Feb
19

Working to control the 2010 innings load

By

CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett both reached career highs in innings pitched in 2009. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

By the time Robinson Cano fielded a Shane Victorino ground ball and tossed it to Mark Teixeira to end the 2009 World Series, the Yankees’ starting pitchers had thrown a lot of innings. For nearly a month, Andy Pettitte, CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett had been making high-stress October starts, and the innings kept mounting. Keeping these key arms fresh, then, has now become a primary concern for the Yanks this spring.

The horses were ridden hard in October and November. After throwing 230 regular season innings, Sabathia tacked on another 36.1 in October, far surpassing his career high. A.J. Burnett tossed 207 regular season innings and added another 27.1 in the postseason. His previous career high was 221.1, a mark he reached in 2008. Andy Pettitte, the October veteran of the group, threw 194.2 regular season innings and another 30.2 in October. He hadn’t surpassed the 225-inning mark since 2005. These guys threw long and hard in high pressure situations.

As Spring Training begins, Joe Girardi knows that his pitchers worked a lot last season. Today, while addressing the media, Girardi spoke about physically preparing his pitchers for another long season. “We figured we could ease all these guys into it,” the Yanks’ skipper said. “We wanted to make sure that they’re absolutely physically prepared to go out and have that same type of workload.”

The Yankees are going to proceed slowly with their hurlers. They won’t ask the pitchers to overtax themselves in Spring Training. CC Sabathia, the ace, will throw his first full bullpen session on Saturday, and the others will follow suit as though lining up the rotation for the regular season. A.J. will toss on Sunday, Pettitte Monday and Javier Vazquez, the new guy, will take his turn on Tuesday. It’s a smart move for the Yankees.

Why the care and kid gloves? Well, a 2007 Washington Post article about the Chicago White Sox helps to put it all into perspective. As Dave Sheinin noted then and as the 2009 Tampa Bay Rays can tell you, teams that go deep into the postseason one year often see their pitchers regress the next. Wrote Sheinin, “Of the 30 pitchers who threw 240 or more innings in a season between 2001 and ’05, the vast majority (21 pitchers, or 70 percent) saw their ERAs rise the following season — and 11 of them experienced a jump of at least one full run. Still others experienced arm injuries the year after their high-workload season.”

And so the Yankees will be careful. They have a lot riding on their pitching staff. Besides the $72.75 million invested into their four top starters, the Yankees are going to need to have these guys be on top of their games to fend off the Red Sox and the Rays. The team knows this, and as Spring Training begins, so too do the innings concerns.

Categories : Pitching

81 Comments»

  1. bexarama says:

    If CC, AJ, and Andy’s arms fall off, I’m blaming the three days’ rest!!!!!
    /early November’d

  2. JobaWockeeZ says:

    CC is used to this I would think so I’m not particularly worried about him.

    AJ maybe since he’s an injury risk but I’ve been reading on how AJ knows not to overextend himself so he doesn’t get injured. Who knows.

    Pettitte being older is also an injury risk so I don’t know about him. He pitches a lot of innings though so hopefully he’s good to go.

    Javier too pitches a lot of innings so I think he’ll be fine.

    And whoever is the 5th starter has their innings set.

  3. The Twilight: New Moon Effect (or as some refer to it, “The Verducci Effect” or “Cole Hamels Effect”) could be a serious issue next year.

    Burnett, although coming off two consecutive seasons of good health, is a risk to go down. I can’t imagine him throwing 234 innings is good for him, but taking it slow should give him another few weeks to get his arm a bit more rest.

    CC’s been ridden hard at pretty much every stop. He hasn’t slowed down yet but he also hasn’t thrown 266 (!) innings at any point. If any pitcher in the big leagues can and maintain his health and dominance next season, it’s CC. Still, you can’t just discard some level of concern.

    Andy’s starting to get mail from the AARP, and any guy at that age is a risk to fall into ill health, especially throwing over 220 innings.

    Can we really be confident that all three can stay in great health again? Maybe Joba has a bit of a hangover from pitching an innings high?

    I don’t like dealing with wild hypotheticals, but there remains a distinct possibility that our front three guys suffer from the glory of last year. I think it’s better to be prepared by having a potential #2 starter waiting (and a guy that is pegged to be in the rotation long-term, no less) to stabilize things.

    Just my take.

    • Point of clarity on CC—while he’s never thrown that many innings, he’s been damn close the past few years. The rest of the point still stands.

