JUSTIN VERLANDER’S WORKLOAD MIGHT BE CATCHING UP WITH HIM

Thomas McFeeley, Staff Writer July 3, 2013

With the All-Star break approaching, and the season at its midway point, an interesting exercise is to look at player stats over the last calendar year.  As we sit here today, July 3, I wonder what player stats look like for the “season” since July 3, 2012.

In the offseason we hear so much about strong second halves (and fades as well), but let’s look at a season (roughly) putting last year’s second half and this year’s first half together. When we Scratch the Surface, we’ll surely find something else to explore.

So, I looked at pitchers (perhaps next week we’ll explore hitters). Taking year-to-year statistics (July 2, 2012 to July 1, 2013), I saw the names I expected to see at the top of the list: Felix Hernandez, Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw, Adam Wainwright.  But I noticed something else:  Kershaw has thrown 240 innings since last July 2; Cliff Lee has tallied 247 innings; James Shields has 240 innings.

Counting the post-season, Verlander has thrown over 500 innings since July 2011. Is it catching up to him? Photo credit: lakelandlocal

Counting the post-season, Verlander has thrown over 500 innings since July 2011. Is it catching up to him? Photo credit: lakelandlocal

Now I’m not saying these pitchers can’t handle the almost 250-innings-in-a-year and I’m not saying this generation of pitchers are all wimps and that inning counts shouldn’t matter.  But I scratched a little deeper.

I took all pitchers who have thrown 200 innings in a season since 2000 and sorted them by age: up to age 25; 26-29; and 30 and above. I looked at their ERAs in those seasons. (Scientifically, I should examine their ERAs in the following season as well, but we’re just scratching the surface here.) Now I realize a pitcher who contributes 200 IP is having a good season, or is at the very least a workhorse who keeps him team in the game, so I’m not expecting a significant finding here. But here’s what I found:

Age Avg IP Avg. ERA
Up to 25 215 3.63
26-29 216 3.76
30 and over 217 3.74

So we don’t see much here, other than the very youngest pitchers who manage (and are allowed to pitch) 200 innings have a slightly better ERA.  I also noticed that the 30 and over group, on average, struck out about a half-batter fewer per 9 innings (6.7 batters per nine innings while both other groups where just above 7.2 K/9). Similarly, the old guys walked about a half-batter fewer per nine compared to the 25 and under group (2.43 and 2.92); the middle group walked 2.62 per nine.

This intuitively makes sense, as pitchers both lose speed and arm strength as they age, but also become better control artists. (Remember these are just the 200-plus innings pitchers, not all hurlers).

So, back to the present day. There are 20 pitchers who have logged more than 210 IP over the last calendar year. They are:

Pitcher IP* ERA*
Cliff Lee 247 2.51
Clayton Kershaw 240.2 2.21
James Shields 240.1 3.03
Felix Hernandez 238 2.87
R.A. Dickey 236.1 3.92
Adam Wainwright 227.2 2.65
Justin Masterson 227 4.52
Hiroki Kuroda 224 3.21
Mat Latos 221.2 2.84
Homer Bailey 220.1 3.47
Justin Verlander 219.2 3.15
Jordan Zimmermann 219 2.75
Bronson Arroyo 219 3.45
Matt Cain 214.2 3.69
Derek Holland 214.1 3.78
Doug Fister 214 3.36
Gio Gonzalez 213.2 3.03
Travis Wood 212 3.74
Jon Lester 211.1 4.85
Jeremy Guthrie 211 3.84
Average 3.34

* July 2, 2012 – July 1, 2013

Clearly this is a strong group of pitchers; with a collective 3.34 ERA, they are our calendar-year workhorses and with only a couple of exceptions (Lester, Masterson) they have been fairly consistent performers. This list also serves as a reminder that  Doug Fister, Travis Wood and Jeremy Guthrie have been good for at least a season now.  I was a bit surprised that Mr. Verlander wasn’t even the most pitched Justin in the calendar year.  Who knew?

So I tossed the data a different way. I looked at who has thrown the most pitches in the calendar year. When I did this, Verlander was tops with 3,686 pitches. I won’t list the top 20, as the names are often the same, but those who do appear in the top 20 pitch counts who weren’t in the top 20 IP list:

Pitches (rank) ERA
CJ Wilson 3,681 (4) 4.42
Yovani Gallardo 3,588 (8) 3.99
Lucas Harrell 3,453 (13) 3.90
Yu Darvish 3,397 (16) 3.44
Cole Hamels 3,370 (18) 3.81
AVERAGE 3.91

Here we see a significantly higher group ERA at 3.91 (without Darvish it’s 4.03) which tells us what we inherently knew: more pitches and fewer innings will get you into trouble.  In most cases, these pitchers walked more batters than the other group. Also these pitchers had to pitch out of trouble, adding to those pitch counts.

