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2001 Pitch Counts Followup

Publication Date: July 9, 2002

A Few Case Studies

Last November, I took a first look at something that I perceived to be a major problem within the game of college baseball -- the subject of pitcher usage patterns. At that point, all I could do was to look and see if top college pitchers, loosely defined, were carrying workloads that most of the baseball research world would consider to be excessive, and I certainly found that they were. I've since sharpened my data collection tools and developed the pitch count estimator, so this year I'm going to be able to be a lot more thorough in producing data, but before I publish this year's data next week, I wanted to take a look at the pitchers that I examined last year to see how they had done since then.

This should not yet be mistaken for science. While it's obvious that college pitchers throw pitch counts that make anyone who's ever looked at the issue shudder, there's just not sufficient data available to be able to tell if those workloads result in increased injury rates later, which is the point of the whole exercise. There could be something about the college environment -- easier hitters, longer rest between starts, aluminum bats -- that changes the effects of what's acceptable; we just don't know for sure yet. What I've done this year (I have pitching lines for roughly 80% of all college games this year and may be able to go higher before it's over with, so that's going to provide a large fund of data) will be the beginning of a scientific approach to the problem; what I have from last year is, depending on how charitable you're feeling, a collection of case studies or a collection of anecdotes.

Information on minor league injuries can be hard to find in real-time and is currently almost impossible to find more than a year or two after the fact, so I'm trying to keep as much of an eye on these guys as I can. This will be the hard part of studying the issue in the long run -- when guys disappear, knowing whether it was due to injury or ineffectiveness will be an interesting question (another interesting question will be whether it matters, since knowing that greater success regardless of health was a result of lighter workloads would also be useful). First off, here's the list from last year's report:

Pitcher                  School                       PAP

Baugh, Kenny             Rice                      550383
Montrenes, Pete          Mississippi               390723
Switzer, Jon             Arizona State             265076
Mestepey, Lane           Louisiana State           178046
Prior, Mark              Southern California       149549
Pope, Justin             Central Florida           103285
Ungs, Nic                Northern Iowa              89248
Currier, Rik             Southern California        83894
Heilman, Aaron           Notre Dame                 74953
Skaggs, Jon              Rice                       74740
Arnold, Jason            Central Florida            10989
Paz, Matt                Long Beach State            8562
Speigner, Levale         Auburn                      5284

The PAP column is their PAP3 score; see the original article for explanation -- higher is worse.

Kenny Baugh could almost serve as a poster child for pitcher abuse these days. After being a high draft choice by the Tigers in part due to the guts he showed in his 171-pitch outing against Nebraska last year, he managed a few starts in the minors before being shut down early as a precaution by the Tigers. He then felt twinges in his shoulder the first time he threw in spring training this year and has never seen game action this season. He had surgery a few weeks ago and will lose the year. Because shoulders are less reliably repairable these days than elbows, his future has to be a bit worrisome.

Well, Pete Montrenes has not had an overt injury problem. Every thing else is odd, though. He returned to Ole Miss for his senior year after not being drafted as high as he had hoped last year. His numbers for this season were not nearly as good as last year, and he was an even lower draft choice this time. A day or two after reporting to his short-season team, he walked away from the team and, apparently, the game. Whether any of this can be attributed to workload, of course, is even less certain than usual, given the unusualness of the situation.

Jon Switzer has had no problems that I know of -- he's had 17 starts in High A ball in the Devil Rays' system with average success -- a 4.47 ERA.

Lane Mestepey is, possibly, a good example right now of the long-term potential for damage. Mestepey, who was a freshman last year when he carried that outrageous workload, pitched through his sophomore year at LSU with a good bit of success. He was, if anything, even more effective than last year, and his pitch counts actually dropped a good bit. That's not because of any change in coaching philosophy, but because he fine-tuned his style to the point where he was throwing low pitch counts despite throwing high inning totals -- the 97-pitch complete game masterpiece against Auburn in the SEC tournament was a good example. He did go too high a couple of times this year, but in general his report next week will look better than the one from last year, I suspect. Then, after the season ended, he had shoulder surgery and will most likely miss all of the 2003 season.

Mark Prior spent the rest of the year last year negotiating his contract with the Cubs. He then spent around a month in the minors before moving to the big leagues with much fanfare and quite a bit of success -- he's sitting at a below-league-average 3.98 ERA right now. He's had no arm problems at all, as far as I know.

Justin Pope has managed only three appearances this year and has spent time on the DL; I'm not sure what the injury was or whether he's had season-ending surgery.

Nic Ungs has pitched well this year with no problems that I know of and has earned a promotion from Low A to High A within the Marlins' organization.

Rik Currier has pitched only in relief this year and has only gotten into seven games, but I'm not sure why. I can't find any record of DL time.

Aaron Heilman has pitched well (17 games, 3.82 ERA, 96.2 IP) in the Mets' organization this year with no problems.

Jon Skaggs has not pitched this year due to injury.

Jason Arnold, who was the first of the guys on the list that I would consider to have been handled acceptably gently, has pitched very well. He threw a no-hitter and was generally untouchable in the New York-Penn League last year, although he was shut down early as a precaution. This year, he's been very good at two levels in the Yankees' system and was recently considered a good enough prospect to be part of a trade package.

Matt Paz is a good counter-example. He was handled well last year (I have no idea about his workload before this or in high school), but still was lost for the 2002 season due to pre-season surgery.

Finally, Levale Speigner returned for another season at Auburn but had effectiveness problems, with his ERA rising from 3.49 in 2001 to 4.92 in 2002.

There are no conclusive trends here, given the size of the groups involved. I see worrisome patterns, but I suspect that someone with opposing biases would tend to see different things. Next week, I'll start unloading all the data I can find in the hopes of tracking things for the future.

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Boyd's World-> Breadcrumbs Back to Omaha-> 2001 Pitch Counts Followup About the author, Boyd Nation