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.