a 5.02 ERA in 109 major league games before breaking through in 1998. Went from two-year wonder to flop in a hurry.
- Felipe Lira: 183 1/3 IP at age 21 in 1993
Result: Journeyman who earned 101 innings of work in 2000 due only to the Expos’ incompetence that year.
- Greg Maddux: 222 IP at age 20 in 1986; 183 1/3 IP at age 21 in 1987; 249 IP at age 22 in 1988
Result: One of the greatest pitchers who ever lived.
- Mike Maddux: 186 2/3 IP at age 21 in 1983
Result: It doesn’t seem possible that he could really be Greg’s brother. Like Bosio, Mike is now a pitching coach. Is it possible that more pitching coaches enter the field after figuring out the reason behind their demise?
- Joe Magrane: 193 2/3 IP at age 22 in 1987
Result: Seven trips to the DL over a seven-year period; missed an entire season due to injury as a 26-year-old, and out of baseball much earlier than expected.
- Pat Mahomes: 185 1/3 IP at age 19 in 1990; 180 2/3 IP at age 21 in 1992
Result: Was once one of the Twins’ top prospects, but has never been more than bullpen fodder during his career.
- Dennis Martinez: 179 IP at age 19 in 1974; 195 IP at age 20 in 1975; 208 IP at age 21 in 1976
Result: Ended up on the DL three times in his mid-20s to early-30s; could have been a Hall of Famer if not for the years ruined by serious alcoholism that drastically reduced his performance.
- The other Pedro Martinez: 187 IP at age 20 in 1989
Result: Journeyman, at best.
- The real Pedro Martinez: 177 1/3 IP at age 19 in 1991
Result: While it is clear that Martinez has had some success–to say the least–his career is defined not only by his dominance, but by his fragility. The tradeoff and resultant need to “baby” him through seasons and monitor his workload closely keep him from being mentioned in the same breath as Roger Clemens or Greg Maddux–but not by much.
- Ramon Martinez: 189 1/3 IP at age 20 in 1988; 211 2/3 IP at age 21 in 1989; 234 1/3 IP at age 22 in 1990
Result: Proving that there may be a genetic element to this, Ramon’s early workload has taken its toll. He was unable to return from his arm problems and maintain effectiveness. By 28, his career was essentially ended.
- Kirk McCaskill: 196 1/3 IP at age 22 in 1993
Result: At best an average starter, his injury problems started in his late 20s.
- Kent Mercker: 176 IP at age 20 in 1988
Result: Nothing special, but an adequate swingman at times. Overmatched as a starter.
- Jose Mesa: 183 2/3 IP at age 20 in 1986; 224 2/3 IP at age 21 in 1987
Result: Had serious injury problems that took him a long time to overcome. The next year, Mesa went on the DL from April 18 to May 16 and then missed the remainder of the season starting on June 30. The year after that, he went on the DL on May 28 and missed the rest of that season. A couple of years after that, Mesa found himself on the DL again. His up-and-down career may be the result of damage from early in his career, but there’s no proof of that.
- Nate Minchey: 184 IP at age 21 in 1991; 179 IP at age 22 in 1992
Result: He went from one team to another several times in the minors. Minchey was never able to find success at any level.
- Mike Mohler: 175 2/3 IP at age 22 in 1991
Result: Yet another journeyman…
- Rich Monteleone: 187 2/3 IP at age 21 in 1984
Result: …and another. Cooler name than Mohler.
- Mike Morgan: 178 IP at age 19 in 1979
Result: Bum who started his major league career with 10 consecutive seasons without a winning record. There’s simply no explanation for his longevity.
- Matt Morris: 175 IP at age 21 in 1996
Result: The prototype of young pitcher overworked. Morris was able to rebuild his career after Tommy John surgery, but it is impossible to know what pattern he might follow over a career. Best guess would be Drabek’s.
- Terry Mulholland: 176 2/3 IP at age 22 in 1985
Result: Mulholland overcame injury and developed a reputation as ‘rubber-armed’ late in his career. This is a singular pattern in the study.
- Mike Mussina: 210 IP at age 22 in 1991
Result: Following the Clemens pattern, if not quite as dominant. Never a serious injury problem.
- Randy Myers: 192 IP at age 21 in 1984
Result: Very successful career as a reliever.
- Charles Nagy: 189 1/3 IP at age 22 in 1989
Result: While he had some success at an early age, he followed the late-20s breakdown pattern and is struggling to get back to the majors.
- Jaime Navarro: 206 1/3 IP at age 21 in 1989; 190 IP at age 22 in 1990
Result: Through 1997, he was 100-91 with a 4.31 ERA in 248 major league starts. He had pitched 200+ innings six times in seven years. Then he hit age 29 and everything caught up. He lived on reputation for a while (like Baldwin) but broke down completely shortly after.