    • That was one of the driving motivations behind their acquisition of Javier Vazquez, and as much as we don’t like the consider it, why the kept both Chad Gaudin and Sergio Mitre. It’s a long fall from Burnett to one of those guys, but Pettitte isn’t that much better than Gaudin if he’s at his best. With Hughes and Aceves there too, the Yanks have some solid depth and flexibility should any sort of worst-case scenario come to pass.

      • DP says:

        It’s ironic in the article about the White Sox, they mention Vazquez was picked up by them for the exact same reason.

        /Maybe it’s not ironic, I dunno I’m not an English major

      • bexarama says:

        I generally agree with this, but

        Pettitte isn’t that much better than Gaudin if he’s at his best
        No way. Unless he totally falls off a cliff – which is possible, given his age – the worst Pettitte is going to give you is ~200 league average innings. Gaudin did better than I was expecting with the Yankees last year, but he only pitched 42 innings and started 6 games. He was terrible starting for the Padres last year, and okay for Oakland in 2007 and… that’s about it. His best year so far is worse than Andy’s worst. Plus, his lefty/righty splits are ugly.

        • DP says:

          Sir Chad had a 3.70 FIP for the Padres last year, and lefties having a .342 BABIP against him last year didn’t help his cause in that particular split.

          • bexarama says:

            lefties having a .342 BABIP against him last year didn’t help his cause in that particular split.

            YIKES

            Still, career:
            RHB .249/.318/.409/.728, 2.80 k/bb ratio
            LHB .293/.389/.433/.822, 0.84 k/bb ratio

            And he… really underperformed that FIP.

        • Jamal G. says:

          Actually, considering that he was worth just 2.2 wins above a replacement-level pitcher last year, and that batters swung less and made more and better contact against him, and factoring in age-related decline, I am very comfortable in stating that the best Andy Pettitte can give the 2010 Yankees is league-average production.

      • No doubt. I didn’t mention Javy because I assumed he’d be ready for 200 league-average-or-better innings. There’s no reason not to think he’d be capable.

        Going to disagree with Pettitte not being that much better than Gaudin at his best. His numbers weren’t terrible, but it seemed that he almost always ran into trouble in the 5th inning or, if by some reason he made it, the sixth inning. Pettitte’s ceiling and floor are significantly higher than Gaudin. Not sure why you’re assuming Gaudin would be at his best for more than short bursts, but even then, chances of Gaudin being at his best don’t seem too great.

        He’s passable as an emergency 5th starter if the rest of the rotation is generally good and healthy, but it would be real trouble if he and Mitre are both starting for extended periods of time. While unlikely, it’s not exactly impossible to fathom.

        Now, if health the rotation winds up being CC, Javy, Joba, Hughes, Gaudin (at his best) for any length of time, it’s still not crippling or anything, but it’s a far cry from Pettitte being his “normal” self.

        • bexarama says:

          Yeah, you said what I wanted to about Pettitte/Gaudin much better.

        • So I’m probably overselling Gaudin, but what do you think Pettitte’s projection is for this year? PECOTA pegs him at 10-10 with a 4.71 ERA in 183 innings (and thinks Gaudin would be worse).

          • JobaWockeeZ says:

            More or less the same in 2009. The projections on FanGraphs have Pettitte around there. Not really close to the 4.71 mark PECOTA has.

          • I suppose it’s possible he’d hit that, or something resembling his 2008. I don’t like to speculate on wins and losses, but I’d say an ERA at about 4.20-4.50 is reasonable. I see Pettitte ending up as our 5th starter next year.

            I just think you can be reasonably sure that if healthy, he can give you innings and around a 4.50 ERA.

            Gaudin is more likely to give you a 4.70-who knows, and low innings.

        • Looking further into his numbers, I suppose Gaudin could throw an ERA around 4.60 in extended time starting in the AL East. Pettitte would probably be around 4.20. Hmm…I suppose you might be right.

          Gaudin’s WHIP as a starter is 1.543 and his K/9 7.2. Not terrible. In their third PA against Gaudin, batters hit .307/.396/.459/.855 with an OPS+ of 122,

          Again, the issue is his him giving you innings and keeping you in the game in the middle-late innings.

      • AndrewYF says:

        It’s a long fall from Burnett to one of those guys, but it’s not as long a fall for Pettitte? Pettitte didn’t pitch all that much worse than Burnett last year, and in some ways pitched better.