I took it one step further. I searched the past two calendar years, reaching back into the summer of 2011. I wanted to find those pitchers who have shouldered 400 IP since July 2, 2011.  The list yielded 21 pitchers, and many of the names are familiar.

Pitcher IP ERA
Clayton Kershaw 465.2 2.18
James Shields 465.2 3.30
Justin Verlander 458.2 2.86
R.A. Dickey 455.1 3.22
Felix Hernandez 455.1 3.10
Cliff Lee 447 2.74
Matt Cain 436.2 3.15
Justin Masterson 432.2 4.20
Mat Latos 426.2 3.21
Madison Bumgarner 425.1 3.15
CC Sabathia 424.2 3.48
Cole Hamels 421.1 3.48
Hiroki Kuroda 419.2 3.22
C.J. Wilson 414.2 3.49
Bronson Arroyo 410 3.89
Ervin Santana 407.1 3.82
Homer Bailey 407 3.96
Mark Buerhle 404.2 3.96
Gio Gonzalez 404.1 3.18
Yovani Gallardo 402.2 3.80
Ian Kennedy 402.2 3.98
AVERAGE 3.40

The group ERA over the two-year span is just a bit higher (3.40 vs. 3.32) than the one-year group and only includes three pitchers who were under 25 (Kershaw, Latos and Bumgarner) and eight over the age of 30. However, I did notice that several pitchers who have had an uneven 2013 so far, such as Ian Kennedy, Yovani Gallardo, Mark Buerhle, C.J. Wilson, and Cole Hamels appear on this list.  Verlander turned 30 this year and has appeared to be merely mortal this season. His heavy workload throughout his career and particularly in the last two seasons may just be wearing him down a bit.  (Keep in mind these totals do not include post-season play that would add 49.2 IP to Verlander’s total over the past two seasons.)

In order to qualify for various awards (ERA title, etc.) a pitcher must pitch 162 innings in a season. What’s not on the chart is that over the two-calendar-year period, only 60 pitchers reached 324 IP in our two-year-calendar search, or just two per team. We’re dealing with parts of three different seasons, but only 88 pitchers “qualified” in the 2012 season.

What did we learn? (And how can I use this on my Fantasy team(s)?

We learned that not many pitchers throw 220 innings in a season or 400 over two years, but that’s nothing new. Those that do pitch well for most of the period.

How would I use this information for the second half of the Fantasy season:

  • I would not take Sabathia, Verlander, Shields, or Kuroda in a trade.  While this is generally age based, it’s based on uneven performances so far this year, plus concern for their workload.
  • I would also avoid the “high pitch” foursome  of Wilson, Gallardo, Hamels and Harrell.  They throw more pitches because they allow more runners, often due to control struggles.
  • I would treat Asian pitchers a bit differently. My concern for Kuroda has more to do with his being 38-years=x old than his workload over the past three seasons. In Japan, pitchers generally work to 120 pitch counts rather than the 100 we impose on many starters on MLB.
  • I would look closer at Guthrie, Fister, and Wood; I will continue to recommend Derek Holland, who has been an overrated hurler over the last couple of seasons. I was surprised to see them on the high inning lists and you should give them a bit more legitimacy as well. So if someone offers you CJ Wilson in a deal, maybe ask for the lesser name of Holland. You might even upgrade the deal with a better second player.
  • When preparing for a draft (or evaluating a trade) I would look for pitchers under the age of 30 and I (particularly if they are 23-26) I would make sure they’ve had a good workload in recent seasons. If a pitcher is 24, for example, but pitched only 300 innings over the previous two seasons, I might pass because he doesn’t have enough history behind his potential.
  • When evaluating an over-30 player I would steer clear of those who have pitched more than 200 innings in two consecutive seasons, especially the 220 IP mark, and I would consider post-season innings. You want strong horses for your Fantasy rotation, but I don’t want ones that have run in too many races.

Enjoy your holiday weekend. Celebrate safely, enjoy lots of baseball, and don’t throw too many innings in your family or neighborhood softball game. Justin Verlander you are not.

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