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Twins Daily Roundtable: Romero's Innings

Twins Daily Roundtable is a new weekly series. As part of this series, a question will be posed to the site’s writers and they will respond in 200 words or less (Some writers don’t like to stick to this limit). This will give readers an opportunity to see multiple points of view and then add their own point of view in the comments section.

Baseball has certainly changed over the years. Gone are the days of starting pitchers throwing 220+ innings on a regular basis. In fact during the 2017 season, only 15 MLB pitchers tossed 200 inning or more. Go back 20 years and there were 40 pitchers during the 1997 season to throw 200 innings or more.

Young pitchers like Fernando Romero are another story. No one is expecting Romero to throw 200 innings (at least not yet). In his first big league season, there are questions about how much use the Twins will be able to get out of their rising star.

This week’s roundtable discussion question is: “Should Fernando Romero be on an innings limit, and if so, what should it be? If not, why not?”
Image courtesy of Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
Seth Stohs
In my opinion, along with Jose Berrios, Fernando Romero should be a cornerstone of the Minnesota starting rotation for years to come. So while the concept of limiting innings can be disputed (and has been), my biggest concern is doing what is best for Romero and his future. Therefore, I would be in support of an innings limit for the hard-throwing right-hander.

In 2016, his first season back from Tommy John, he threw 90 1/3 innings between Cedar Rapids and Fort Myers. You can likely add another 20 to 25 innings that he threw in extended spring training before joining the Kernels in mid-May. He spent the 2017 season in Double-A Chattanooga where he threw 125 innings. Late in the season, he was limited to five innings per start. He came up with a 'dead arm' and was skipped in the final start of the season.

If you subscribe to the theory that a 20% increase in workload is where he should be limited, that would be 150 innings. Romero is currently at 62 1/3 innings combined between the Red Wings and Twins. So, maybe a creative DL stint around the All-Star break might be wise. Maybe limiting him to five innings late in the season or piggybacking him with another starter might make sense.

Nick Nelson
Romero's long-term health should be the team's primary concern, so at some point a limit almost has to come into play. I think somewhere in the 150-175 range would be reasonable after he logged 125 in 2017.

One strategy that deserves consideration is giving Romero some time off in the middle of the summer (or maybe a few weeks in the bullpen), thus enabling him to go deeper into the season. But that really only becomes a factor if the team gets on a run pretty quickly here and offers signs that September games will actually matter.

John Bonnes
Yes, he should be. He should not go over 155 innings and shouldn’t make a start once he gets to 150 innings. Romero is at 62 innings so far this year (21 in AAA, 41 in MLB) which leaves him a maximum of 93 innings. Throughout his career, he’s averaged about 5.1 IP per start, so that gets him about 17 starts. That means he would be shut down mid September.

The tougher question is, short of just shelving him late in the season, can the Twins figure out a way to have him available in case those September (or October?) games mean something?

Maybe someone else on the roundtable will have a better idea, but to me the answer is “No.” Screwing around with his work, whether that means skipping starts, moving him to the bullpen, or demoting him to AAA for shorter starts, seems risky considering the long-term upside he represents. Plus, given the Twin are on the outskirts of the division race right now, one could argue these games are far more likely to be valuable than those in September.

So stay the course with Romero. It’s certainly paid off so far.
Tom Froemming
Yes, I do think the Twins should be concerned about Romero's workload, but I don't think he needs an overly restrictive innings limit. I don't think I'd want him throwing more than 180 innings, which is a lot these days anyway. Romero logged 125 innings last season, but really sputtered to the finish line.

I think it'd be a good idea to skip either Romero's last start heading into the All-Star break or first start after the break. I also think the team should use extreme caution if even the smallest issue should come up. With a DL stint being only 10 days now, you can slide him on there and basically use that to skip a start. I'm sure they'll find ways to get creative if they feel he needs some extra rest.

Other than that, let him roll. Maybe he gets hurt, maybe he doesn't, but as long as they're not asking him to throw 120+ pitches or ignoring signs of fatigue, such as a drop in velocity, I think they're doing what's best for him.

Cody Christie
When considering this question, my first thought was to compare Romero to Berrios because those have been the two “big name” pitching prospects to debut over the last couple of years. The more I thought about it, the more I realized this might be a fool’s errand.