  4. Jamal G. says:

    Wrote Sheinin, “Of the 30 pitchers who threw 240 or more innings in a season between 2001 and ‘05, the vast majority (21 pitchers, or 70 percent) saw their ERAs rise the following season — and 11 of them experienced a jump of at least one full run.

    With such a small sample size, why can’t we make a just-as-valid argument in favor of a regression to the mean being the pertinent cause of these players’ performance in the following season?

    Not only that, but using ERA is quite questionable because not only does it not properly represent a pitcher’s true performance, but its wild fluctuations on a year-to-year basis would raise countless red flags in attempting to draw any reasonable conclusions from a study such as this, no?

    • ERA’s not the best study for it because it’s not a great pitching stat and there is a healthy amount of regression to the mean involved. A lot of teams — such as the 2005 White Sox — win because everything goes just right. The pitching is top-notch; the club stays healthy; and the hitters get hot enough at the right time. Still, there is, by and large, some regressive effect after a long October run, and pitchers don’t respond as well as they could. Unfortunately, we have evidence from only 6-8 pitchers a year, but anecdotally, it checks out as well.

      Look, for instance, at what happened to Shields and Sonnanstine after they went deep into October. Look at Dice-K from 2007 to 2008 to 2009. Look at the staff of the 2003 Marlins. Is it just simple regression or is a fall brought on by the innings load?

      • Jamal G. says:

        Dice-K’s peripherals were not significantly different in 2008 in regards to a 2007 comparison outside of BB/9 (much worse), HR/9 (much better) and runners stranded percentage (much better). It would be tough for me to see an argument for his workload in 2007 being a factor in a change of performance that was actually significantly better in some regards. As for 2009, he admittedly injured himself in a haste to prepare for the World Baseball Classic, which led to the shoulder injuries that hampered his performance throughout the campaign.

        James Shields is another iffy one because his peripherals were not significantly worse in his post-Fall Classic run, either. Why attribute the slight up-tick in HR/9 and WHIP to workload issues and not three divisional opponents (Yankees; Red Sox; Blue Jays) improving upon their 2008 offenses to different severities?

        I am not basing my point on arguing a couple examples you have brought to my attention, but I am trying to show that using such a small sample of pitchers and a quite-flawed metric for a pretty substantial claim is faulty because – as I have attempted to shown – there are myriad reasons why a pitcher may have appeared to regress the year after a deep October run, and although a heavy workload may in fact be a valid cause, everything else should not be forgotten when that reason may fit, which is what the writer did in the article that you linked.

        * This is also an issue I share with the Verducci Effect, but that’s another comment for another post.

      • bexarama says:

        I do believe that, if not properly prepared, teams can be negatively effected by long October runs. But there are a bunch of examples that disprove this, too. Andy Pettitte, 1996 to 1997 (to be fair, I think pitching so many innings with a sore elbow to boot probably caught up with him in 1998 through the first part of 1999) – most of the Yankee teams that won the WS seemed okay in general the next year. The 2002 Diamondbacks. We’ll have to see if Cliff Lee struggles early on next year…

  5. JGS says:

    Change in ERA among guys who threw 240+ innings (playoffs included), 2006-present

    2009: guys to watch–Wainwright, Verlander, CC, Lee, Halladay (239)
    2008: CC (+0.67 in 2009), Halladay (+0.01), Hamels (+1.23)
    2007: CC (-0.51), Webb (+0.29)
    2006: Arroyo (+0.94), Webb (-0.09), Johan (-0.10), Carpenter (N/A–only threw six innings in 2007)

    Arroyo’s 2006 was probably a fluke to begin with (142 ERA+ when his next highest is 121 then 112), and CC’s swings were likely more due to league adjustment than issues with his arm. His 266.1 this year isn’t that much more than he threw in 2008 (256.2)

    Obviously caution is best but these guys can handle it

  6. possibly idiotic question says:

    would it make any sense to use a 6 man rotation early in the year to “save” innings on the front 3 starters? not saying i know how this would work in terms of keeping guys in rhythm, but just asking…

    • It might, but the Yankees don’t really need to do that. None of these guys are truly in the injury red zone, and the team would rather maximize the innings it gets from its best starters over the course of the year. You’ll probably see guys given an extra day of rest, and the fifth starter spot used more than it might otherwise be. But there’s no need for six starters. Not a bad question though.

    • JobaWockeeZ says:

      I’d still rather give the ball to CC rather than a 6th guy.

