Friday, August 13, 2010

Used and Abused: The Most Overworked Pitchers of 2010

Baseball has come a long way in protecting the arms of some of its most valuable commodities. Whether this change was made out of an altruistic desire to protect the players, or just because they have become valuable (expensive) investments, most teams manage the workload of their pitchers far more efficiently than in the past.

I say most teams because even today, we see pitchers put into dangerous positions by managers trying to squeeze a little extra value, or who just reject the concept of pitch counts altogether. I was wondering if there is any sort of recurring theme seen in the players who are abused. I’m using Baseball Prospectus’ Pitcher Abuse Points (PAP= (Pitches Thrown-100)^3), and Cot's Baseball Contract’s contract info for the purposes of this inquiry.

1. Edwin Jackson-Diamondbacks/White Sox
Age: 26
ERA: 4.83
xFIP: 4.15
Contract: 2 years/$13.35M (2010-11)
Avg. PPS: 104.087
PAP: 151650

Pitch counts
≤100: 9
101-109: 5
110-121: 7
122-132: 1
≥133: 1

Edwin Jackson acquired many of his abuse points in a misguided effort to allow him to throw a no-hitter where he threw 149 pitches. In fact, 117649 (78%) of them were from one start. Another factor is that Jackson has been traded from the Diamondbacks to the Chicago White Sox, who have an excellent track record of keeping non-Jake Peavy pitchers healthy and effective. It’s no coincidence, as the highest ranked Sox pitcher on the list is John Danks at 32nd. They seem to have no plans to ride Jackson into the ground (95 pitches in each start), as well they should, considering they’ll be paying him $8.35 million in 2011.

2. Justin Verlander-Tigers
Age: 27
ERA: 3.72
xFIP: 4.02
Contract: 5 years/$80M (2010-14)
Avg. PPS: 111.417
PAP: 106506

Pitch counts
≤100: 3
101-109: 3
110-121: 16
122-132: 2
≥133: 0

Considering the outlier no-hitter that put his former teammate Jackson atop the list, it’s safe to say that Justin Verlander is the most frequently abused pitcher in the major leagues. Under manager Jim Leyland, Verlander has ranked 1st in 2009, 4th in 2008, and 9th in 2007 in PAP (side note: Edwin Jackson was 3rd on this list in 2009 playing for Leyland). Verlander is an interesting case also because of his high strikeout and low groundball rates. Because of this, it takes him more pitches to get through innings than most pitchers. However, considering he threw 240 innings in 2009, the manager has to sake a lion’s share of the blame. Considering Verlander will be making $72.75 million over the next four years, they would be wise to protect the very talented Verlander.

3. Ubaldo Jiminez-Rockies
Age: 26
ERA: 2.55
xFIP: 3.84
Contract: 4 years/$10M (2009-12), plus 2013-14 club options ($5.75M, $8M)
Avg. PPS: 107.478
PAP: 103892

Pitch counts
≤100: 7
101-109: 5
110-121: 7
122-132: 4
≥133: 0

Ubaldo Jiminez was baseball’s hottest pitcher early in the season, and many of his high intensity starts were early in the season, when the Rockies were more viable contenders (including a 128 pitch no-hitter, anyone else see a trend here?). However, Ubaldo has thrown 123, 118, and 122 pitches in his last three starts. Jiminez came in 5th in 2009 in PAP, but other than that he has no history of heavy usage. 2009 is also the first year Jim Tracy was the Rockies manager, so it’ll be interesting to see if this trend continues. Considering the value a pitcher like Jiminez could provide over the next four seasons in games that actually mean something, the Rockies would be wise to limit Jiminez’s pitch counts going forward.

4. Roy Halladay- Phillies
Age: 33
ERA: 2.34
xFIP: 2.86
Contract: 15.75M (2010), with 6 million paid by Toronto, 3 years/$60M (2011-13), plus 2014 option ($20M)
Avg. PPS: 109.292
PAP: 88918

Pitch counts
≤100: 6
101-109: 5
110-121: 12
122-132: 1
≥133: 0

Halliday is significantly older than the first three entries on our list. He did throw a no-hitter, but only needed 115 pitches to finish the game. This is Halliday’s first year under Charlie Manuel, but it is clear that Halliday can handle an exceptional workload, ranking 4th in 2009, 3rd in 2008, and 4th in 2007 in PAP. It’s interesting to note that before 2007, Halliday never was in the top 30 in PAP, despite throwing over 220 IP three times. It’s clear that the Blue Jays organization managed his pitch counts well during Roy’s early career. Considering Halliday’s health record, I don’t feel as if the Phillies are going too overboard with their current workload, and being just 2.5 out in the East, and 1 back in the Wild Card, the Phillies are going to have to lean on their ace during the stretch run.

5. Felix Hernandez-Mariners
Age: 24
ERA: 2.81
xFIP: 3.34
Contract: 5 years/$78M (2010-14)
Avg. PPS: 109.36
PAP: 79348

Pitch counts
≤100: 4
101-109: 5
110-121: 14
122-132: 2
≥133: 0

This may be the most egregious offense on this list. Seattle hasn’t even sniffed the AL West title this year, yet for some inexplicable reason, Don Wakamatsu has been abusing the best asset the franchise has (sorry Ichiro, but you’re old) for no reason. Hernandez was only 20th in PAP in 2009, so this is a new phenomenon in the Pacific Northwest. I’m usually under the belief that the impact of a manager is smaller than many perceive it to be, but a manager can do significant damage to a young pitcher if he doesn’t manage his pitch counts well.

John Lackey-Red Sox
Dan Haren- Diamondbacks/Angels
Ryan Dempster-Cubs
Matt Cain-Giants
Jered Weaver-Angels

I think it’s interesting to see how many of the pitchers on this list are not only relatively young, but under contract for giant sums of money. I also find it interesting how many pitchers have been allowed to blow right past pitch count limits because they’re throwing no-hitters. Jackson, Jiminez, and Brandon Morrow (11th in PAP) all risked significant injury in pursuit of a personal accomplishment that, while being impressive, doesn’t mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of baseball history. It’s something we’ve seen 225 times since 1900, and I’ll bet many of you would be hard pressed to name more than 10 players who’ve thrown one.

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