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Thursday, March 21, 2013

New York Magazine: Leitch: The Glass Arm

And yet, for all the increased importance of pitching, pitchers are getting hurt more often than they used to. In 2011, according to research by FanGraphs.com, pitchers spent a total of 14,926 days on the disabled list. In 1999, that number was 13,129. No one is sure why this is happening, or what to do about it, but what is certain is that teams are trying desperately to divine answers to those questions. Figuring out which pitchers are least likely to get hurt and helping pitchers keep from getting hurt is the game’s next big mystery to solve, the next market inefficiency to be exploited. The modern baseball industry is brilliant at projecting what players will do on the field. The next task is solving the riddle of how to keep them on it.

bobm Posted: March 21, 2013 at 09:41 PM | 21 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: injuries, pitching mechanics

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   1. Karl from NY Posted: March 22, 2013 at 03:12 PM (#4394473)
Does that count of days adjust for number of pitchers at all? Pitching staffs have grown even between 1999 and 2011, so of course more pitchers would produce more DL days.

The delta is also small enough that it could be influenced by just a couple outliers, like Curt Schilling's final non-season. 1999 sounds like a selective endpoint.
   2. Mark S. is bored Posted: March 22, 2013 at 05:31 PM (#4394583)
Does that count of days adjust for number of pitchers at all? Pitching staffs have grown even between 1999 and 2011, so of course more pitchers would produce more DL days.

The delta is also small enough that it could be influenced by just a couple outliers, like Curt Schilling's final non-season. 1999 sounds like a selective endpoint.


And why only show the numbers for the two years. How much more difficult would it be to show the number of pitcher DL days for each year between 1999 and 2011.
   3. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 22, 2013 at 05:37 PM (#4394589)
It's a very interesting question though. Of course you'd need to look at in more detail (I'd like to see SP broken out from RP), over multiple years.

But, give the rather draconian imposition of pitch counts, if injuries aren't down, MLB teams are substantially under-utilizing their best pitchers.
   4. Walt Davis Posted: March 22, 2013 at 06:25 PM (#4394610)
As you say Snapper, that depends on the SP/RP mix. Also a fair number of DL trips are probably part of the bullpen shuttle.

First whack: In 1999, 89 pitchers made it to 162 innings ("qualified"). In 2012, 88 pitchers made it to 162 innings.

Second whack: In 1999, teams averaged 486 relief IP. In 2012, teams averaged 491 relief IP. Given the higher scoring of 1999, that difference may be bigger than it appears.

Third whack: In 1999, teams averaged 20 pitchers used per season. In 2012 they averaged 22 pitchers used.

Final whack: In 1999, 54 pitchers had 70+ relief IP, another 43 at 60-69. In 2012, those numbers are 34 and 54 respectively.

This appears to be reliever-driven. Reliever "usage" has changed a bit, possibly due to injury but I suspect not (or a minimal effect). Regardless, you will note that teams need to throw about 490 relief IP per year, have only 7 reliever slots (usually), yet have only one individual reliever giving them 70+ innings. Over the course of a season, they are likely to use at least 14 guys in relief. Options for young guys and waiver wire pick-ups/dumps account for a lot of that but it seems highly likely that shifting guys on/off the DL is another way for teams to keep that bullpen rotation going without having to put guys on waivers or burn options.
   5. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 22, 2013 at 06:33 PM (#4394613)
First whack: In 1999, 89 pitchers made it to 162 innings ("qualified"). In 2012, 88 pitchers made it to 162 innings.

Do you have total IP by the qualifiers?
   6. Walt Davis Posted: March 22, 2013 at 06:49 PM (#4394621)
Do you have total IP by the qualifiers?

