I asked Chuck Armstrong, the Seattle Mariners’ president for 20 years, if the Mariners proceeded carefully with [Felix] Hernandez in his early major league years.
“Actually, we did in his formative years,” Armstrong said, then cited a rule of thumb some people espouse: “No more innings than 10 times a pitcher’s age.”
Whether or not by design, the Mariners have basically followed that formula with Hernandez, with exceptions in 2009 (8 2/3 innings more than 10 times his age) and 2010 (9 2/3 more). Yet Hernandez has carried a full load. In six full seasons he has started, in order, 31, 30, 31, 34, 34 and 33 games (27 so far this season, with 7 more likely to follow). But he has had no need for elbow or shoulder surgery.
“I do worry about it,” Armstrong said in a telephone interview. “I wonder how many pitches he has in his arm. He’s not a maximum effort guy anymore. If he needs to get up to 95, 96, he can, but he doesn’t have to. Early on he often threw a lot of pitches. Now he tells me ‘I’m going to throw 98 pitches tonight’ and he does it.”
On Aug. 15 Hernandez threw 113 pitches in his perfect game against Tampa Bay. He threw 105 pitches in 7 2/3 innings in winning his next start against Cleveland (“Eric took him out at the right time,” Armstrong said of manager Eric Wedge). Six days later Hernandez needed only 100 pitches to gain his league-leading fifth shutout, a 5-hitter against Minnesota.
I had Hernandez in mind recently when I replied to a reader who disagreed with my view that wins for pitchers remain meaningful despite a contrary belief of advocates of new-age statistics. “How does a starting pitcher have ‘control?’” the reader wrote, referring to relievers’ giving up the starter’s lead.
“By pitching nine innings,” I replied. ... Elbows are supposed to be stronger after Tommy John surgery. Using the rule of thumb Armstrong cited, 10 times Strasburg’s age would give him a maximum of 240 innings, well above the number he will have, even accounting for the operation. ... A column in The New York Times two weeks ago said injury experts “have praised the team” for its stance on Strasburg’s injury, but the writer doesn’t name or quote any of his experts. The writer, David Leonhardt, is the Times’ Washington bureau chief. Geography apparently qualifies him to make other questionable statements.