Posted: Tuesday November 28, 2006 11:55AM; Updated: Tuesday November 28, 2006 11:03PM
Anibal Sanchez went 10-3 with a 2.83 and a no-hitter under his belt, but he had 200 innings combined in the majors and minors.
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Tom Verducci will answer select questions from SI.com users in his Baseball Mailbag.
If teams know they are putting pitchers at risk, why are they pushing them? The competition. It's difficult to manage a pitcher's innings by moving him to the bench or the bullpen when a team is trying to win games and there are no outward signs of wear and tear. The Tigers, for instance, did give Verlander two nine-day breaks, but they rode their ace all the way to the World Series. What else could they have done?
Likewise, the Marlins pushed Olsen and Sanchez because they still had a shot at the wild card in mid-September, though you could quibble with Florida allowing Olsen to throw 101 pitches on the meaningless penultimate day of the season. Likewise, the non-competitive Cubs had little to gain by continuing to run Hill and Marshall out to the mound. Hill pitched well in September (1.93 ERA), though his pitch counts do seem unnecessarily high: 106, 111, 120, 118, 99 and 115. Marshall struggled in September (8.34 ERA).
The Tigers, Marlins and Phillies are particularly vulnerable next season because they each landed two pitchers on the at-risk list. The tendency is to believe that players develop in a linear manner, that a year of experience virtually guarantees improvement. The Angels, for instance, might be thinking, "Oh, great! We've got Jered Weaver for a whole season this year!" Well, the Pirates might have thought the same about Duke and Maholm.
Such thinking is particularly dangerous with pitchers because of the greater health risk when compared to position players. Young position players can play all they want, take as many swings as they want, and generally don't put themselves at a much greater risk of injury or setback the way pitchers do if they increase their workload.
The next great test of the YAE could be Yankees prospect Phillip Hughes, generally considered the top pitching prospect in the minors. The Yankees have been saying that Hughes will come to spring training to compete for the fifth spot in the rotation. Baloney. The guy is only 20 and threw only 146 innings last season, when New York kept him on strict pitch counts. Why would the Yankees break camp with him in the rotation when there's no way he should be throwing more than 175 innings next year (postseason included), not to mention starting his arbitration clock?
New York likely will treat Hughes the way Boston did Jon Lester at the start of last season: send him to the minors and keep a tight lid on his innings there, with an in-season callup in mind. Better to have a plan in place to manage innings than to turn a pitcher loose and worry about it later.
Consider the expert care Seattle has given Felix Hernandez. The Mariners increased his innings by 23 at age 19 in 2005 and by 18.2 in 2006. He should be in fine shape for a breakout year in 2007, with less concern about having to manage his innings. Of course, the Mariners' plan was easy to execute for one simple reason: they never were very close to the postseason in those years.