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Wednesday, August 08, 2012

DeMarco: Nolan Ryan not to blame for Rangers’ injuries

Advillain strikes again!

Q: Now that the Rangers are running out of starting pitchers due to season-ending injuries, do you think it has anything to do with Nolan Ryan’s emphasis on starting pitchers going deep into every game?

A: The injuries to which you refer are to Colby Lewis (torn flexor tendon in right elbow) and Neftali Feliz (Tommy John surgery). And I’m not willing at this point to make any connection whatsoever between them and what in my mind is a sound strategy to train starting pitchers to go deeper into games.

...Personally, I’m all for what the Rangers are doing with starting pitchers throughout their organization. It’s about time starting pitchers be trained to throw seven-plus innings and 120-plus pitches per start.

When it comes to younger (25-under) arms, you do have to watch increasing work loads by too much from one year to the next. That’s why you see the trend toward innings limitations — most notably on Stephen Strasburg. That’s sound strategy, too.

But you can’t tell me that this generation of pitchers — who are bigger and better-conditioned than their predecessors — can’t pitch 245 innings per season (7 innings x 35 starts) without risk once they become established big-league starters.

...Injuries happen; they are part of the game — especially for pitchers. But training starting pitchers to only throw six innings and 100 pitches, then look into the dugout for the manager to come get them, just isn’t right, either.

Repoz Posted: August 08, 2012 at 10:07 PM | 19 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: rangers

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   1. Everybody Loves Tyrus Raymond Posted: August 08, 2012 at 10:40 PM (#4203928)
I agree with the answer in the excerpt - Lewis' pitch counts were entirely reasonable for a veteran pitcher (three times over 110 pitches - only once over 114). Feliz had one outing over 110 pitches (119 in his 3rd start) in his seven starts. That was probably pushing it a bit for a converted reliever, but it isn't like he was outright abused either.
   2. Bhaakon Posted: August 08, 2012 at 10:49 PM (#4203934)
I keep hearing about Nolan Ryan's big push for more pitches, but it just seems like a lot of bluster. With the exception of Darvish, their starters under Ryan have been in the same high 90's/low 100's average as you see from most competent, healthy rotations.
   3. Walt Davis Posted: August 08, 2012 at 11:11 PM (#4203956)
But you can’t tell me that this generation of pitchers — who are bigger and better-conditioned than their predecessors — can’t pitch 245 innings per season

Nope, I can't tell you that. I can wonder why (as a general rule) you would want your tiring starter -- especially a sub-ace one -- to be going through the order the 4th time when you've got 3 relievers sitting out in the pen who would be more effective in that inning.

The Rangers appear to be 4th in the AL in IP/start. There's nothing dramatic here -- they're averaging about 6.15/start in a league averaging 5.93. Or 26.2 batters per start compared to a league average of 25.3 (which controls somewhat for quality). 162 extra batters for a season saves you something on the order of 30-35 relief innings or half a reliever (every bit helps). But it wouldn't surprise me if this is almost fully explained by having a generally healthy staff (until Lewis's injury at least) and a 5th starter that doesn't suck.

   4. Walt Davis Posted: August 08, 2012 at 11:31 PM (#4203965)
Starters averaging >7 IP per start, min 30 starts, by year until I get bored:

1961 13
1962 17
1963 20
1964 16
1965 12
1966 16
1967 14
1968 29!
1969 25 (24 teams)
1970 19
1971 36!
1972 35
1973 26
1974 30
1975 35
....... getting bored
1980 19
1985 21
1990 10
1995 3
2000 4
2005 4
2010 2
2011 10 (hallelujah!)

Obvious points:

a) Yes, there's been a clear decline

b) But sportswriters (and most of us too probably) are always glorifying the past. Even at the height of Boringball, there were only an average of 1.5 pitchers per team averaging 7 IP per start

c) Sillyball was not conducive to innings pitched. (Note P-I for some reason wouldn't let me select on BF/start)

Difference across eras in seasonal IP totals are primarily due to the reduction in the number of starts a (healthy) starter makes in a season rather than IP/start.

A simple statement like "a veteran ace* starting pitcher ought to be able to handle 7 innings per start" seems perfectly reasonable even if quite possibly correct and not empirically sustainable (nor is its opposite). Most of them are pushed out to 6.5 or more already so we're still only talking about an extra batter or two per start.

But any statement that many/most starters could much less should be going seven really has no support. And all of that is before we speculate about it being tougher to pitch today because you can't take any batters off.

* or "#1 starter" or "top 20-30 starter" or whatever you want to stick in there.

