MLB: MAY 01 Angels at RaysOne of the biggest concerns with young starting pitchers is their workload and easing them into a 200-innings pitched season. Whether or not you believe in “The Verducci Effect,” the Rays typically prefer to limit their starting pitchers to a 20% increase in innings from one season to the next. If a pitcher exceeds that mark, they could be at a higher risk for injury or tired arm in the next season.

Last year, there weren’t any major warning signs as three pitchers entered the 2012 season having increased their innings by approximately 20% the season before. And outside of Jeff Niemann’s injury, the starters performed very well.

So let’s take a look at how much the pitcher’s were used in 2012 and if there are any red flags…

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David Price, Matt Moore, and Jeremy Hellickson were consistent from 2011 to 2012 (the lack of playoffs certainly helped) and should be free to throw as many innings as is needed. Chris Archer is not quite green-lighted for 200 innings, but he is close. And both Jeff Niemann and Roberto Hernandez have limits that will be based more on how they rebound from limited workloads a year ago.

But the red flag is obviously Alex Cobb. Joe Maddon says Cobb is “ensconced” in the rotation. But after throwing nearly 50% more innings last year as compared to the year before, you can be certain that the Rays are keeping a close eye on their young pitcher.

The good news is, Cobb is not a max-effort pitcher. That is, he is not a guy throwing 98 and he doesn’t throw a slider. So there might be less strain on his shoulder and elbow than other pitchers. Still, the Rays have plenty of options for the rotation, so don’t be surprised if Cobb is given an occasional breather or even a trip to the DL with a mystery injury.

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16 Comments

  1. Barry LeBrock says:

    Hey - Great work, as always.
    Drop me a note before Cobb's first start -- I will try to use this in the show and give you credit.

    Barry

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  2. Geoff Peterson says:

    Start the year with Niemann at #4 (and Archer at Durham to get starts) and if he struggles, try Hernandez. If that doesn't work, bring up Archer and dump Hernandez and put Niemann in last year's Wade Davis role.

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  3. Mr. Smith 1980 says:

    I see Cobb #4 and Hernandez #5 with a short leash... and, like Prof said, mystery injuries/strains will make Cobb/Hernandez/Archer interchangeable. Niemann to the 'pen for the duration.

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  4. Gus says:

    Having competition in the rotation is a good thing. Wouldn't be shocked to see Joe go 6-man for a few spots in the schedule. I'm more worried about Hellickson than I am about Cobb based on body-type and some of his starts late last season. Will be watching closely (as will Scott Boras). This is the season Hellickson either turns into Greg Maddux or he goes into Kazmir mode, nibbling his way into oblivion.

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    • Mr. Smith 1980 says:

      Hellickson's delivery is free and easy and he repeats it very well... he shouldn't be a major worry in regard to injury. Nibbling may be a legitimate worry, but I wouldn't lose any sleep over Hellickson.

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  5. Dave L says:

    Niemann isnt a guy built for the pen. He doesnt heat up very quickly. In most of his starts he struggles a little in the first inning then settles into a groove and usually is at his best innings 3 to 5. He and Hernandez are starting pitchers not relievers IMO and the Rays will use them as such.

    Hopefully between the 2 of them they can eat up 35 to 45 starts while they go back and forth to the DL with nagging (cough, cough) injuries instead of the real ones that always seem to befall Niemann.

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    • Raysfan137 says:

      Rays don't have the kind of closed mindedness to say a player is or isn't made for the pen or whatever, Dave L. You should know that. They did an experiment with him in the pen in late '10 and it worked very well.

      Learning to change your routine to heat up quicker can be done. Most of these guys were starters either in HS, College or minors, but learned a pen routine.

      I could easily argue that he is not built to be a starter because he is always having back and shoulder issues, that his big body cannot take the grind of starting. His leg issue was a fluke but what a legit injury. But he is always having minor low back and shoulder issues, whether they land him on the DL, or just make him miss a start or come out early. Those are not legit "injuries", but are issues with preparedness or fatigue of pitching so many innings.

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      • Dave L says:

        Well we shall see won't we?

        I like Niemann as a starter when he's healthy but certainly he's the one we would all be the least surprised to end on the DL with legit physical problems. If he can't make at least 20-24 starts this year then I'm with you for next year. He wouldn't have much trade value (doesn't now either) so then we may have to stick him in the pen but do it out of march like with Wade in 2012. Then you can tell me I was wrong.

        I'm willing to give him 1 more year since last year he started out well then the freak ball meets bone, bye bye.

        I just think either Niemann or Fausto will surprise everyone and have a decent to good year. But for me its 50/50 I can't say which one.

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  6. Ricky C says:

    I for one am not for Niemann to the bullpen. He is a true starter to me, and when he is on and not injured can be nearly unhittable. Bullpen pitchers have to have consistency as they never know what situation they are entering. Niemann doesn't have that consistency and sometimes it can take him an inning or so to settle in. Put him in the top 5 and roll with him until he either gets hurt or pitches his way thru the season. If he pitches thru then we have a ridiculously good #5, and if/when he gets hurt well thats why the Rays have depth.

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  7. Alex says:

    Cobb, Niemann, Archer and maybe one other guy will get plenty of innings between dl stints and possible days off etc...Really hoping to see Archer take off and nab a spot in the rotation for good

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  8. Don says:

    Its Nieman's job to lose, he shouldn't lose a starting spot because a line drive broke his leg, No Name and Archer both have a right to compete for his spot, but if they are not Heads above Niemann (hard to do) its not right...
    Of course I'm never right on pitchers, Why corn Cobb took Davis's job with the Rays, I'm still Wondering, maybe we will settle it this year..... corn for the Rays, Davis for KC..see who is the best...

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  9. Burn H. says:

    As I see it Cobb had the third best record with the Ray's Last year. Sheilds is gone, so to me it should be Price, Cobb, Moore, Helli and who ever... It still baffles me why our pitcher with the best record (Edwin Jackson) wasn't on the roster for the 2008 playoffs?

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    • Tom says:

      Jackson had the lowest K rate, worst K to W ratio, and the highest ERA of the starters. He also had the 2nd worst Won/Lost percentage. What record are you referring to?

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  10. Alex says:

    Probably had something to do with his 7.9 era in September and his inconsistency all year. W-L record is not indicative of how good a pitcher is....

    http://espn.go.com/mlb/player/gamelog/_/id/5842/year/2008/edwin-jackson

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