- Denny Neagle: 184 1/3 IP at age 21 in 1990
Result: Ended up on the DL twice in the next season. The Twins and Pirates made the right move by sharply reducing his heavy workload until later in his career. He was likely saved by the Mazzone plan, but still has never been completely healthy for long.
- Chad Ogea: 188 1/3 IP at age 21 in 1992; 181 1/3 IP at age 22 in 1993
Result: After this heavy workload in his first two professional seasons, Ogea became, at best, a .500 starter. He was out of baseball by age 28.
- Omar Olivares: 208 2/3 IP at age 20 in 1988; 185 2/3 IP at age 21 in 1989; 208 2/3 IP at age 22 in 1990
- Rafael Orellano: 186 2/3 IP at age 22 in 1995
Result: Red Sox minor leaguer who followed up that season by going 4-11, 7.88 and 4-6, 7.40 over the next two years and never managed to do much after that.
- Carl Pavano: 185 IP at age 20 in 1996
Result: Injury-plagued career has prevented him from even approaching early expectations. He’s just short of the late-20s injury pattern.
- Matt Perisho: 182 IP at age 21 in 1996
Result: Never had any level of success. Now a Devil Ray. ‘Nuff said.
- Mark Petkovsek: 175 2/3 IP at age 22 in 1988
Result: Some good seasons in long relief, but mostly below average.
- Eric Plunk: 176 1/3 IP at age 20 in 1984
Result: Has had more good years than bad years as a setup man.
- Mark Portugal: 196 IP at age 21 in 1984
Result: Nine trips to the DL since then, but able to be a better-than-average starter. Falls into the “could he have been more?” pattern.
- Bill Pulsipher: 201 IP at age 20 in 1994; 218 IP at age 21 in 1995
Result: Ruined by early workloads, Pulsipher never was able to sustain a successful run in the majors without suffering a recurrent arm injury.
- Paul Quantrill: 178 1/3 IP at age 21 in 1990; 190 2/3 IP at age 22 in 1991
Result: Has found a place as a middle reliever, but never better than average.
- Brad Radke: 186 1/3 IP at age 21 in 1994; 181 IP at age 22 in 1995
Result: Has emerged as somewhat fragile, but has avoided significant injury problems while emerging as a top starter.
- Hector Ramirez: 194 IP at age 22 in 1994
Result: Career minor leaguer.
- Armando Reynoso: 180 IP at age 22 in 1988
Result: Journeyman who found some success in the swingman role.
- Arthur Rhodes: 196 IP at age 22 in 1992
Result: Ended up on the DL in each of the next four seasons, but found himself in his mid-20s and has excelled in the setup role for the Mariners.
- Chuck Ricci: 181 1/3 IP at age 20 in 1989
Result: Career minor leaguer who made it to the majors for seven games with the 1995 Phillies.
- Jose Rijo: 200 2/3 IP at age 18 in 1983; 212 2/3 IP at age 20 in 1985; 193 2/3 IP at age 21 in 1986
Result: Too much too fast, even after he left the Yankees. What could have been a Hall of Fame-caliber career was destroyed by the age of 30. Persistent, he had three elbow surgeries before a comeback that could be described as inspiring, yet ineffective.
- Frankie Rodriguez: 186 IP at age 21 in 1994
Result: Rodriguez was once a highly-rated prospect but was never able to generate much in his brief major league stints.
- John Roper: 186 2/3 IP at age 19 in 1991
Result: Went on the DL seven times over the next five years, then out of baseball at age 23. Perhaps the most extreme pattern in the study.
- Jose Rosado: 216 1/3 IP at age 21 in 1996
Result: Projected as a future ace, early usage and questionable diagnosis cost him a career. Out of baseball at 25.
- Jeff Russell: 187 1/3 IP at age 21 in 1983; 181 2/3 at age 22 in 1984
Result: Six trips to DL subsequent to this, then a fine career as a closer.
- Bret Saberhagen: 187 IP at age 19 in 1983; 235 1/3 IP at age 21 in 1985
Result: Seven trips to DL and missed the entire 1996 season due to arm problems. Like Gooden, he was headed for Hall of Fame numbers before being derailed. Able to come back at age 34 for one last hurrah. A massive “what if.”
- Curt Schilling: 184 IP at age 20 in 1987; 194 IP at age 22 in 1989
Result: Ended up on the DL three consecutive years from 1994 to 1996, including an injury that cost him just about the entire second half of the 1995 season. He learned pitch efficiency and has had a late career peak, but lost much of his earlier career to injury and may have cost himself a Cooperstown trip.
- Pete Schourek: 175 1/3 IP at age 21 in 1990
Result: Never reached the high expectations due to continual arm problems.