   5. Endless Trash Posted: August 08, 2012 at 11:46 PM (#4203977)
I keep hearing about Nolan Ryan's big push for more pitches, but it just seems like a lot of bluster. With the exception of Darvish, their starters under Ryan have been in the same high 90's/low 100's average as you see from most competent, healthy rotations.

I think there is truth in that, but Texas does have the highest number of pitchers who average 100/start:

Tm                                                                                                                                   #Matching
Texas Rangers                           7 Yu Darvish Ryan Dempster Neftali Feliz Matt Harrison Colby Lewis Roy Oswalt Martin Perez
Chicago White Sox                       5                                  Dylan Axelrod 
Gavin Floyd Jake Peavy Chris Sale Eric Stults
Milwaukee Brewers                       4                                             Mike Fiers 
Yovani Gallardo Shaun Marcum Randy Wolf
San Francisco Giants                    4                                        Madison Bumgarner 
Matt Cain Tim Lincecum Ryan Vogelsong
Detroit Tigers                          3                                                     Anibal Sanchez 
Max Scherzer Justin Verlander
Los Angeles Dodgers                     3                                                         Joe Blanton 
Aaron Harang Clayton Kershaw
New York Yankees                        3                                                            Phil Hughes Hiroki Kuroda CC Sabathia
Tampa Bay Rays                          3                                                             Matt Moore 
David Price James Shields
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim           2                                                                           Zack Greinke 
Arizona Diamondbacks                    2                                                                          Trevor Cahill 
Ian Kennedy
Baltimore Orioles                       2                                                                       Miguel Gonzalez 
Jason Hammel
Boston Red Sox                          2                                                                           Clay Buchholz 
Jon Lester
Cincinnati Reds                         2                                                                          Homer Bailey 
Johnny Cueto
Cleveland Indians                       2                                                                    Ubaldo Jimenez 
Justin Masterson
Houston Astros                          2                                                                             J
.AHapp Kyle Weiland
New York Mets                           2                                                                            Dillon Gee Mike Pelfrey
Philadelphia Phillies                   2                                                                              Cole Hamels 
Cliff Lee
San Diego Padres                        2                                                                        Cory Luebke 
Edinson Volquez
Seattle Mariners                        2                                                                       Felix Hernandez 
Jason Vargas
Atlanta Braves                          1                                                                                       Brandon Beachy
Chicago Cubs                            1                                                                                        Casey Coleman
Kansas City Royals                      1                                                                                       Jeremy Guthrie
Oakland Athletics                       1                                                                                       Daniel Straily
Louis Cardinals                     1                                                                                           Lance Lynn
Toronto Blue Jays                       1                                                                                          Kyle Drabek
Colorado Rockies                                                                                                                             0
Miami Marlins                                                                                                                                0
Minnesota Twins                                                                                                                              0
Pittsburgh Pirates                                                                                                                           0
Washington Nationals                                                                                                                         0 

Having said that, almost nobody averages much more than that. The only pitchers at 110 are Greinke, Verlander, Shields.

Edit: And in perhaps the strangest way ever, I just learned that Ryan Dempster was traded to the Rangers. Okay, missed that one.
   6. Dan Posted: August 08, 2012 at 11:47 PM (#4203978)
RE: 4, It might be more interesting to separate that data out by league, since after the early 70s one league's pitchers go from pitching to a pitcher 2-4 times per game to facing a DH. And that's above and beyond the ability to "take batters off" for no-hit middle infielders and other generally terrible hitters who would never start today.
   7. Bob Meta-Meusel Posted: August 09, 2012 at 12:20 AM (#4203994)
Of course, the league whose pitchers had to worry about facing a DH instead of a pitcher were also given the corresponding benefit of not having to worry about being removed for a pinch hitter.
   8. Pasta-diving Jeter (jmac66) Posted: August 09, 2012 at 12:21 AM (#4203995)
Walt--re: your post #4--it was the 60's and the 70's that were the exceptions--I can't find it now, but I did a list of >35 starts and/or > 300IP and it was unheard of before 1960 for ANY pitcher to throw that much (except in the deadball era, of course).
   9. jack the seal clubber (on the sidelines of life) Posted: August 09, 2012 at 12:32 AM (#4204000)
Verlander was at 132 after the eighth the other night.
I am not a pitch count Nazi, but that's nuts.
   10. Fred Lynn Nolan Ryan Sweeney Agonistes Posted: August 09, 2012 at 01:53 AM (#4204032)
But training starting pitchers to only throw six innings and 100 pitches, then look into the dugout for the manager to come get them, just isn’t right, either.