No, but the total relief IP difference was only 5 IP per team so all starters are pitching nearly the same number of innings -- note, IP/start crept up the last couple of years with the drop in offense from its depths in the mid-2000s -- so it's reasonable to assume the top starters are about the same. If you instituted peak sillyball offense with today's starter pitch count restrictions, we'd surely see a bigger gap although whether that would be at the top or the bottom I'm not sure.
   7. Repoz Posted: March 22, 2013 at 07:51 PM (#4394644)
Leitch was on Morning Joe the other day fielding nitwiddle questions from Scarborough and Barnicle about why today's gentlease milk-sucking baby pitchers of today ain't no SPAHN! or MARICHAL!

I threw my arm out shutting it off.
   8. I'm Old and I Blame the Pirates Posted: March 23, 2013 at 01:17 PM (#4394966)
In 2011, according to research by FanGraphs.com, pitchers spent a total of 14,926 days on the disabled list.


Jeff Karstens was personally responsible for 300 of these.
   9. BDC Posted: March 23, 2013 at 01:28 PM (#4394972)
Were the rules regarding disabled lists and roster moves effectively the same in 2011 as in 1999? I reckon they were, but this is not something I keep close track of. In earlier times, you'd have different lengths of disabled-list stays to contend with, making the comparisons less exact; for instance, IIRC there used to be a 21-day disabled list. Sheer days of stay on such lists may, or may not, be a good way of tracking actual severity and frequency of injuries.
   10. Robert in Manhattan Beach Posted: March 23, 2013 at 01:40 PM (#4394975)

But, give the rather draconian imposition of pitch counts, if injuries aren't down, MLB teams are substantially under-utilizing their best pitchers.


Bingo! This has been happening for years. Teams have been shifting innings from their best pitchers to less capable pitchers in the name of injury prevention. Only it doesn't actually prevent injuries so...

Eventually it will swing back the other way a little.
   11. Jack Carter, calling Beleaguered Castle Posted: March 23, 2013 at 03:27 PM (#4395008)
And yet, for all the increased importance of pitching, pitchers are getting hurt more often than they used to. In 2011, according to research by FanGraphs.com, pitchers spent a total of 14,926 days on the disabled list. In 1999, that number was 13,129. No one is sure why this is happening, or what to do about it, but what is certain is that teams are trying desperately to divine answers to those questions.


As pretty much everyone has at least suggested, the increased number of days pitchers are on the DL isn't meaningful. It may have a great deal to do with different standards for putting pitchers on the DL, too. Medical science keeps leaping forward, and more than a decade means a hell of a lot of progress. It may be that pitchers are being more easily diagnosed with treatable problems, and therefore sent to the DL more often. If that's the case, you'd then have to followup by seeing if those more frequent DL stints are extending careers. Another possibility is if there has been even a small change in encouraging pitchers to admit to pain and injury. That alone could noticeably change the number of DL days.

But, give the rather draconian imposition of pitch counts, if injuries aren't down, MLB teams are substantially under-utilizing their best pitchers.

Bingo! This has been happening for years. Teams have been shifting innings from their best pitchers to less capable pitchers in the name of injury prevention. Only it doesn't actually prevent injuries so...

Eventually it will swing back the other way a little.


I don't think this is clear, at least not without real study. Also, as teams increasingly scrape the bottom of the barrel, it's likely they're bringing in more injury prone pitchers. It's easy to imagine an overall scenario where the better pitchers are benefiting from a lighter workload, staying more effective over more years, while at the other end the worst pitchers are the ones hitting the DL more often and for longer stretches.
   12. Squash Posted: March 23, 2013 at 03:59 PM (#4395012)
Medical science keeps leaping forward, and more than a decade means a hell of a lot of progress. It may be that pitchers are being more easily diagnosed with treatable problems, and therefore sent to the DL more often.

I had a version of this thought as well. The major one is elbow injuries and TJ surgery - since it's so ubiquitous now, the current audience might forget that 10+ years ago having TJ surgery was a major risk - you might not come back at all. It was a really big decision. Now pitchers come back a year later with stronger elbows and sometimes even throwing harder than before. If your 1990s pitcher tries to throw through pain because he's scared of getting surgery that would risk his career for the possibility of making it through the season and only maybe risking his career, when he then in fact blows out his arm he's not going to show up in the DL because he's been released. Now the guy gets surgery, keeps his job, comes back a year later, and everyone's happy.