These are two different pitchers with two different body types and two different injury histories. Both players are listed at 6-feet tall but Romero has at least 30 pounds more on his frame. Romero has also undergone Tommy John surgery and that plays into the equation as well.

Romero’s innings will most certainly be limited at some point this season. However, the new front office has been utilizing tracking data to analyze pitchers for fatigue. I think it will become clear in the second half as to what the front office plans to do. Minnesota isn’t out of the race but Cleveland could pull away.

Minnesota needs to be smart with Romero because he can’t be on pace for over 250 innings like Max Scherzer.

Jeremy Nygaard
It's always important for an organization to be cognizant of a pitcher's workload. So, simply put, the answer is wrong if you think he shouldn't be on some sort of limit. But does it have to revolve around innings?

Romero threw 90.1 innings in 2016. He increased that total to 125 in 2017. That might be a little misleading, though, because in his recovery from Tommy John surgery, Romero started the 2016 season with seven weeks in extended spring training. Upon closer look, he threw 1245 pitches in those 90.1 innings in 2016 and threw 1991 pitches in those 125 innings in 2017. His innings increased 38%, but his pitches increased almost 60%. So despite not knowing what his actual workloads were, the Twins let Romero throw a significantly higher number of pitches in 2017. If you wanted him to make 32 starts and not increase the number of pitches he'd throw, he'd still be able to throw over 60 pitches a game.

Let's look at how that relates to another young pitcher in the organization, Jose Berrios. Berrios went from 140 inning in 2014 to 166.1 innings to 169.2 innings to 185.1 innings in 2017. Pitch-wise he went from 1450 to 2509 to 2735 to 2942.

For both players, as they've increased in level (and facing better hitters), their pitches per inning has increased, but seem to stabilize just shy of 16 pitches per inning.

Looking at the jump Berrios took in pitches (not innings) from 2015 to 2017, it was an increase of 1285 pitches. I used the increase of two years because it was basically when he went from being limited to being full-go.

If you use that same jump for Romero and divide that number of pitches (1245+1285) by the average pitches per inning (15.74), that puts Romero at about 161 innings before you'd start to get cautious. Of course, that doesn't count the aforementioned work he did in extended spring training. I'd approximate that they could add another 10-15 innings before he hits a hard limit of around 175 innings.

At this point in time - around a third of the season - Romero has thrown only 57.1 innings, which has him on a pace to get around 170 innings without skipping any starts. But his pitch total (994) is over 100 pitches over the normal usage pace. In a season where Romero's health is likely to be more important that a few games in September, I'd err on the side of caution if his pitch total continues to trend higher. Maybe we throw innings out completely and don't let him start any more games after he's thrown his 2500th pitch of the year. That's simple enough, right?

Ted Schwerzler
With regard to Romero and limiting innings this season, I think a good deal of what the Twins should do will be dictated to them by how the rest of the summer plays out. Right now they're a talented team that's severely underperforming. While Cleveland hasn't run away and hid, they are capable of doing that at any point. Should things stay close, the Twins will need to get creative and could skip a few turns for Romero to stretch him out further.

If they fall out of it however, I'd have no problem with shutting him down for September. He threw 125 innings a season ago, and 20% seems to be a healthy increase for this year. If he can get up around 150 innings and is still feeling good, then maybe it becomes more of a touch and feel type of thing. At this point, I don't think much of a rigid plan should be put in place.

SD Buhr
Easy. You add 30 to Fernando Romero’s 125 innings pitched in 2017 and you put a limit of 155 innings this year. That keeps you in compliance with “the Verducci Effect,” which argues that pitchers 25 and under face increased risk of elbow breakdown a year after they increase their workload by 30 or more innings above the previous year.

So, if we don’t want Romero breaking down in 2019, we don’t let him pitch more than 155 innings in 2018. The math is easy. But PLEASE tell me that the past 20 years have brought more science to the issue than can be applied using Tom Verducci’s second grade math.

Last I knew, most teams were using biomechanics compression sleeves to measure pitching arm fatigue on an individual basis. Maybe there’s something newer. Certainly, there is some way to evaluate when a pitcher is entering risky territory that applies a more scientific approach than adding 125 and 30.

So, my answer is, yes, I would limit Romero’s workload this year. But without knowing what the Twins are using to measure his specific level of arm/elbow fatigue, I have no way of knowing where to place that limit.

