How to handle Phil HughesBy
As we all know, the Yankees are taking a very conservative approach to handling Phil Hughes. He’s the top pitching prospect in baseball, and the last thing the team wants is to let him loose and risk an injury. To an extent, this makes sense; there have been studies that demonstrate the negative effects of increasing a young pitcher’s workload by more than 30 innings a year. True, you have to throw more to get stronger, but the Yankees are just trying to moderate how much more Hughes throws.
At what point, though, do the Yankees cut bait and let him pitch as many innings as he can handle? He’ll be limited to around 180 innings this year, 30 more than he threw in 2006. Are they going to impose a 210-inning limit in 2008?
Perhaps we’re not asking the best questions here. After all, 180 innings for Phil Hughes is much different than 180 innings for Chien-Ming Wang. The typical reaction here is to revert to pitch count, which has been the trend as of late. But does pitch count even give us an adequate idea of a pitcher’s workload?
For a quick rundown of the Pitch Count Phenomenon, check out Tom Verducci’s article from this week’s SI (I don’t know why I still subscribe to the magazine if they make everything available online). Yeah yeah, I know some Yanks fans still have a sour taste in their mouth from Verucci’s recent article bemoaning the Yankees philosophy, but the Matsuzaka/pitch count article is a good read.
Now, head over to CBS Sportsline and check out the article about how the Mariners are handling King Felix. Most of the article is fluff, but there are some interesting tidbits in there, including:
As for Hernandez’s workload, the Mariners still will monitor him closely. But if it’s the seventh inning and Hernandez is dominating, you probably won’t see him automatically yanked from the game like he was so often last year.
Instead of simply counting innings, manager Mike Hargrove and pitching coach Rafael Chaves will place more emphasis this year on total pitches thrown and, particularly, on the stress of those pitches and innings.
If Hernandez is sailing, his delivery is in sync and everything is smooth, the green light will remain in place.
I couldn’t possibly react to that revelation better than Jeff at Lookout Landing, who pointed out the CBS article:
That’s not stupid – that’s perfect. It’s exactly how a young pitcher should be treated. Counting innings is what’s silly; 200 frames for Gil Meche are way different than 200 frames for, say, Roy Halladay, and the total barely even gives you an approximation of workload and stress level. It’s something of a barometer, since a guy with 100 innings will generally have less wear and tear than someone with twice as many, but it’s incredibly inefficient, to the point where it’s not even worth monitoring when there are better alternatives available. Which there are.
Innings sometimes provide a ballpark estimate, but pitch context and mechanical consistency tell you much much more. If Pitcher A throws 90 pitches and allows ten baserunners in five innings, while Pitcher B throws 110 pitches and allows six baserunners in seven innings, Pitcher A’s going to be doing more damage to himself, since he’s working in more stressful situations. That’s what wears a guy out and puts him at risk for injury – having to focus on every individual pitch with men on is way more tiring than cruising through the bottom of the order with the bases empty. That much we know. So why not account for it when you’re keeping track of a young pitcher’s progress?
If coaches and front offices are going to be so mindful of a pitcher’s workload, does it not make more sense to try to get as micro a view as possible of said workload? The more you generalize, the more vague your findings are going to be.
If Hughes dominates AAA, there seems little reason to keep innings limits on him. Then, once he gets to the majors, you can monitor him in the same way. This will provide a better view of his workload and possibly clear him to work beyond the 180-inning limit imposed on him. You never know, the Yankees may need some extra innings from him down the stretch.
Mike, I know you’ve got two cents about this.
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