This, at least, is not a new thing.
According to Leo Durocher, Milt Pappas used to do this, and Durocher haaaaaated it.
   11. Walt Davis Posted: August 09, 2012 at 02:41 AM (#4204038)
I think there is truth in that, but Texas does have the highest number of pitchers who average 100/start:

But that's largely because (a) they had a good staff to start with; (b) their 6th and 7th starters (i.e. injury replacements) have been filled by Oswalt, Feldman and now Dempster, all reliable vets (except Feldman I guess). If, like most teams, they'd had a crappy 5th starter to begin with and then needed to call up even crappier 6th and 7th starters, they'd be sitting there with 4 or 5 starters averaging over 100 I bet.

Perez is the curious one in that list but if he's averaging over 100, that's not good. He's only got 17 IP in 3 starts so if it's taking him 100 to get through a little less than 6, that's not really helping matters.

I don't mean to suggest they aren't doing something -- there's some evidence they're extending their starters a tad more than others. But it's a tad, not a revolution or even a moral victory.

RE: 4, It might be more interesting to separate that data out by league

Maybe but when I've glanced at that before, there's really not much difference. Maybe the pinch-hitter point raised, maybe also getting the reliever to start an inning -- although I recall it settled into equivalence quite quickly after the intro of the DH.

it was the 60's and the 70's that were the exceptions

Agreed -- and I'm usually the one pointing that out! -- but it's a bit tough to tell sometimes because starters were used more often in relief too (and the shorter schedules). He's probably the most extreme example, but Robin Roberts averaged nearly 7.5 IP/start for his career. But Mike Garcia (a guy I didn't know about until a year or so ago) averaged 6.94 for his career and surely had seasons over 7 -- but he's a guy with 428 career games but just 281 starts. He's a guy who had seasons of 30 starts and 17 reliefs, 36 starts and 10 reliefs, 34 starts and 11 reliefs, etc.

As to 300 innings post-deadball: you've got Roberts and Perry with 6 each, Jenkins and Grimes with 5 each, then 6 or so with 4.
   12. RMc Has Bizarre Ideas to Fix Baseball Posted: August 09, 2012 at 07:38 AM (#4204065)
"When we were kids, ballplayers were manly men. Now, they're a bunch of wimps who only care about money."

--Every baseball fan ever, 1870-present
   13. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: August 09, 2012 at 08:01 AM (#4204075)

i will only point out that it's ok to have 2 maybe 3 guys who get to look toward the bullpen after six innings but if everyone on the staff is conditioned for that approach your bullpen is a train wreck by late june

   14. Walt Davis Posted: August 09, 2012 at 08:22 AM (#4204081)
I'm not sure I disagree HW ... but I'm also not sure the conditions you've described have ever existed on a league-wide basis. Obviously they've existed for the teams with really crappy staffs but that's a separate problem. But the top starters in the game regularly go over 6 innings.

The typical bullpen these days throws about 490 innings. Actually a little less than that now with scoring down and pitchers going a bit deeper into games. So bullpens are used to throwing 3 innings a game. Obviously you've got extra innings and games where the starter has to come out early so you can't have your starters always leaving after 6.

For 2011, I get 1643 games where a pitcher went at least 7 innings so about an average of 55 per team. Is that enough? I don't know. It was a smidgen lower in 2010, it was a little over 1700 in 2005.

I've long said that current pitcher usage would really seem to be at the breaking point. Either starters have to go deeper or relievers have to go more than one inning or 8-man bullpens meaning an even shorter bench or roster expansion. It's already a bit of a mystery how you get 490 relief IP out of 7 bullpen slots when only 40 guys or so even throw 70 IP (lots of injuries, "injuries" and waiver/options shuffling).

So, like I said, I'm not sure we disagree. Although it wouldn't surprise me if the problem is more because of lousy 5th/6th/7th starters than it is about the top guys not pitching deep enough into games. If nothing else, I never saw what was wrong with the 4.5 man rotation (i.e. the 5-day not 5-man rotation). I don't recall a rash of injuries coincident with that.
   15. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: August 09, 2012 at 08:42 AM (#4204088)

didn't state it was league wide. just that if you have a manager who tolerates this out of his starters pretty soon you have an overworked bullpen and starters not conditioned to pick up the slack.

and i have seen this firsthand. oh yes. all too well

   16. Jose is an Absurd Doubles Machine Posted: August 09, 2012 at 09:41 AM (#4204139)
According to the list in #5 the best pitching teams in each league have 0 (Washington) and 1 (Oakland) starter averaging 100 pitches a game and Oakland's "1" is a guy who has made two starts. Not that I would assign tremendous value to that but I would bet dollars to doughnuts that if the top pitching teams in each league were at the top of each list Demarco would have made a big deal about the importance of going deep into games.
   17. GuyM Posted: August 09, 2012 at 10:00 AM (#4204161)
starters not conditioned to pick up the slack.