- Jeff Shaw: 184 1/3 IP at age 20 in 1987
Result: Spent almost a decade as a journeyman until he had success after age 30 as a closer.
- John Smoltz: 199 1/3 IP at age 21 in 1988; 208 IP at age 22 in 1989
Result: Excellent career, including a Cy Young. His later arm problems are tough to pin on early workload. His shift to the pen has been effective and he could follow the Eckersley pattern.
- Todd Stottlemyre: 202 2/3 IP at age 21 in 1986; 186 2/3 IP at age 22 in 1987
Result: Successful until age 33. He then fought multiple injuries and got a “gritty gutty” label. Again, tough to pin later problems on early workload because of such a record of success in between.
- Julian Tavarez: 177 2/3 IP at age 21 in 1994
Result: His comparison to Saberhagen is only in the alternating good and bad years. Most effective in the swing role, but few arm problems.
- Bob Tewksbury: 182 1/3 IP at age 21 in 1982
Result: Went on the DL six times in the next six years. Found some success as a tightrope-walking finesse pitcher.
- Larry Thomas: 176 1/3 IP at age 21 in 1992
Result: Thomas had looked like a great prospect based on his 1992 season. He had ERAs under 2.00 at both levels he pitched in and finished with 14 wins and a 1.84 ERA. He had a good year as a rookie reliever in 1996, but spent most of 1997 in the minors. At the age of 28, it’s getting late for him to have a good career.
- Salomon Torres: 210 1/3 IP at age 19 in 1991; 233 IP at age 21 in 1993
Result: He was once one of the highest-rated minor league pitchers in all of baseball. He has a lifetime record of 11-25 with a 5.71 ERA.
- Steve Trachsel: 191 IP at age 21 in 1992; 190 1/3 IP at age 22 in 1993
Result: Trachsel ended up on the DL the next year. He’s had moderate success in the major leagues, but no subsequent arm problems.
- Ismael Valdes: 186 2/3 IP at age 19 in 1993; 197 1/3 IP at age 21 in 1995; 225 IP at age 22 in 1996
Result: Injury-prone, but seldom arm problems. He doesn’t really fit any pattern.
- Fernando Valenzuela: (assuming Fernando told the truth about his age) 205 IP at age 18 in 1979; 192 IP at age 19 in 1980; 192 IP at age 20 in 1981 (in a season that only lasted two-thirds of its normal length); 285 IP at age 21 in 1982; 257 IP at age 22 in 1983
Result: Valenzuela paid a big price later in his career. He lost his effectiveness when he was still in his 20s.
- Julio Valera: 191 IP at age 19 in 1987; 195 1/3 IP at age 20 in 1988; 178 1/3 IP at age 22 in 1990
Result: Another Mets “prospect” who turned out to be a nobody.
- Frank Viola: 184 IP at age 22 in 1982
Result: The innings he threw in his 20s took their toll early in his 30s, but it’s hard to say that the early workload was the main reason behind a slightly early end.
- Ed Vosberg: 183 2/3 IP at age 22 in 1984
- Derek Wallace: 180 IP at age 21 in 1993
Result: Mets “prospect” who developed an aneurysm and only had an eight-inning cup of coffee after age 25.
- John Wasdin: 191 2/3 IP at age 22 in 1995
Result: Posted a 5.17 major league ERA in 83 games. His recent no-hitter in Triple-A is probably the high point of his career.
- Allen Watson: 198 1/3 IP at age 21 in 1992; 206 2/3 IP at age 22 in 1993
Result: Injury-prone and ineffective, he could charitably be called a Quad-A pitcher.
- Turk Wendell: 186 2/3 IP at age 22 in 1989
Result: Didn’t reach the majors until age 25. Fragile, but quirky. Had more success as a human interest/oddity than as a pitcher.
- John Wetteland: 175 2/3 IP at age 20 in 1987
Result: Very successful career once he was moved to the bullpen.
- Gabe White: 187 IP at age 20 in 1992
Result: Went on the DL three times in the next four years. Off-and-on effectiveness as a reliever.
- Shad Williams: 179 1/3 IP at age 21 in 1992; 175 2/3 IP at age 22 in 1993
Result: Williams had a 8.59 ERA in 14 major league games in 1996 to 1997. The Angels let him go at the age of 26.
- Paul Wilson: 186 2/3 IP at age 22 in 1995
Result: Another of the Mets’ trilogy of terror. Wilson has fought fragility with occasional success, if that’s what you can call it.
- Bob Wolcott: 186 2/3 IP at age 20 in 1994; 202 IP at age 21 in 1995
Result: Bullpen fodder.
- Jamey Wright: 195 2/3 IP at age 21 in 1996
Result: AFB–another fragile Brewer. Wright was never able to stay healthy for more than a season. He’s still struggling to make another comeback.
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