It also might be a side effect in that injury-prone pitchers who 10-15-20 years ago would have blown out their arms and been done with it are instead being nursed along due to the better medical care they're receiving today. They're on and off the DL whereas 15 years ago they would have been home sitting on the couch. Brett Anderson is a great example. Always on and off the DL for his lat, his elbow, etc., finally got TJS in 2011. 20 years ago he would have been toast. Today he'll pitch another 10 years, probably on the DL another 10 times, but in 1993 he'd be done.
   13. Walt Davis Posted: March 23, 2013 at 06:07 PM (#4395060)
Teams have been shifting innings from their best pitchers to less capable pitchers in the name of injury prevention.

This is not at all clear. Teams have shifted innings away from starters to more effective relievers. If your average reliever posts an ERA+ (or FIP or whatever) 10 points better and your 3 main relievers post ERA+ 20-30 points better, why would you regularly want your starter out there pitching the 7th and 8th innings?

Anyway ...

Various MLB stats, 2012 vs 1999 (QS=Quality Start %, GS = game score, PG = pitch/game, 120 = starts >= 120 pitches

IP 5.9 5.9
QS 51 46 (sillyball)
GS 51 47
PG 95 96
120 74 467

It's hard to argue they are getting less out of starters overall. The QS and game score differences are presumably due to different offensive contexts and the lowered context of 2012 vs. even 2009-10 has led to (or coincided with) some increase in starter usage. It's surprising that the same number of pitches leads to the same number of innings.

The big difference of course is in the 120+ pitch games. And those high pitch counts were probably mostly top pitchers (and Livan) so, yes, that suggests more innings today are being pitched by lesser starters (although technically that doesn't have to be true). You see fewer starts at either extreme now (<80, >120) which suggests the work load has been increased a bit on the back end of the rotation (everybody has to make it to 80 pitches now, nobody goes over 120)* but again that's not necessarily true. But then you get into questions of leverage. Even if there's no increased injury risk, there's not much gained if Randy Johnson is out there throwing pitch #125 with a 4-run lead ... and with a 1-run lead it's not clear you want a high-pitch count Randy Johnson out there lead instead of a stud closer.

Anyway, I don't believe the key driver in today's usage is (perceived) injury prevention. The key driver is having a pitcher with a 120-140-160 ERA+ out there in high leverage situations, at least if you have the lead. There's not much argument in favor of the notion that Phil Hughes or even Matt Garza on pitch 120 is a better option than Robertson/Soriano/Rivera but it is an open question whether Verlander/CC/etc. on pitch 120 might still be the best option. (Bullpen usage in tied and 1-run deficit situations is a different tirade.)

*Somewhat lost in the gnashing of teeth over evil pitch count limits is that there's also been the institution of a pitch count minimum.

   14. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 23, 2013 at 06:45 PM (#4395074)
Anyway, I don't believe the key driver in today's usage is (perceived) injury prevention. The key driver is having a pitcher with a 120-140-160 ERA+ out there in high leverage situations, at least if you have the lead. There's not much argument in favor of the notion that Phil Hughes or even Matt Garza on pitch 120 is a better option than Robertson/Soriano/Rivera but it is an open question whether Verlander/CC/etc. on pitch 120 might still be the best option. (Bullpen usage in tied and 1-run deficit situations is a different tirade.)

But that's not really the comparison.

By not pitching CC, and Kuroda in the 8th and 9th innings (when they have a reasonable pitch count and look unstressed), that means you have less of Robertson/Soriano/Rivera to use elsewhere. So the next day, you're pitching Rapada, and Joba in the 6th and 7th, with a lead, or 8th with a tie (after you pull Hughes or Nova) instead of being able to use a better pitcher.

You know you have, at most, 200 IP out of your top-3 RPs (normally less). If you don't use them in starts by your #1 and #2 SPs, you can redistribute those IP to starts by your #3-#5, and not have to give as many high leverage IP to your bad RPs.