Andrew Thares
Yes, I believe Fernando Romero should be on an innings (well, workload) limit as he has never pitched more than the 125 innings he did last season. The main thing the Twins need out of Romero is his long-term health after this season.

However, I don’t think the Twins should take the same approach that the Nationals did with Stephen Strasburg a few years back where they rode him all season then shut him down once he hit 160 IP even though they were in the playoff race.

However, as things stand, the Twins might not have to do a lot to limit Romero’s innings. He has only thrown 62 1/3 innings so far this year between AAA and MLB. Say the Twins choose to keep him around 160 total innings, this gives Romero roughly 100 innings to work with.

So far Romero is averaging just over 5 innings per start. If he keeps that pace it will give him another 17-20 starts with which to work with 100 games left in the season. So in reality, all the Twins might have to do is skip a couple of starts here or there for the rest of the season and he should keep his innings low enough for a potential Twins postseason run.

Steve Lein
While I was happily wrong in my preseason forecast on how Fernando Romero might be used when predicting players to make their MLB debut this season, the concerns brought up about how many innings he might be able to pitch are still valid.

Whether you believe innings limits are a thing or not, Romero just hasn’t pitched much as a professional. His 365 and change career innings pales in comparison to someone like Jose Berrios, who pitched nearly 600 innings in the minors alone, along with a career high of 185. Romero got up to 125 before he was shut down last season.

Add in that Berrios is only half of a year older than Romero, and all signs point to Romero being cut off at some point in 2018. I do think he should be on an innings limit due to those reasons and his health history, but where that number should fall I’ll only take a stab at:

I’ll predict that if Romero remains healthy and productive going forward, as soon as he hits around that 125 number from last year, he’s going to get shifted into the bullpen and remain there the rest of the season. Let’s call it a compromise on that preseason prediction.

If you missed any of the previous roundtable discussions, here are the links:
Romero’s Rotation Spot
Top Prospect Timelines
Minnesota’s All-Star Selection
Extension Candidates


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45 Comments

As much as I have read, science does not support or refute innings limits.I truly believe that an injury is just as or more likely in ST than it is in inning 156.I don't know what kind of throwing program pitchers are on pre ST but it feels like they accelerate from throwing 30 pitches to 100 pretty rapidly.  

Throwing over 30 pitches in an inning seems like it would have more detrimental effect than innings or overall pitches. 

One article posited that what pitchers do between innings is very important also. We have all seen Gibson on tv doing all sorts of stretches and exercises to stay loose but I don't see the others do it much. 

I just don't see how shutting someone down for 5 months and then starting them over on building them up over the next 7 months and then repeating is a way to build up innings over a career.I am very much in the camp of watch for fatigue evidenced by smoothness of delivery and velocity.Some pitchers are going to get hurt no matter what and some have been babied their whole life and probably left countless innings wasted in the tank.Blyleven, Ryan and Clemens on pitch or innings limits would have eliminated thousands of innings of HOF production.

    • Steve Lein, Mike Sixel and D.C Twins like this
The rule is a 20% increase now?
I could have swore it was 30%.
If it drops anymore, guys will be getting their senior discount before they get back to full strength from TJ.
His body will tell you when he's had enough, not some arbitrary number.
    • Mike Sixel, Dantes929, IndyTwinsFan and 2 others like this

 

Excellent, and you seem to have a consensus that there should be some limitation.

 

No matter how you decided the innings/pitches question, it is likely he should be shut down at some point later in the season.Considering that Romero is one of their best four pitchers, the bigger question is what to do if the Twins are in the hunt for the playoffs?How do they get him available come October?

That would be a wonderful problem to have for a team currently 6 games under .500

No innings limit, instead we are in such a stat dominated period that we should see when spin rate and velocity take a dive and then we give him a rest.Use the tools not some artificial limit.Is there a difference between 155 and 156 innings?  

    • Dantes929, Tomj14 and D.C Twins like this
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yarnivek1972
Jun 13 2018 09:07 PM

No innings limit, instead we are in such a stat dominated period that we should see when spin rate and velocity take a dive and then we give him a rest. Use the tools not some artificial limit. Is there a difference between 155 and 156 innings?


Um, yeah. 1. Boy, you suck at math.

