After the World Series last year we expressed our concerns about the stress and length of the 2008 season on the pitching staff and how some of the pitchers might experience a step backwards in 2009. Specifically, we were worried about the number of innings the pitchers threw as compared to the previous year. It has been shown that young pitchers often struggle in a season following one in which they increase their workload by a significant amount.

Here is the original table…

The two pitchers we were most concerned about were Matt Garza and Grant Balfour, both of whom increased their innings pitched by more than 20% over the previous season. We were also concerned about James Shields to a lesser extent as his increase was 11.6%.

Let’s take a look at how each of these three pitchers 2009 stat lines compare to 2008…

On the surface it looks like only Balfour has taken a significant step back this season. Then again, at age 31, The Mad Australian is not that young. Are his struggles this season due to the immense workload of 2007? We can’t rule it out.

As for Garza and Shields, both have comparable numbers to last year. Several indicators are down slightly. The only numbers that really stick out are their tRA’s which are both up about half a run, and Shields’ strikeout-to-walk ratio which is down 30% (although 2.8 is still good).

But if Garza and Shields are suffering from tired arms, then why are they both averaging more innings per start in 2009?

Last season Shields and Garza combined to throw 6 complete games and 4 shutouts. This season, those numbers are zero and zero.

We haven’t seen the 2-hitters. We haven’t seen the 1-hit shutouts. The numbers look the same and their average innings per start are up. So maybe both starters have been more consistent this season, but neither pitcher has been as dominant.

If this season featured a few of those shutdown performances by Shields and Garza, would the Rays be a stronger contender for the playoffs? Absolutely. Can we blame the postseason run in 2008 for the lack of dominance this year? Quite possibly.

The good news is, there is nothing to indicate that either pitcher can’t rebound to their dominating ways in 2010. Of course, in the meantime, we have to continue to watch the 2009 versions underachieve.

 
 

2 Comments

  1. bobrittner says:

    As I recall, you were most concerned about Garza at the time. I think that was warranted and may be validated by his performance this year which has been pretty good but not the step forward we had hoped for.

    On the other hand, I think most of the research has moved beyond pitch counts per se and even PAPs. Many factors are being considered, and not just the individual factors but the way they interact with each other.

    For example, age is an important consideration. Shields should be past the point when the added burden he shouldered ought to have much effect. (On the other hand, Jackson is still in the so-called “injury nexus” age group and seems to have thrived.)

    Another factor considered important is stress, not in the sense you define but as a matter of circumstances. The issue is whether the pitcher is throwing more pitches while trying to protect a 1 run lead or when ahead by 6 runs, for example. In the latter case, it is likely that the extra pitches are far less significant.

    Maddon seems particularly aware of that factor having mentioned that he left a pitcher in a bit longer because he was cruising, while sometimes pulling one early because he was laboring despite his apparent success. That also means watching mechanics very carefully as pitchers tend to alter them when feeling the need to get something extra on the ball to keep a game close.

    It is one of many reasons that fans often jump to conclusions about pitching changes without any real knowledge of the reasoning. They may see a pitcher holding a team to 0 runs through 5 and only having thrown 85 pitches and think the manager is nuts for replacing him. They are not seeing the changes in mechanics or recognizing the extra pressure that pitcher is experiencing which may lead to injury.

    In any case, as you say the performances this year may be due to the jump in innings last, but that conclusion can only be tentative. What we have not seen so far is serious injury which is a good sign at their age.

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