I'd argue you should never use your top-RPs in the 8th and 9th with a 3-run lead on the same basis. Of course then the saves gestapo would have you eliminated.

   15. bobm Posted: March 24, 2013 at 12:16 AM (#4395183)
[13]
Various MLB stats, 2012 vs 1999 [...]

The big difference of course is in the 120+ pitch games. And those high pitch counts were probably mostly top pitchers (and Livan) so, yes, that suggests more innings today are being pitched by lesser starters (although technically that doesn't have to be true). You see fewer starts at either extreme now (<80, >120) which suggests the work load has been increased a bit on the back end of the rotation (everybody has to make it to 80 pitches now, nobody goes over 120)* but again that's not necessarily true.


There has been a concentration of starts in games of 91-110 pitches.

In 2012 31% of starts were 90 or less pitch games, vs 34% in 1999.
In 2012 58% of starts were 91-110 pitch games, vs 44% in 1999.
In 2012 12% of starts were 111 or more pitch games, vs 23% in 1999.

(In 2012 68% of starts were 91-119 pitch games, vs 57% in 1999.)


2012 vs 1999 MLB starts, by pitch count

      Pit 2012 # 2012% 1999 # 1999% 2012 IP 1999 IP
      -80    708   15%    900   19%    3.86    3.77
    81-90    794   16%    740   15%    5.48    5.37
   91-100   1422   29%   1057   22%    6.02    6.07
  101-110   1397   29%   1074   22%    6.54    6.56
 111-119*    465   10%    618   13%    7.02    7.03
     120+     74    2%    467   10%    7.66    7.44
    Total   4860  100%   4856  100%  
      
* 111-120    476   10%    674   14%    7.02    7.05


NB: all percentages rounded.
   16. bobm Posted: March 24, 2013 at 12:23 AM (#4395184)
1999 starts, 120+ pitch games

          Pitcher  GS
    Randy Johnson  17
  Livan Hernandez  16
   Pedro Martinez  13
       Russ Ortiz  13
     Rick Helling  12
        Al Leiter  11
    Roger Clemens  10
    Pedro Astacio  10
Orlando Hernandez  10
   Scott Erickson   9
      Jose Rosado   9
    Freddy Garcia   9

       119 others 328
   17. bobm Posted: March 24, 2013 at 12:28 AM (#4395185)
2012 starts, 120+ pitch games

         Pitcher GS
Justin Verlander  9
      Jake Peavy  6
   James Shields  5
      Yu Darvish  4
      Jon Lester  3
     C.J. Wilson  3
     CC Sabathia  2
     David Price  2
    Johnny Cueto  2
   Clay Buchholz  2
   Matt Harrison  2
 Felix Hernandez  2
    Max Scherzer  2
     Ian Kennedy  2
    Tim Lincecum  2

       26 others 26
   18. Squash Posted: March 24, 2013 at 04:45 AM (#4395205)
By not pitching CC, and Kuroda in the 8th and 9th innings (when they have a reasonable pitch count and look unstressed), that means you have less of Robertson/Soriano/Rivera to use elsewhere. So the next day, you're pitching Rapada, and Joba in the 6th and 7th, with a lead, or 8th with a tie (after you pull Hughes or Nova) instead of being able to use a better pitcher.

The flipside of this is that there aren't that many consecutive games when you desperately need Robertson/Soriano/Rivera in the game. Anyway I don't think there are a ton of times when stud pitchers are taken out after the 7th with 95 pitches thrown - they're usually in there to start the 8th. Most managers seem to be shooting for the region of 110 pitches, which seems like a fairly reasonable balance between (hopeful) injury prevention and getting your money's worth out of a start.

This:

I'd argue you should never use your top-RPs in the 8th and 9th with a 3-run lead on the same basis. Of course then the saves gestapo would have you eliminated.