😉
    • USAFChief, Twins33 and Dantes929 like this

Not all people/arms are the same

 

Not all innings are the same

 

Not all pitchers have the same mix of pitches

 

Not all pitches stress the arm the same 

 

Ergo, innings limitations are ridiculous. 

 

Pitchers need to be followed closely for the earliest signs of fatigue (drop in velocity, change in mechanics, even small amounts of pain in the pitching elbow/shoulder, loss of control) and shut down quickly at the earliest warning signs. 

 

"sabermetrics" will catch up to this in the near future and there will be intricate algorithms to dictate these decisions .

    • Dantes929 and 70charger like this

We keep talking about "when Santana comes back" but do we even know that will actually happen before the season is over? I mean, it's mid-June already and there ain't much time left! If Santana's rehab resumes again, what's the new timeline for his return?

    • 70charger likes this

 

No innings limit, instead we are in such a stat dominated period that we should see when spin rate and velocity take a dive and then we give him a rest.Use the tools not some artificial limit.Is there a difference between 155 and 156 innings?  

I would hope the coaches and the pitchers themselves are also in tune with the effort it takes to achieve those stats. Effort instead of mechanics should be monitored by observation. When guys start getting tired smoothness leaves and is replaced by effort. 

    • mikelink45 likes this
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diehardtwinsfan
Jun 14 2018 08:35 AM

Considering that Romero had issues last year, I'd say it's safe to say that even if the Verducci effect is garbage, Romero certainly has issues with fatigue that need to be planned for. Once it's there, he's going to need a DL and it's quite possible the pen won't fix it.

 

I guess my position is why not just go to a 6 man rotation at some point when Erv, May, or Gonsaves are ready. That would effectively put him on a limit without forcing the pen to consistently cover 4 innings. It might mean not carrying 20 relievers on the roster though.

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yarnivek1972
Jun 14 2018 08:58 AM
How does a 6 man rotation change the number of relievers the team needs?

The Twins are carrying 8 now. If they carry 6 starters too that leaves 2 bench players. A catcher and ??
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Brock Beauchamp
Jun 14 2018 09:03 AM

 

AFAIK there is no reliable data indicating some specific increase in innings year to year leads to injury. “The Verducci Effect” is sloppy science at best. There is no reason to set an innings limit today. If at some point he is fatigued, rest him. Let Romero, the pitching coach, and the medical staff determine that, if/when necessary.

Pitchers are at risk for injury. All of them, every time they pitch. Pitch them when they’re healthy. They’re of no use if they can’t pitch, and resting him in 2018 does little or nothing to help 2019, IMO.

I mostly agree with this but I'd still try to work in some breaks around the ASG out of caution.

 

Because if his arm fatigues in September and the Twins have climbed back into this thing, it will really hurt to remove Romero from the stretch run and possibly the postseason.

 

Two or three games skipped in July and August could be important insurance for September and October.

 

You don't even have to skip that many starts, in all likelihood. If you use creative off-day management and the ASG, you can probably push out his starts to 7-9 days a couple of times, effectively skipping one start.

I mostly agree with this but I'd still try to work in some breaks around the ASG out of caution.
 
Because if his arm fatigues in September and the Twins have climbed back into this thing, it will really hurt to remove Romero from the stretch run and possibly the postseason.
 
Two or three games skipped in July and August could be important insurance for September and October.
 
You don't even have to skip that many starts, in all likelihood. If you use creative off-day management and the ASG, you can probably push out his starts to 7-9 days a couple of times, effectively skipping one start.


Aren't they more likely to be in it, if he pitches in July? If not, does it matter they saved him?
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Brock Beauchamp
Jun 14 2018 10:27 AM

Aren't they more likely to be in it, if he pitches in July? If not, does it matter they saved him?

Sure, but that’s a gamble you’re going to take either way and I’d like to protect any postseason performance more than a couple of mid season starts.

I think it's reasonable to consider a limit, based on innings, pitches, etc. And I think the Twins management will be thoughtful about it.

 

I wonder if it would be better to space things out so that he's pitching late in the year, though, to get him used to the length of the MLB season, even while he's building up to the innings? Is there value in giving him a little extra rest in July/August (skipping his turn in the rotation while still having him do his regular work) and having him actually pitching later in the year just to try and acclimate him to the length of the season while trying to not overstress the arm.

