This morning we linked to a story in which we learned that Jim Hickey has ordered the pitching staff to not even touch a baseball until January. Buster Olney references a number of recent teams that made deep October playoff runs and then suffered from a breakdown of the pitching staff the following year. The main concern is a sudden and drastic increase in innings pitched from one season to the next, especially on the arms of young pitchers.

Hickey and Joe Maddon have always been cautious with their pitchers so we decided to take a closer look at how much stress was put on the Rays’ arms this year due to the extra games in October…

A few notes on the above table…

  • The above table only includes pitchers that were significant contributors to the 2008 Rays and figure to be a part of the 2009 roster. All totals include any innings thrown while in the minor leagues or college.
  • The above group increased their total innings pitched by 2.6% from 2007. If JP Howell is removed from the table (used as starting pitcher in ’07), the increase jumps to 8.2%
  • “Stress” is a statistical look at how much stress is put on the arm of a pitcher. The stress is based on the number of pitches thrown during a season after a pitcher has reached 110 pitches in a start. For example, if James Shields throws 115 pitches in a start, 5 pitches are considered stressful. Here is a list of the pitchers with the highest Stress levels in 2008. Nine pitchers had a stress level above 20 during the regular season, and Tim Lincecum led baseball with a 49 Stress level (what the hell the Giants are thinking is beyond us).
  • Only Matt Garza saw an increase in Stress as a result of the postseason. Garza’s Stress increased from 7 to 15 after postseason starts with 116 and 118 pitches. Scott Kazmir was the only other pitcher with a start in the postseason with greater than 110 pitches (111).

As can be seen in the table, the pitcher that should cause the biggest concern for 2009 is Matt Garza with James Shields and Edwin Jackson to a lesser extent. We are not sure how to judge Grant Balfour’s sharp increase as a relief pitcher, but it should not be ignored.

Garza’s Stress level, especially in the postseason, is worrisome. However, he does have a history of high inning totals. In 2005 and 2006, Garza posted innings pitched of 184 and 185.2 respectively. His 213.1 innings this season marks only a 14.9% increase over his previous career high. Shields had the exact same number of innings pitched in the regular season as he did in 2007, so his increase is due completely to the postseason.

As can be seen in the table, a starting pitcher’s Stress shows a strong correlation to the number of starts with at least 110 pitches. We looked back at each of the starting pitcher’s Stress from 2007. As we can see, Garza’s Stress jumped considerably in 2008, from 2 to 15. At the other end of the spectrum, Kazmir’s stress was much higher in 2007. That could explain the struggles that Kazmir experienced most of the season and could lead to a rebound in 2009.

Shields and Andy Sonnanstine were able to post relatively low Stress totals despite an increase in innings pitched. This bodes well for both pitchers moving forward.

The final factor to consider, that is difficult to measure, is the stress of pitching in the postseason. Scott Kazmir (520), Shields (412) and Garza (431) each added at least 400 pitches to their arm in the postseason. Sonnanstine threw an additional 261 pitches. It could be argued that a pitch in the postseason is more taxing on the arm than a pitch during the regular season. In addition to the stress of the postseason, there is also the factor that arms are tired after pitching for 7 months (including spring training). But how much more stressful is an October pitch? Certainly this varies from pitcher to pitcher, but is something that cannot be ignored.

Ultimately, we have to trust that Hickey and Maddon will take all the extra cautions needed this offseason as the pitchers get ready for 2009. But in the end, there are some serious concerns about how effective Garza and Balfour, as well as some of the other pitchers, will be in the coming season.

Rays pitchers told to take it easy this offseason [ESPN]

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