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June 9, 1999

Pitcher Abuse Points Report

1999's first look at starter usage

by Rany Jazayerli and Keith Woolner

Baseball Prospectus introduced Pitcher Abuse Points last summer as an attempt to measure the workloads of starting pitchers. Briefly, the system is based on the premise that each pitch above a certain threshold is incrementally more damaging than the last, with the damage growing more severe as more pitches are thrown. Our threshold is 100 pitches; beyond that, a pitcher "earns" one point each for pitches 101-110, two points each for pitches 111-120, and so on.

For more on the system, please check the original PAP introduction piece.

The list of highest PAP scores for pitchers 30 and over:

Name               Team            Age   PAP   GS   PAP/S

Randy Johnson Arizona 35 421 11 38.3 Curt Schilling Philadelphia 32 338 11 30.7 Al Leiter New York (NL) 33 223 9 24.8 Steve Sparks Anaheim 33 204 10 20.4 David Cone New York (AL) 36 144 10 10.4 Jamie Moyer Seattle 36 143 11 13.0 Jeff Fassero Seattle 36 143 12 12.9 Dave Burba Cleveland 32 138 10 13.8 Tom Glavine Atlanta 33 129 11 11.7 Kevin Brown Los Angeles 34 120 10 12.0

No real surprises here. Well, maybe Sparks, but he's a knuckleballer and generally held to a different standard. Johnson is once again at the top of the list in PAP, and once again it doesn't seem to matter. I'd be willing to bet he could handle a 39-start, 300-inning workload without breaking down. Not right away, anyway.

Schilling, who also ranked second to Johnson last year among thirtysomethings, has continued to pitch well, but you have to expect that eventually this kind of workload is going to wear him down, Tim Kurkjian's protests notwithstanding. Let's not forget that Schilling has already missed parts of three seasons (1994-96) after carrying a similarly high workload in 1992 and 1993. He takes great care of himself, but a great work ethic can only go so far.

Leiter, bad knee and all, has moved up from sixth on this list last year to third so far in 1999, and you can't even claim that he's pitching better. With the Mets suddenly in free-fall, Bobby Valentine needs to get his rotation healthy and productive; giving Leiter some rest might go a long way towards solving the problem.

There is a big gap from fourth to fifth on the list, which is good news for Cone. Cone has battled through one injury after another, possibly stemming from the workload he endured in his six years with the Mets, yet his 3.71 ERA as a rookie in 1987 is still his career high. He came into the season with 168 wins, and probably needs three more good years to kick him into the Hall of Fame. His workload is almost identical to last year (14.7 PAP/S in 1998), which in my opinion is too high for his surgically-repaired shoulder. He doesn't need to be babied as much as, say, Bret Saberhagen, but Torre should take advantage of his fairly deep bullpen to pull Cone after five innings when the Yankees are up big.

The rest of the list is fairly predictable; amidst the chaos that is the Mariner pitching staff, Piniella is riding his two veteran lefthanders, even though neither is pitching well. Burba qualifies as a staff ace for an Indian rotation whose mediocrity has been well-hidden behind the best offense in baseball. And Glavine and Brown are certainly no strangers to high workloads, though both are efficient enough with their pitches to keep their PAPs reasonably light.

Overall, the list is underwhelming. Last year, for example, nine pitchers in the 30-and-over range averaged at least 18 PAPs per start; this year, only four pitchers are over 14 PAPs an outing. Two pitchers who ranked highly last year, Roger Clemens (third with 36.6 PAP/S) and Chuck Finley (fourth with 26.7 PAP/S), are way down this year. Clemens was sidelined by a pulled groin and has only 42 PAPs, while Finley has been used with a little more restraint by Collins, amassing 104 PAPs in his 10 starts. Greg Maddux, in case you were wondering, has just 28 PAPs in his 10 starts. His effectiveness may be missing, but his efficiency hasn't gone anywhere.

Now the 10 highest workloads among pitchers aged 26 to 29:

Name               Team            Age   PAP   GS   PAP/S

Pedro Martinez Boston 27 426 11 38.7 Pedro Astacio Colorado 29 202 10 20.2 Brian Bohanon Colorado 29 195 10 19.5 Wilson Alvarez Tampa Bay 29 189 8 23.6 Shawn Estes San Francisco 26 186 10 18.6 Rick Helling Texas 28 175 11 15.9 Mike Sirotka Chicago (AL) 28 118 9 13.1 Omar Daal Arizona 27 113 10 11.3 Jose Lima Houston 26 93 10 9.3 Aaron Sele Texas 29 92 10 9.2

Again, few surprises on this list; most of these pitchers are considered either #1/#2 starters, or have the "veteran" tag on them after starting in the major leagues for many years. Martinez, who led in this category last year, actually leads all pitchers with 426 PAPs, and is just 27. As the undisputed best pitcher in baseball, obviously, we have to worry about whether he's a candidate to fall to pieces shortly.

I'm inclined to believe that while his workload is too high, he is not a high risk to suffer an injury anytime soon. His brother Ramon endured arguably the most dangerous abuse of this decade, averaging 119.3 pitches per start in 1990, when he was "22" years old. While Ramon was never again as effective as he was that year, he continued to be a dependable starter, allowing Lasorda and his successors to pile on more abuse before his rotator cuff finally gave out last year.

