In an interview with Tom Verducci, Houston Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said,“I think the most important thing to remember is that there is no silver bullet. Every pitcher is unique.”
The two were discussing Verducci’s year after effect theory. For many years, Verducci has observed how major league baseball teams manage young pitchers as they bloom into big league products. He has discovered a trend that could affect the Chicago White Sox‘ Reynaldo Lopez in 2017.
Verducci’s hypothesis is that pitchers who increase their innings by 30 percent or more in a year are at exponentially higher risk of injury the following season – and he has empirical evidence to support his claim.
Jesse Hahn, Rubby De La Rosa, Daniel Norris, Yordano Ventura and Marcus Stroman all increased their innings totals by 34 to 58 percent in 2014 and spent time on the disabled list in 2015. Astros prospect Lance McCullers increased his innings total in 2015 by 56.7 percent and was shut down in early August of 2016 with right elbow discomfort missing the rest of the season. This was after the right-hander complained of shoulder soreness in mid-March.
Steven Strasburg has struggled with the same puzzling balance since 2014 when he peaked at 215 innings. Since 2015, Strasburg has dealt with a host of injuries that have undermined his velocity and diminished his effectiveness. In fact, since that season the once heralded hurler has not reached 150 innings in a season.
Innings limits and pitch counts have found renewed validity with pitchers pushing velocity higher while increasing strain on the shoulder and elbow joints. Yet there is no magic remedy or formula for avoiding injuries. As Luhnow said, every pitcher is unique.
And now Verducci has identified Lopez as the pitcher with the highest percentage increase in innings. The White Sox hope this is not the kiss of death since Lopez is new to the south side and expectations are incredibly high for the right-hander, but physics is not on his side.
Verducci highlighted Noah Syndergaard as another example, except one that demonstrates the other side of the coin. Syndergaard also increased his innings total at a rapid pace as he became a stalwart in the New York Mets rotation, but he has not spent time on the DL.
Why? Because Syndergaard is 6-feet 6-inches tall and 240 pounds. His body is built to handle the stress, unlike Lopez who keeps pace with Syndergaard’s fastball but weighs in at a scrawny 6-feet tall and 185 pounds.
Verducci puts Lopez at the top of his list of pitchers that made significant increases in innings pitched in 2016. Lopez pitched 56.9 percent more innings in 2016 than in the previous season and given the trend Verducci has underscored in years past, Don Cooper would be wise to watch the flame-thrower very carefully as they get to know one another.