For the past couple of seasons, Sports Illustrated’s excellent Tom Verducci has written a pre-season article concerning the “Year-After Effect”, which has since been named the Verducci Effect. This link, contains the 2012 version of Verducci’s list, which was published all the way back in mid-January. This type of thinking is especially important when we consider innings caps for young pitchers, as evidenced by the recent shut downs of Stephen Strasburg, Jeff Samardzija, and others.
Basically Verducci tries to highlight young pitchers who have seen a considerable increase in their workloads from one season to the next. It’s interesting research mostly because it attempts to spotlight at-risk pitchers, ones who may see a substantial increase in ERA at best, and ones who may become injured at worst.
As Verducci himself explains:
“For more than a decade I’ve been tracking this price, which I call the Year After Effect, and which some places, including internal metrics used by at least one organization, referred to as the Verducci Effect. I began tracking it because Rick Peterson, when entrusted as the Oakland pitching coach with the golden arms of Barry Zito, Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder, believed in managing the innings for a pitcher from one year to the next. Too big a jump for too young a pitcher would put a pitcher at risk the next season for injury or regression.
From his philosophy I used a rule of thumb to track pitchers at risk: Any 25-and-under pitcher who increased his innings by 30 or more I considered to be at risk. (In some cases, to account for those coming off injuries or a change in roles, I used the previous innings high regardless of when it occurred.) I also considered only those pitchers who reached the major leagues. Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik, for instance, agrees that major league innings create more stress than minor league innings, so the effect is more profound.
The Effect has become easy to see over the years. In just the past six years, for instance, I flagged 55 pitchers at risk for an injury or regression based on their workload in the previous season. Forty-six of them, or 84 percent, did get hurt or post a worse ERA in the Year After.”
So Verducci’s obviously on to something I would think, because in the past he’s been pretty adept at picking out pitchers who are at risk for injury or regression. But some statistical analysis has actually said that Verducci’s effect is mostly a hoax, that it doesn’t do a very good job of predicting injuries or regression for that matter. I tend to disagree, with those sabermatricians and side with Verducci, because it’s pretty easy to see the correlation between the large inning increases that many young pitchers go through and the negative effect that heavier workload can have the following season.
This season Verducci highlighted 14 pitchers he felt were at risk for regression or worse, and I want to take a look at each case and decide if Verducci was spot on in 2012 or not. Let’s break down the pitchers (number in parenthesis indicates the increase in innings from 2010 to 2011) :
Derek Holland, Texas Rangers (+71.1)
No pitcher in baseball had a bigger jump in innings pitched than the Dutch Oven did from 2010 to 2011, increasing his work load by 71.1 innings. This year he’s struggled to stay on the field a bit, hitting the DL for about a month from June to July with shoulder soreness. He’s also seen a bit of regression in his performance going from a 16-5 record with a 3.95 ERA (112 ERA+) to a 10-6 record with a 4.79 ERA (94 ERA+). On the surface that looks to be a decent amount of regression, but when you consider the fact that Holland has cut down his hits and walks while maintaining about the same K rate, things don’t look so bad. He did hit the DL however, so the point goes to Verducci on this one.
Jaime Garcia, St. Louis Cardinals (+57)
Garcia saw a 57 inning increase in his workload from 2010 to 2011, and the effects in 2012 have been somewhat disastrous. He hit the DL on June 7th this year after straining his pitching shoulder, often a symptom of an overworked pitcher, and didn’t return until August 19th. More disturbingly is the fact that his velocity on a majority of his pitches has dropped 1 mph While that doesn’t seem like much, ask Tim Lincecum what happens when you lose a little bit of speed on you heater. Overall his ERA is up nearly a run and he’s allowing more hits this season than at any other point in his career. 2-2 for the Verducci Effect.
Yovani Gallardo, Milwaukee Brewers (+41.1)
The Milwaukee ace is one of the pitchers on the list to exhibit no real signs of arm stress or a drop of in performance. His 2012 performance thus far (14-8, 3.76 ERA, 109 ERA+, 9.1 K/9, 179.1 inn) has been almost identical to what he posted in 2011 (17-10, 3.52 ERA, 112 ERA+, 9.0 K/9, 207.1 inn). Gallardo needs just 5.2 innings to reach 185 for the 4th consecutive season, and is one of just 11 pitchers who have thrown at least 175 innings in each of the last 4 campaigns. And the best news if you’re a Brewers fan – Gallardo the 2nd youngest player in the group.
Daniel Hudson, Arizona Diamondbacks (+38.2)
Hudson paid the price this season for his jump in innings in 2011, hitting the DL in May before tearing the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow in June, which required Tommy John surgery in July. Hudson’s performance this season had been rather ghastly, due to his 7.36 ERA (59 ERA+). Hudson’s breaking pitches were flat for most of his 9 starts which allowed opposing hitters to tee off, averaging 12.3 hits per 9 innings off of the Diamondback’s righty. It’s difficult to if the injury may have been caused by a large innings jump the year before, but with cases like Hudson’s out there, it makes it easier to accept the Stephen Strasburg decision.
Jeremy Hellickson, Tampa Bay Rays (+37.1)
The Tampa Bay Rays have been very aggressive in the Joe Maddon-era with their young pitchers, allowing them to learn how to last deep into games as a starter. Hellickson is the latest example, and he’s having success getting hitters out once again in 2012. His pitching stats (3.33 ERA, 112 ERA+, 5.8 K/9) are solidly above average, and he’s actually gotten better as the season’s progressed. Hellickson is allowing a higher BABIP (batting average on balls in play) this season, typical for someone who allowed the lowest in baseball a year ago, which is why his ERA has risen a bit. This isn’t anything to worry about however, just normal regression. Besides, Hellickson still has the 4th lowest in the league, in large part because he’s excellent at locating his change-up down in the zone.
