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The Bleacher Bums: May 4, 2009 Archive

Too much too soon?

Posted at 8:22 PM on May 4, 2009 by Chris Dall

From the "Don't mention this to Blyleven" file:

Twins fans are pretty familiar with Bert Blyleven's feelings about the state of starting pitching these days. Like many others of his era, Bert feels that starters are babied too much, and that teams put way too much stock in pitch count. And when you consistently watch today's starting pitchers leave after 5 innings because they've already thrown their alloted 100 pitches, it's hard not to agree with him.

Sports Illustrated baseball writer Tom Verducci, meanwhile, has been observing young starting pitchers over the past decade, and has noticed something of a trend. According to what Verducci calls the "unofficial industry standard," starters age 25-and-under whose workload increases by more than 30 innings from one season to the next tend to underperform, or get injured, in the following season. The argument, according to Verducci's sources, is that pitchers have to build arm strength incrementally. Teams that push their young starters, says Verducci, almost always pay a price.

Of the 17 pitchers that Verduccci followed over 2005 and 2006 who fit this criteria, none made it through the next season without getting injured or having a higher ERA. One of those pitchers was Francisco Liriano, whose workload in 2005 increased by 34 innings over his 2004 season. Though Liriano actually threw fewer innings in his breakout 2006 season, it was toward the end of that season that his elbow gave out.

Given the relative youth of the Twins starting pitchers, I thought I'd take a look at who might be Minnesota's candidate for the "Verducci Effect." While most of the starters have steadily increased innings over the past few years, the one who stands out is Glen Perkins, who turned 26 earlier this year. In 2007, Perkins threw a total of 48 innings between his time in the minors and his stint as reliever with the Twins. As a starter with Rochester and with the Twins in 2008, Perkins threw a total of 184.1 innings. If my math is correct, that's an increase of slightly more than 30 innings. And it's still a significant increase over the 126 innings (mostly in the minors) that Perkins threw in 2006.

Because he's now over 25, the rules that Verducci lays out may not apply to Perkins. And so far this season, he's been one of the Twins' better starters. But is that innings increase going to catch up to him? And what would Bert think?

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