ST. LOUIS – You might be familiar with the Verducci Effect, a theory by preeminent Sports Illustrated scribe Tom Verducci that supposes young pitchers (25 and under) are more susceptible to injury when their workloads increase by 30 innings or more over a previous season.
The theory is imperfect. It’s rudimentary science as it’s built around arbitrary lines. And it’s been disproved to a degree. (Tom, I’m still a huge fan).
We really don’t know much about why pitchers get hurt. But what Verducci gets right is this: too much taxing on young arms can lead to injury. There’s acute injury, where one pitch thrown incorrectly leads to a ligament snapping, and there’s wear-and-tear injuries. I watched Matt Harvey once throw 157 pitches vs. Clemson while he was at North Carolina. When Dylan Bundy‘s ligament snapped I received a text from an Orioles official who noted Bundy once threw 293 pitches during a four-day stretch in high school.
Workload concerns are what led the Nationals to shut down Stephen Strasburg last season at an arbitrary number. A random innings number is why the Marlins limited Jose Fernandez’s work this season.
Sports Illustrated injury expert Will Carroll believes workload is important. But he told me what the Nationals did “wasn’t science” it was pick an arbitrary number. Carroll said we simply don’t know much about why pitchers breakdown.
Searage to Cole today: ‘No pressure kid.’
The Pirates did not set a similarly arbitrary number with Gerrit Cole. We can deduce this.
He’s pitching tonight.
There’s a good chance Cole will reach 200 innings today. He’s thrown 192 1/3 entering today between Triple-A and the majors. It marks a significant jump over the 150 innings he totaled in 2012. It crosses Verducci’s red line.
The Pirates were monitoring Cole’s performance levels this season.
The Pirates were not willing to reveal what hard limits pitches/innings they had set for Cole, which was smart. (The Nationals created a media frenzy by doing so last year).
The Pirates were not willing to reveal the data that goes into that decision. But part of the decision process was old school: it was the eye test.
Pirates officials said the Pirates were monitoring Cole’s performance level, analytically, to indicate if there was encroaching fatigue. . Moreover, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said they were using the old-fashioned eye test.
@BurghFan99 The eye test was a big part of the Cole plan. Cole is passing that with flying colors
— Travis Sawchik (@Sawchik_Trib) September 12, 2013
And Cole has passed the eye test with flying colors: a 5-0, 1.65 ERA record since Sept. 1
*Cole’s fastball velocity average was 95.4 mph on June 28th. It’s 96.1 today. He’s actually become stronger as the season has gone along.
*Cole has been more efficient with pitches as a Pirate than at Triple-A where he was throwing 20 pitches per inning in April and May
*His strikeout rate has soared (10.5 since Sept. 1).
Since we know so little about why pitchers breakdown perhaps Cole is an important case study for baseball: in an age of 21st information the human eye can still tell us a lot as still perhaps a better observer of a pitcher than any spreadsheet data. The human eye can still tell us if a guy is fatiguing or not. And Cole certainly is not. (The human eye can be aided by using PitchFx to monitor changes in delivery that suggest fatigue a tool some teams are using.)
The Pirates let Cole tell them if he was hurting or tiring. And that’s why he has the ball tonight.
SHOULD STARLING MARTE GET THE BILLY HAMILTON TREATMENT?
Look, I’m a believer in Starling Marte.
He’s one of the Pirates’ most valuable assets. But he hasn’t been right since returning from a hand injury. He never got a rehab assignment. He struck out in 11 of 27 at bats since returning in Sept. And he’s combined with Neil Walker for a 1-of-31 batting line in the NLDS.
And tonight is a tough matchup for Marte. Adam Wainwright has a great breaking ball and Marte swings and misses at 43 percent of breaking balls and has trouble identifying them. Jose Tabata is a much better breaking ball hitter.
Hurdle said not to expect any lineup changes tonight but what about ensuring that Marte gets on first base? What about using him like Billy Hamilton, as a mid to late-innings pinch runner who then stays in the game as a defensive replacement.
Yes, it guarantees perhaps only one time for Mate to use his legs on the bases but the way he’s going he might not reach first at all.
Just a thought.
A.J. BURNETT IS UNHAPPY
“He’s a warrior and a competitor,” Ray Searage said. “And he didn’t take it well.”