Friday, July 19, 2013

Are Innings a Concern?

You can't avoid it.  From people harping on how inning limits are an absurd waste of time from other people warning of increased innings on young pitchers leading to worrisome injuries, there is no way to skate past talking about how many innings the young starters are throwing.

For some, the concern is minimal.  After all, Tim Hudson is no longer a young man and being on pace for 198 innings after 179 last year and an average of 208 innings over the last three seasons.  While Hudson is a candidate for an injury, the innings wouldn't likely lead to one anymore than his propensity to suffer oblique injuries would.

Paul Maholm is also not someone we would classify as young, but the 31 year-old is on pace for 197 innings and despite seven full-time seasons in the majors, he has only eclipsed that number once when he threw 206.1 in 2008.  A good portion of that lack of inning-eating seasons could be attributed to coddling in Pittsburgh and a lack of consistent pitching on his case.  Still, it's worth noting that if Maholm throws 197 innings, he will throw 20 more innings than his three-year average.

However, you expect older pitchers relying on location to be able to handle nearly 200 innings.  What about the youngsters?  With that, let's look at the five options.

2013 Pace 3-YR Avg
122 208 175

*Note: 3-year average includes innings from the major leagues, minor leagues, and college ball if applicable.  

Minor has been the most consistent, effective starter for the Braves this season and the Braves will likely need more of that for the rest of the season.  However, the more he succeeds, the more he is likely to pitch deep into ballgames and hit the 200 innings mark for the first time.  His career best was 182.2 ING between Gwinnett and Atlanta during the 2011 campaign.  With the need to secure at least a division title a priority for the Braves, limiting Minor's innings down the stretch will be difficult, probably too difficult to be possible.  With Minor, it's a roll of the dice and see what happens.

2013 Pace 3-YR Avg
113.2 194 87
It's nearly impossible to take much from Medlen's averages.  If you have followed the Braves over the recent history, you are aware that Medlen missed nearly all of 2011 and last year pitched his most professional innings, 151.1 innings while being on a similar limit to Stephen Strasburg.  Medlen would shatter that number this season...if he remains in the starting rotation.  There is a good deal of press lately that Medlen could be headed to the bullpen.  Doing that would likely keep him from even reaching last year's total, a questionable decision considering Medlen's pending second year of arbitration.  Still, this is a fluid situation that could change in the coming days.

2013 Pace 3-YR Avg
113 193 142
Teheran's numbers were mostly from the minors, who have a shorter season and often live and die on pitch counts.  Nevertheless, for someone who has often been labeled as an injury waiting to happen because of questionable mechanics, Teheran has been greatly durable, pitching at least 137 innings between 2010-12 with a career high of 163.1 innings in 2011.  However, like Minor, he is on pace to rush past that number by a wide margin, in his case 30 innings.  Also like Minor, Teheran has been pressed with the job veterans typically are given...going deep into ballgames.  Pitching effectively and efficiently helps.  It's why Teheran averages the same amount of pitches that Medlen and Maholm do and more average pitches per start than Hudson, but averages more innings per start.  These are admittedly small differences, but it helps to tell a story as to why Teheran is getting deeper into his starts.  Despite this, it may be quite important to consider limiting Teheran's innings when possible.  His arm is much younger than that of his teammates that have been the full-time staff to this point.

2013 Pace 3-YR Avg
29 NA 96
Like Medlen, injuries take away most of the value of his three-year average.  He threw a career-high 146.2 innings during his 2011 rookie season, all but five at the major league level.  He was on pace to explode past that before his injury last season.  In 29 minor league innings over two rehab stints this season, Beachy has struggled with his control and there is some worthwhile debate to be had if Beachy will even play a role this season for the big league club.  There is no need for a limit on Beachy's innings, but there's also no need to ready a spot in the majors for him.

2013 Pace 3-YR Avg
79 135 86
Much of the talk lately has involved Wood, who will be stretched out at Gwinnett for a start or two.  This could be posturing, an effort to indicate the Braves willingness to trade Maholm, however Dave O'Brien and others seem convinced that Wood would replace Medlen in the rotation.  I don't really know what I think about when it comes to that move.  I like Wood, especially out of the bullpen.  My feeling is that his future will be there, not as a starter.  And considering that Wood is a year out of college, I am concerned about the innings his left-arm can stand.  However, it should be noted that his combined college and pro ball innings last year was 155 innings.  The Braves likely could be comfortable using Wood in an increased role, provided that his time in the bullpen does help him stay fresh in September.

A lot of the starting pitching decisions won't be related to innings.  At this point, the Braves will dance with the girl they brought.  That includes five relatively youthful arms who haven't come close to touching a full-season workload reserved for front-line starters.  A trade could open up a shot for Beachy or Wood.  Moving Medlen to the bullpen could also help out.  But regardless of what's to come, the effectiveness of the starting pitching late in the season will be something to keep a watchful eye on.  

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