Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Are Innings a Concern - Revisited

Way the hell back on July 19th, I posted a blog talking about whether or not innings are a concern entering the second half.  At the time, Atlanta had a six game lead in the NL East and their record of 54-41 was just four games off the pace for the best record in the National League.  It was a promising first half and the rotation played a significant role in that.  For the most part, they had five healthy starters - including two veterans - and a young lefthander and a returning stud (in more ways than one, ladies).  The depth was enviable, especially as teams scrambled to fill out their rotation.

However, a possible issue was developing.  While there's no hard rule available, teams keep track of how many innings a pitcher logs compared to his recent history.  Some like pitchers who are 25-and-under to avoid pitching more than 30 innings vs. their previous season.  For example, if pitcher A throws 155 innings in 2012, you would like to see him throw no more than 185 the following year.  While rarely clubs employ a strategy that includes shutting down a pitcher when he hits his innings limit, clubs can use the number as a goal to try to aim for.

For Atlanta, with a rotation that currently includes four starters who are 25-and-younger, keeping an eye on innings could be important in a pair of ways.  First, the Braves badly will need their starters to be good in October.  Losing effectiveness at the wrong time could be catastrophic to the Braves' hopes of winning their first Championship since 1995.  Also, the Braves are built for the long-term.  While winning this year is the most important thing, keeping an eye on the next two-to-three seasons is a must.

With that in mind, let's go over the four youngsters.  In addition, I'm including one because his assorted injuries have limited his innings thus far.  On the other hand, I'm not going to include Paul Maholm because he's older.  When I did this column a month ago, I including a three-year average. I will continue to do that, but I think last year's innings total are more important so I'm adding that along with a new innings pace to compare with where they were a month ago.

2013 7/19 Pace 8/20 Pace 2012 3-YR Avg
158.2 208 207 179.1 175
Despite a rough start Saturday against the Nationals, Minor has consistently put up big inning outings.  In fact, the marathon outing was just the second time this season Minor has failed to pitch at least six innings and the first time since April 10th.  For the record, he logged 5.2 ING that day.  Hopefully, Saturday was a product of an iffy start time because of monsoon season.  Still, the Braves may want to see if they can limit him down the stretch.  If he's laboring badly like he was Saturday, give him a quick hook.  Let him start anew the next time out.  Either way, you'd like if he was reaching 200 innings and higher in the postseason rather the last week or two of the regular season.

2013 7/19 Pace 8/20 Pace 2012 3-YR Avg
148 194 193 151.1 87

Unlike the rest of the pitchers in the current staff, Medlen is above 25 as this is his age 27 season.  However, I include him because his arm has never had to shoulder close to this much of a load.  Until 2008, he was a reliever and just set his personal high in innings last year.  He should pass that high in his next start (if not next extra inning relief appearance).  What complicates issues is that Medlen has struggled to regain his 2012 form and with the injury to Tim Hudson, Atlanta has a team-wide competition for the playoff slots behind Minor.  Medlen had a pair of good starts before coming out of the bullpen on Saturday and is scheduled to take the ball Friday against the Cardinals, which could be a tough match-up.

2013 7/19 Pace 8/20 Pace 2012 3-YR Avg
149 193 195 164.1 142
The Braves have done a fairly good job limiting Teheran's innings when they can.  They will need to continue to do that.  If you buy into limiting pitchers to no more than 30 innings more than they pitched the previous season, Teheran is on pace for that.  Teheran has games where he labors and struggles with his consistency. It's imperative in those games, especially in September, to get the pen working.

2013 7/19 Pace 8/20 Pace 2012 3-YR Avg
64 NA 84 146.2 96
It's difficult to make any sort of projection for Beachy's innings.  I didn't bother last time, but I put a pace up this time, though its value may not be big.  Nevertheless, Beachy looks ready to breeze past that total with three-to-four starts.  There really shouldn't be any innings worry with him.  Instead, his pitches per game must be charted and decisions should be made off that.

2013 7/19 Pace 8/20 Pace 2012 3-YR Avg
113.2 135 148 155 86
As expected, with him transitioning to a full-time starter, his pace altered significantly.  It will only to continue to do that. However, with the time he did spend in the bullpen, Wood shouldn't need to be babied much down the stretch.  Last year, between Georgia and his time in the minors, he logged 155 innings.  Even as a full-time starter in a five-man rotation for the rest of the season, he shouldn't throw many more than he did last year - if any.

In the end, one of the things that might help out the young hurlers with their innings is the return of Maholm.  Either as a part of a six-man rotation or subbing for a starter every turn through the rotation, Maholm will give the Braves an option to limit innings.  If a six-man rotation is adopted in September, the concern of its impact on the bullpen becomes an afterthought with expanded rosters.  

I know it's not sexy.  We want our starters to pitch seven innings or possibly complete a game here and there.  But Atlanta has home field advantage to play for and a title to win.  Going an extra frame or two in early September or getting a start pushed back doesn't seem like it might make a big difference and there's no real way to tell if it will.  However, better safe than sorry.  

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