 

I doubt there's any good data on this yet, and you know what they say: it's better to read the case study than be the case study...

 

Pitchers need to be followed closely for the earliest signs of fatigue (drop in velocity, change in mechanics, even small amounts of pain in the pitching elbow/shoulder, loss of control) and shut down quickly at the earliest warning signs. 

Not to pick on you specifically, but for everyone in the "shut down at signs of fatigue" crowd, at what threshold should Romero be shut down? I mean, should he be shut down right now? If you look at his Pitch FX splits between May and June, it is pretty clear that compared to May:

- His fastball/sinker are both about 1MPH slower

- His changeup is about 1.5MPH slower

- His slider is breaking less

- His sinker is sinking less

- His changeup is flatter

None of these changes are very big, but they all point in the same direction - Romero's stuff is getting worse. Is it a sign of fatique/injury, or just normal seasonal wear-and-tear?

 

Any shutdown criteria involving abrupt changes in performance or mechanics is, in my opinion, too late; by that point the injury has already occurred. Noticeable changes to mechanics or velocity drops are trailing indicators - the arm/shoulder damage has already reached a point that the players performance is significantly effected. A lot of the early fatigue that pitchers deal with is not outwardly observable - the internal wear, tear and weakness on joints, muscles, ligaments and tendons all through the arm and shoulder.

 

This is why I prefer the idea of innings and pitch limits. While these artificial limits may be arbitrary in many ways, at least it is an objective measure. Trying to make judgments about "fatigue" is way more subjective - and often requires the honesty of a competitive athlete who has little incentive to be shut down. And additionally, at a certain level we understand that the act of pitching is a damaging to the human arm/shoulder. Putting limits along every usage axis - pitches/inning, pitches/game, innings/game, days between starts, innings/season, etc - provides a concrete and objective way to ensure there is rest/recovery time.

I'm confused about something.During a game it's the number of pitches thrown that matters.Why is it that for an entire season it's the number of innings thrown.What's worse on a pitcher's arm-throwing 100 pitches in 5 innings or 100 pitches in 9 innings?

    • nicksaviking likes this

I'm confused about something. During a game it's the number of pitches thrown that matters. Why is it that for an entire season it's the number of innings thrown. What's worse on a pitcher's arm-throwing 100 pitches in 5 innings or 100 pitches in 9 innings?


It's all kind of arbitrary and silly, no?

Why don't we count warm up pitches toward their pitch count between innings? Or pitches in the bullpen before the game?
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yarnivek1972
Jun 15 2018 02:35 PM

It's all kind of arbitrary and silly, no?

Why don't we count warm up pitches toward their pitch count between innings? Or pitches in the bullpen before the game?


The number of pitches between innings is 8. Not sure if that is also before the first or not. Pitches thrown by the starter are going to be the same every start. Maybe not for each individual, but I would guess simillar total number depending on their repertoire and their experience. But certainly every starter will stick to pretty close to the exact same routine every time out. You can be certain those throws are dutifully monitored and logged.

I'm pretty sure that Romero has already used 2018 as an option year, meaning there's no downside, option-wise, to sending him up and down on the shuttle. So, rather than faking a DL stint, which is pretty shady, they can send him to whichever minors team is out of the running and have him rest a bit before coming back up. Maybe make two-inning start or two to stay sharp.

 

Also, I'd be interested to see something like a piggyback situation if they want to limit innings or pitches but don't want to go to a six-man rotation. Could we bring up Slegers and have him pitch a "normal" game after Romero has gone through the lineup once? Mejia could work too, and he's already got a history of short outings in the majors, so a piggyback situation could be a win-win there. Given the bullpen struggles of late, it could be a win-win-win.

 

In any case, based on what happened to Romero in the minors last year, I think fatigue is most likely coming, and it's possible that he hits a wall at some point like he did last year. If he does, you shut him down. Before that would happen, if at all possible, I think you give him minor league rest time or limit his use via piggybacking to avoid him hitting a wall at all, at least before rosters expand. 

I'm pretty sure that Romero has already used 2018 as an option year, meaning there's no downside, option-wise, to sending him up and down on the shuttle.


Correct. Romero has already burned his first 2 option years, 2017 and 2018.

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