I think is more to the point. If you're really worried about conserving your relievers, David Robertson shouldn't be in there in the 8th to face the 5-6-7 guys when you're up by three. The problem (as you note) is the handful of times a year when your third or fourth guy is in there and gets blasted you're going to hear about it from the press, which is the primary thing most managers seem to be worried about because then it's your job.

I'm not sure that any of these relievers (stud 8th inning guys) really are being protected. Teams seem to have no problem throwing their 8th inning studs out there 75+ times a year multiple years in a row, which is probably part of why they all seem to have 2-3 years of awesomeness before flaming out.
   19. Dan Posted: March 24, 2013 at 05:47 AM (#4395206)
I'm not sure that any of these relievers (stud 8th inning guys) really are being protected. Teams seem to have no problem throwing their 8th inning studs out there 75+ times a year multiple years in a row, which is probably part of why they all seem to have 2-3 years of awesomeness before flaming out.


But which is cause and which is effect? Maybe the guys slotted into this role are guys that teams expect to only last a few years while their stuff is at its sharpest, so they don't mind riding them hard since they're only going to be top notch relievers for a few seasons.
   20. Squash Posted: March 24, 2013 at 01:29 PM (#4395278)
Maybe the guys slotted into this role are guys that teams expect to only last a few years while their stuff is at its sharpest, so they don't mind riding them hard since they're only going to be top notch relievers for a few seasons.

That's possible, but it would seem to involve a good amount of prognostication. If they're so adept at figuring out which 8th inning studs are going to flame out after a year or two, why can't they figure it out with any other pitcher?

I think what might be accurate to say is that certain pitcher classes have become more protected and others haven't. Closers are protected by nature of the save statistic. With starters we've become more aware of pitch counts. But for the stud 8th inning guy the protection wave hasn't caught up yet. They're in kind of a perfect storm to not be protected - they don't rack up huge pitch counts in any single outing, they're often veterans so it's not some hot young kid a la Strasberg the organization's worried about blowing up, that they're veterans means the manager trusts them over the other guys who may be mirages, they're usually somewhat nameless so the public isn't advocating for them, there always seems to be more of them in a way there aren't always more stud SPs, and most of all the team could really use them in the game 50 times a year on top of the 30 times a year any reliever is in. They're in sort of a perfect space to be used with impunity, then unsurprisingly they're gone after a couple years.
   21. Walt Davis Posted: March 24, 2013 at 05:34 PM (#4395396)
I think you would be hard-pressed to come up with a lot of examples where lesser relievers are pitching high-leverage innings (outside of extra-inning games) and most of those are probably tied games (where teams often do pretty dumb things). I think you'd also be hard-pressed to find cases where stud starters are removed on low pitch counts prior to the 9th inning (maybe for the occasional LOOGY). I think you'd be hard-pressed to find cases where, when the pen is tired, they don't try to squeeze a few extra outs from the starter.

Starter usage hasn't changed massively in the last decade -- the change there is the "compression" that I talked about and Bob demonstrated. Reliever usage has changed somewhat as workloads (in terms of IP) are even lower meaning that everybody is carrying 7 relievers now and occasionally 8.

Another tidbit: average batters faced per game: 2012 25 (almost exactly!), 1999 25.8. Average number of times facing a batter for the 4th time: 2012 .7, 1999 1.3 (nearly exactly double). Batters faced for the third time: 2012 6.4, 1999 6.6. That's all of your extra batters pretty much.

For comp in 1979, it was 27 batters faced with an average of 2.8 4th times faced. Of course the distribution of that was probably a lot different.

Anyway, it's certainly true that starters are getting the 8th and 9th innings off more now but it's also true that they are getting pulled from crappy starts less often and it's probably also true that the crappy 5th starters are being pushed into the 6th and 7th innings more often. But it's hardly obvious which is better from a strategic standpoint or which is better from an injury standpoint but an extra 1-2 batters per game is not going to have a huge impact. The shift from the 5-day rotation of 1979 to the 5-man rotation (of 1999 and 2012) surely did a lot more to redistribute starter innings.

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