Matt Harrison, Texas Rangers (+36.1)
Harrison has been the Rangers best starter this season, offsetting the decline in performance from Holland by posting All-Star numbers himself. He’s 15-9 with a 3.37 ERA (134 ERA+), while striking out 5.5 batters per 9 innings in 179 total innings pitched. The Texas righty is one of the biggest pitchers on this list as well, coming in at 6’4″ and 240 pounds, which allows for less stress on the arm. As long as he continues to stay healthy and pitch well, Harrison will be an excellent #2 or #3 starter for the Rangers.
Dylan Axelrod, Chicago White Sox (+60)
Axelrod has actually spent most of his career in the minor leagues, appearing in just 16 major league games while making 10 starts. He’s been just meh in the Majors thus far, posting a mid-4.00 ERA while exhibiting some issues with his command. The White Sox have bounced Axelrod up and down this season, and at age-26, they need to find a role for him on the big league club to see what he has got.
Liam Hendriks, Minnesota Twins (+54)
Hendriks, the 22-year-old native of Australia, just may not be cut out for the big leagues, and that’s putting it nicely. He was roughed up in his four September starts a year ago, posting an ERA north of 6.00, and in his 12 starts this year it’s been more of the same. He’s now 0-9 in his 16 career starts while throwing just 3 quality outings. Still, Hendriks is just 22 and has posted above average numbers at every stop in his minor league career so maybe a turnaround is coming, but he starts pitching better, Minnesota would be wise to look elsewhere.
Eric Surkamp, San Francisco Giants (+44)
Surkamp is a name that isn’t on the radar of most casual baseball fans, mostly because he’s made 6 total starts above Double-A in his career, all of which came for San Francisco last year. Surkamp is another cautionary tale of pushing a pitcher too hard, and he had to have Tommy John surgery this July after missing the entirety of the first half.
Chris Schwinden, then- New York Mets; now- Minnesota Twins (+43)
Schwinden is another name that casual fans will struggle to recognize, and that’s because he may not have the stuff to stay at the big league level. He hasn’t posted an ERA under 3.60 since 2009 at any level, and his 7 appearances in the Majors have been rough to say the least. He’s posted a 6.98 in 29.2 career innings while being beaten like pinata for 38 hits and 9 walks compared to just 18 strikeouts. Schwinden has been bouncing around the minors like a hot cake this season, pitching for 5 separate organizations this year. Moving on, nothing to see here folks.
Nathan Eovaldi, then- Los Angeles Dodgers; now- Miami Marlins (+39.1)
Eovaldi was one of the key pieces sent to Miami in exchange for Hanley Ramirez, and thus far the 22-year-old has been a slight disappointment. He’s posted a 4.85 ERA with the Marlins, and his overall stat line on the season (4-11, 4.44 ERA, 88 ERA+, 5.2 K/9, 1.584 WHIP) is below average at the Major League level. The good news is that the young Eovaldi has stayed healthy thus far in his career, and that he isn’t showing any ill effects from his previous workloads.
Mike Leake, Cincinnati Reds (+36.2)
The 2010 first round draft pick for Cincinnati, Mike Leake, has seen his performance fall of slightly (his ERA is up nearly a run) despite the fact that many of his peripheral stats are almost identical to his 2011 campaign. Leake is allowing 2 walks per 9 innings while striking out 6.1 per 9, both of which are right around his career norm. The righty out of Arizona State University has proven himself to be fairly durable, throwing 160 innings thus far with 22 games plus the playoffs remaining. It’s conceivable that he finishes somewhere in the 180 range in innings pitched, which would be a moderate jump from the 167.1 he threw a year ago. Credit goes to the Cincinnati coaching staff and front office for maintaining such a regimented workload increase over the course of Leake’s 3 year career. It seems to be paying off.
Michael Pineda, New York Yankees (+31.2)
Pineda was lost for the season in Spring Training due to Tommy John surgery after having a fantastic freshman campaign that saw him throw 171 innings in Seattle while making the All-Star team. Pineda was a strikeout machine as a rookie, posting an elite K rate (just over 9 whiffs per 9 innings) while exhibiting excellent skills at keeping runners off the bases. His average fastball was routinely clocked above 97 mph, which more than likely puts quite a bit of stress on the elbow. Pineda is probably a solid comparison to Strasburg, because of his flame-throwing demeanor and similar size (Pineda’s a bit bigger at 6’7″, 265), so it’s not surprising he also required Tommy John. Here’s to a full recovery in 2013, because the 23-year-old is exhilarating to watch when he’s dialed in on the mound.
Zach Stewart, then- Chicago White Sox; now- Boston Red Sox (+31.2)
Stewart was one of the prizes in the Kevin Youkilis trade but he’s hardly been seen in Boston, since he was farmed out to Pawtucket almost immediately. Stewart hasn’t had any arm trouble in his career, but he also hasn’t had too much success in the big leagues. Thus far he’s thrown 100.1 innings (all but 3 in Chicago) and has a 6.55 ERA (67 ERA+) while posting a WHIP of 1.625. That’s not exactly going to cut it in the Majors, so if Stewart wants another shot, he’s going to have to improve.
Overall Verducci’s Year-After Effect has done a solid job of spotlighting players who may be at risk for injury or regression. Five of the fourteen pitchers listed above have hit the DL for an extended period of time this season, and three of those hurlers have had to go under the knife for Tommy John surgery. Only Harrison, Gallardo, and Hellickson appear to be thriving at the big league level despite their increase in innings from the previous year. The remaining 6 pitchers have either seen a decrease in performance or aren’t up to snuff yet. The Verducci Effect needs to be taken seriously an should not be ignored, because even though it isn’t always right, it does a solid job flagging pitchers who are at risk.