    • DP says:

      If we’re thinking outside the box, I’d rather they just start these guys like 2 weeks late. Jayson Stark’s inevitable “Only 24.3% of 6-6 teams have made the playoffs the past 19 years” article aside, I don’t think having Hughes, Mitre, and Gaudin making like 3 starts apiece would be the end of the world.

    • The only way I’d be cool with a six-man rotation is if it was done late in the season after a post-season berth had been clinched. Even then, I’m not sure I’d want it done more than once or twice through the rotation.

  7. Chris says:

    For nearly a month, Andy Pettitte, CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett had been starting on three days’ rest

    I know that statement makes for a nice story line, but it just perpetuates a myth. CC made 2 starts on 3 days rest. AJ and Andy each made 1. The innings still add up, but the idea that they were ridden especially hard isn’t really accurate.

  8. Ned says:

    It could be that giving the top 4 an occasional extra day off and make a few fewer starts will help keep them fresher and prevent injury.

    Then, assuming both Joba and Hughes work out as starters, you could give them both enough innings and keep them stretched out if an injury occurs.

    It would also, again assuming they can pitch well enough, put them in a good position for 2011.

  9. [...] Will the Yankees’ pitching staff pay the price in 2010 following last year’s [...]

  10. theyankeewarrior says:

    I really hope the Yanks come out of the gate strong for once this season because if they find a way to get a lead in the division, they will be able to limit leaning on their overused vets (CC, AJ, Javy, Andy) and shut one or two of them down at the first sign of trouble in order to get Hughes and Joba more innings.

    And when I say “the first sign of trouble” I don’t mean AJ felt something in his forearm. I mean AJ has pitched like shit the last few starts and his arm feels a bit tired.

    Boom. 15 day DL. Maybe 30. Lets not all forget that the Yanks have CC and AJ locked up, making huge chunks of their payroll for the next 3-5 years. They need to plan ahead to allow 34 yr. old AJ to be able to throw 180+ innings. CC too.

    • Beginning of April-end of August: Dominate and pummel the opposition, build an insurmountable lead

      September: go to 6-man rotation AND give each of the primary 5 starters a skipped start so that CC, AJ, Andy, Jazzy, and Joba all have no more than 3 starts in the month and get a nice breather.

      Fill in the blanks with Chad Gaudin, Sergio Mitre (if he’s still here), Romulo Sanchez, #75 Ivan “Bad Ass” Nova, Jason Hirsh (who should be added to the 40-man by then, I’d warrant), Zach McAllister (ditto), Chris Garcia (if his arm works), and WDLR.

      Meaningless games FTW.

  11. Bo says:

    I would like to assume that the organization has a plan in mind in dealing with high workload pitchers. It’s not like last yr was there first dance in the post season.

    But its not like the rays n sox dont have the same issues in dealing with high workload pitchers. tampas young staff has never gone thru what they have the past 2 yrs. becketts in a contract yr and will push himself. lester set a career high in innings and bucholz is in the same spot as most young pitchers. Every team deals with questions with workloads.

    • pete says:

      very good point. in all likelihood, the yankees brass is doing exactly what we’re doing right now, except they’re discussing it with only the most esteemed experts in sports medicine and trendline statistical analysis, rather than nerds looking at spreadsheets in their mothers’ basements. Chances are, whatever the yankees decide to do, that’s the right decision. Which is not to say that there won’t almost certainly still be risks of underperformance or injury about the staff next year. But I trust the Yanks to minimize that risk as much as humanly possible.

  12. Rose says:

    In other news, Joba Chamberlain pitched 57 innings over his previous year and previous career high.

    Everybody is taxed. Everybody except Phil Pubes Hughes of course, who wasn’t taxed enough.

    It’s always going to be something.

  13. Rose says:

    When I was your age…we used to throw over 650 innings in a 2 year span and be perfectly fine! And frankfurters used to only cost a nickel!

    Sincerely,
    Nolan Ryan 73′-74′

  14. [...] of the 2010 campaign today, tossing 35 pitches off one of the Tampa mounds to Jorge Posada. After a career high 266.1 IP last season, Sabathia took a grand total of three weeks off this winter before he started throwing again. “I [...]

  15. [...] Pitchers be pitchin’. After notching career-highs in innings pitched in ‘09, what will the pitching staff do for an encore in ‘10? Hopefully win another World Series. That’s what. [...]

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