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THERE WAS ONE MORE MAJOR DECISION to make, one that is probably the most debated player-development question in today's game: How much should he pitch? And if, like Bundy, pitchers today have the advantages of greater training and medical benefits than any previous generation, why are they pitching less?
Twenty-eight years ago, the Cubs drafted a 6-foot righthander out of Valley High in Las Vegas. In his first full professional season, as a 19-year-old, Greg Maddux made 27 starts at Class A, threw six complete games and logged 186 innings. "I don't remember a pitch count," says Maddux, who won 355 games and works now as a special adviser for the Rangers. "If you looked like you were getting tired, if there was a change in arm slot, they took you out. I've watched 50 or 60 minor league games over the last three years. I haven't seen a complete game yet."
The first five high school pitchers drafted and signed in 1984 were Tony Menendez, Pete Smith, Maddux, Tom Glavine and Al Leiter. They threw an average of 156 innings in their first full year out of high school. All of them reached the majors, albeit with varying degrees of success. Throughout the 1980s and '90s, teams routinely let pitchers exceed 150 innings in their first year out of high school. Then, about 10 years ago, such workloads began to disappear. Since 2002, only three of 44 first-round high school pitchers have thrown 150 innings in their first full pro seasons—none since Chris Volstad threw 152 for the Marlins in 2006.
What happened? The high-profile physical breakdowns of Prior and Wood, which were often blamed on overuse, sent a shudder through the industry. Signing bonuses and salaries surged, representing greater financial stakes for clubs. More important, medical advancements and research were able to determine in clinical terms the risk factors of pitching. The data were more reliable than the eyes of pitching coaches watching for changes in arm slot. Overuse, especially at a young age, was defined as one of the greatest risk factors.
"Most doctors say younger throwing athletes need more time to develop," Byrnes says. "Does pushing a guy outweigh the risks? Most teams will tell you no. We also look at a lot more data now: pitch counts in three-start increments, the percentage of breaking balls and high stress innings ... there are a few more layers now to avoid the hot spots."
By some measures, the accepted practice of having high school first-rounders throw less has not worked. Among the 102 pitchers in the 1981--2000 sample of high school first-rounders, those who threw 150 innings in their first full year were much more likely to reach the majors (78%) than those who didn't (51%), and more than twice as likely to reach 20 career wins (57%) than those who didn't (27%).
"I can see both sides," Maddux says. "But I think it takes them longer to develop [now]. The easiest way to improve as a pitcher is to throw. Cutting the throwing is cutting the improvement. You do it to reduce injuries. But is a pitcher going to develop at a reasonable rate?
"I also think there is a lot of development that comes from pitching a little tired. Anybody can do well when they feel great. But what happens when you're tired and you have to rely on pitch selection and location? Where is the ability to get a hitter out more than one way? I don't see a lot of that."
Peterson and Duquette decided to put a cap on the innings Bundy would throw this year. Peterson prefers not to increase a young pitcher's workload by more than 30 innings per year. Duquette prefers a 15% to 20% increase as a cap. Bundy threw 90 innings in 2011, including his work in the instructional league after he was drafted. But Peterson and Duquette also considered that he threw 148 innings in 2010: 79 in high school and 69 in summer ball, about the same workload from his sophomore year.
Using a midway range between his 2010 and '11 workloads, Peterson and Duquette decided Bundy would throw about 125 innings this year. They also decided he would pitch every sixth day—to stretch out his innings and to gain the benefit of two bullpen sessions between starts. Then they presented him with two paths to reach his limit: He could pitch without modification, which would mean shutting him down in August when he reached his cap, or he could pitch the first half of the season with limits on his outings to conserve his innings. The second plan called for him to make three starts of three innings, three starts of four innings, four or five more of five innings, and so on.