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Jeremy Nygaard

If We Like It, Then We Need to Put a Limit On It.

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At the time of the 2012 draft, a lot was made of the fact the Twins took a number of hard-throwing college relievers. Shortly after that, we found out the plan was to convert these pitchers into starters.

As we approach the stretch-run, some of these ďnewĒ starting pitchers are heading into unchartered waters when it comes to innings. My curiosity got the best of me and I did a little research.
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First, I looked at the 2011 draft class and all of those pitchers that became full-season starting pitchers in 2012. There were five: Madison Boer, Matthew Summers, Steven Gruver, Jason Wheeler and Tim Shibuya. In their finals years of college and first taste of pro ball, these five averaged 135.2 combined innings pitched. The outliers were Jason Wheeler, who didnít pitch professionally, at 103 innings and Tim Shibuya, who pitched 73 2/3 innings for Elizabethton and totaled 184 combined. The other three all fell plus or minus 10 of the average.

Letís fast forward to their first full-seasons in pro ball: Tim Shibuya had shoulder issues which limited him to only 74 innings. (Could that have been a result of the heavy workload the previous year?) Steven Gruver shifted into a swing role and saw his innings drop by 10%.

Matt Summers saw his workload increase by 8% and Madison Boer saw his increase by 11%. Jason Wheeler, who, again, didnít pitch professionally in 2011, saw his innings increase by 52%. But if you figure that he would have gotten around the average of the other guys in E-Town (not considering the overworked Shibuya), it would have put his increase at around 20%.

I also wanted to consider the most recent college-reliever-to-full-season-starter that I could remember: Carlos Gutierrez. Gutierrez pitched a combined 65 2/3 innings in 2008 before seeing his innings increase to 107 (+62%) in 2009 and 126 (+18%) in 2010 before, you guessed it, experiencing arm issues and a move back to the bullpen. Gutierrez was also a first-round pick and a more costly investment. You would think the Twins would have been a little more patient with an arm that had already underwent Tommy John surgery as a collegiate.

Now letís consider last yearís crop. There are four pitchers that fit the criteria: Mason Melotakis, Tyler Duffey, D.J. Baxendale and Taylor Rogers. The average of these four was much different: only 108.7 innings which includes Rogers, who pitched 152 2/3 combined innings, a total that is higher than every non-Shibuyan pitcher mentioned.

Baxendale and Rogers average innings were actually around 140, which is close to the previous yearís study. So the assumption is that their increase would probably go up somewhere between 10% and 20%. That would put Baxendale at between 140 and 150 innings. (Heís at 101 2/3 as of today.) It would put Taylor Rogers somewhere between 170 and 180 innings. Heís only pitched 89 1/3 so far this year after spending some time on the disabled list. (Hmmm... see previous paragraph).

The two that really stand out to me are Mason Melotakis and Tyler Duffery. Mason Melotakis has had a pretty good season starting for Cedar Rapids. But heís eclipsed last seasonís total (86) already and the team still has nearly 40 games to play (plus the playoffs). If Melotakis starts every sixth game for the rest of the season and pitches five innings each start, heís looking at around 120 innings (which is a 40% increase). Not quite in the Gutierrez range, but definitely a large increase.

Tyler Duffey, on the other hand, has already exceeded his total from last year by 52%. If Duffey were shut down today, his workload would be eerily similar to what the Twins did to Carlos Gutierrez. He has adjusted to High-A ball quite well after his promotion from Cedar Rapids, and the Miracle have qualified for the playoffs too.

Continuing to trot him out there every five days could lead to issues down the line. How many more innings can you justify putting on his young arm? All pitchers are different. Some arms are simply more resilient, but when you have a guy who has exceeded expectations like Duffey has, when is it time to go all Stephen Strasburg on him and shut him down? If Duffey were to get to 120 innings in 2013 and increase to 150 in 2014, you can take the reins off of him in 2015.

Maybe thatís being too cautious. If thatís even a real thing with pitchers today.

What are your thoughts, should innings matter? How should the Twins be handling their pitchers at the lower levels?

Comments

  1. YourHouseIsMyHouse's Avatar
    As long as they're not hitting the wall, I'm ok with how they're handled. These guys want to play as much as they can and as long as the medical staff does their job the players should be fine. They just have to look for warning signs like decreasing velocity or complaints of soreness, or something along those lines. The season is long, but I often don't see too many pitchers throwing much more than 5 or 6 innings a start in the minors. It's right to be cautious with potential investments, but when you don't have to, let it play out. Eventually they're going to have to throw that many innings a season anyway. Perhaps it takes less than a few years to get to get to that workload.
  2. SD Buhr's Avatar
    I agree that it's wise to keep a close eye on the pitchers and be cautious about increasing their workload too extremely from one season to the next.

    But I've never understood why the only pitches/innings that matter when people do these statistical comparisons are those thrown during the season. Did these guys play winter ball anywhere? Fall Instructs? What was their workout regimen in the off season? The guys in CR have two bullpen sessions between starts instead of one (because of the 6 man rotation). Don't those pitches count? Are these guys going to pitch anywhere this coming offseason?

    The only thing I know for certain is that I've been told one major reason for the 6 man rotation in CR is to better assure the pitchers can get through the entire season without having to be pulled from the rotation and put in the bullpen to keep their innings from getting too high.
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