Everyone talks about "conditioning" starters to pitch longer (or more frequently), but is there any evidence at all this can be done? That is, any evidence it can be done without reducing pitchers' effectiveness (and possibly increasing injury risk)?

Or here's an easier test: is there any evidence at all that a change in "conditioning" is a cause of reduced workloads? I've never seen any. By far the most plausible explanations are 1) teams have learned that after the 6th inning they are almost always better off with a reliever on the mound, and 2) today's starters throw consistently harder than in the past, allowing them to strike out more batters. The first (noted by Walt above) is likely the most important, and in any case largely makes moot the whole question of whether starters could be "conditioned" to go longer.
   18. Walt Davis Posted: August 09, 2012 at 07:04 PM (#4204783)
#17: I'll admit I don't have any data to support this but it does seem universally accepted that pitchers in the minors are treated much more daintily than they used to be. And I think that's what folks mean by "conditioning". And that's the change that Ryan supposedly put in place when he took over and, if in fact Rangers' prospects pitch more in the minors, it's probably too early to tell if the change will achieve its goal.

Fergie Jenkins probably shouldn't be a test case but he threw 150 innings at 20 and 196 innings at 21 in the minors. I checked a few and Sabathia, Greinke and (to a lesser extent) Gio Gonzalez were all close to that 150 at 20. CC also threw 180 in the majors at 20 so that's not unheard of. But Greinke (majors) and Gonzalez (minors) were both about 150-160. Anyway, I don't think you'd see any pitching prospect today throw nearly 200 innings in a minor-league season.

Or just take your last point. Today's starters probably throw harder because they concentrate more on Ks, batters have more power, etc. This tires them out more quickly. So, do you want to train your starters today to give you 6 innings of all they've got or pace themselves a bit to give you 7 innings? I don't think anybody really means anything more than that when they speak of "conditioning." Well, nobody who addresses the issue seriously -- which doesn't include most sportswriters.

HW, again not sure we disagree. But I'm not sure how you tell the difference between pitchers conditioned to go 6, pitchers who are wimps looking to leave after 6, mediocre starters you don't want going more than 6 and good/bad managerial decisions based on what they've got in the pen.

Take your 2012 Brewers. A veteran and generally quite effective starting staff yet I see that Gallardo, Marcum, Greinke and Wolf are all at 6 IP/start (just above, just below). Injury/durability really shouldn't be a manager's concern with those guys and each should be able to give you a good read of when they're done. And with a crappy pen like that, these guys probably should have been pushed out farther.

Looking at their past, Marcum and Gallard have basically always been limited to an average of 6 per. But Wolf (since his comeback) and Greinke have always been at least 6.3 to 6.6 per pitchers. But again, we're quibbling over a couple of batters at most and maybe not even that given they were more effective in those years too (i.e. maybe facing the same number of batters).

Now that we have the data, we should probably start thinking of these things in BF/start terms rather than IP. Granted, from the team's perspective, IP is what really matters but from a pitcher effectiveness/fatigue standpoint, it's surely BF.

Or maybe not. Wolf is an interesting case. 214, 215 and 212 IP from 2009-11 but BF of 862, 936 and 903. In 2009, a quite effective, low BABIP year, he faced only a bit over 25 batters per start. In the latter two years he was over 27 per start. This year he's just over 26 but it's BABIP payback year and he's not having good results so I don't imagine anybody is clamoring to keep Wolf in for that one extra batter. Anyway, he was incredibly consistent on IP for those three years but fairly bouncy on BF.
   19. Bhaakon Posted: August 10, 2012 at 05:13 AM (#4205048)
didn't state it was league wide. just that if you have a manager who tolerates this out of his starters pretty soon you have an overworked bullpen and starters not conditioned to pick up the slack.

Maybe they should be conditioning the relievers to throw more and the starters less. The huge gap between bullpen and starter performance around the league strongly suggests that the starters (the mediocre or worse ones, at least) are getting too many innings. The issue seems to be less that starters are trained to gas out at 100 pitches/teams are afraid to let pitchers get hurt, and more that baseball as figured out that the winning-est strategy is to get the bullpen into a close game as soon as possible (unless your team has a great starting 5 and an atrocious bullpen, but I'm talking in general here).

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