Both brothers are thin and look fragile, but perhaps they simply are genetically predisposed to withstand more work than your average starter. Their ligaments may be more flexible, they may be fast healers, whatever. Pedro was handled much more sensibly by Felipe Alou in his formative years, before taking on his current high workload beginning in 1997, when he was 25. I'd like to see Jimy Williams give him a 90-pitch freebie every now and then, but I don't see a Livan-sized crime being perpetrated here. Of course, I didn't think Kerry Wood was in grave danger despite a high PAP score either.

Speaking of Hernandez, there's our old friend Jim Leyland with two of his new slav...er, pitchers, ranking second and third. The high-scoring Mile High environment forces pitchers to throw so many pitches that, unless you use every opportunity to employ your bullpen, your starting pitchers can be put directly in harm's way. Don Baylor never got enough credit for using his bullpen as often and as effectively as he did, but now that a new manager is holding the reins, Baylor's efforts should not go unmentioned.

Alvarez has endured a pretty high workload in his career, and you have to wonder if it's not responsible for his inability to build upon a fabulous season (15-8, 2.95 ERA) as a 23-year-old in 1993. The same career path seems to be the fate of Estes, who went 19-5 with a 3.18 ERA as a 24-year-old two years ago, but has been injured and ineffective since then.

Helling and Sele are no strangers to this list, as co-aces of the Rangers' rotation, and neither has been as effective as last year. Sirotka is the ace by default of the White Sox rotation, and given his age, his workload is probably no big deal. Lima and Daal have both pitched wonderfully since the beginning of last year, and so not surprisingly they're being relied on to consistently pitch seven or more innings. Neither has been worked overly hard; Lima, in particular, has tremendous control and is very efficient with his pitches, and can often go eight innings with a pitch count under 100.

And now the real meat of the issue, the 10 hardest-working pitchers 25 and under:

Name               Team            Age   PAP   GS   PAP/S

Livan Hernandez Florida 24 301 10 30.1 Russ Ortiz San Francisco 25 253 10 25.3 Chris Carpenter Toronto 24 140 10 14.0 Bartolo Colon Cleveland 24 126 10 12.6 Freddy Garcia Seattle 22 118 10 11.8 Carlton Loewer Philadelphia 25 113 10 11.3 Ismael Valdes Los Angeles 25 90 10 9.0 Kelvim Escobar Toronto 23 77 10 7.7 Odalis Perez Atlanta 21 64 8 8.0 Jose Rosado Kansas City 24 64 10 6.4

No...it can't be...there must be some sort of mistake.

Well, there certainly is one: John Boles has apparently not learned from his predecessor. One year after Livan Hernandez had the two highest pitch counts in baseball (153 and 150), racked up 46.1 PAPs per start and not coincidentally had a very disappointing sophomore season, he once again leads the 25-and-under chart with an inexcusable workload. He is actually pitching a little better than he did last season, but the potential he showed as a 22-year-old rookie, when he went 9-3 with a 3.18 ERA and was the toast of the postseason, has been frittered away by devil-may-care managing.

For all the magic that Dusty Baker has cast over San Francisco Bay, his handling of young starters really needs to be taken to task. Apparently unperturbed by Estes' lousy pitching, he is trying to do the same to Russ Ortiz. And it may be working, as Ortiz has been bombed in two of his last three starts. What makes it even more galling is that the Giants have a deep bullpen. If Baker's boys are going to surprise everyone by contending in September for the third straight year, he needs to back off his young starters for a while and help them stay fresh for the second half.

Carpenter is considered one of the game's best pitchers under 25, and his workload reflects it. Escobar is also part of the Blue Jays' vaunted, albeit disappointing, young pitching staff. To his credit, Jim Fregosi is treating the pair a little more gingerly than Tim Johnson, who worked them like (ahem) a platoon commander: Carpenter's workload has dropped slightly from 14.9 to 14.0 PAP/S, while Escobar, who in 10 starts last year averaged a ridiculous 27.4 PAP/S, is down to just 7.7 this year.

Colon ranked second to Hernandez in the 25-and-under category last year, and is being treated a little more sensibly (12.6 PAP/S, down from 19.6 last year) in 1999. You can't help but wonder if it has something to do with his ineffective pitching. You don't think there's a reason that Colon, who was 9-4 with a 2.46 ERA at the All-Star Break last year, has been nothing special since?

Young starters under Lou Piniella seem to take one of two tracks: they either never establish themselves in the majors because Piniella can't stand their guts, or if they're unlucky, he takes a liking to them. Piniella likes Garcia, and it shows. What's worrisome here is that Piniella is making noises about wanting Garcia to throw even more pitches as part of his becoming a man, so we need to watch Garcia's PAP score closely. Even if his workload remains where it is, it's too high for a 22-year-old.

No one else on the list is in grave danger, although if Schilling is traded I worry that Loewer may see his workload climb even higher. Valdes, after two consecutive seasons with high pitch counts under Tommy Lasorda in 1995 and 1996, has seen his workload dip each of the last three years, and this year under Davey Johnson he's at just 9 PAPs per start, down from 11.3 last year. On the other hand, he has yet to fulfill the promise he showed in his first several years, when he had some of us thinking he could become one of the five best pitchers in baseball. Perez is a bit of a surprise, especially considering he is just 21; Bobby Cox uncharacteristically let him throw 121 pitches in a start this year, accounting for over half his PAP total. Perez blew the lead in his last inning of work, so hopefully Cox learned his lesson. Rosado is in his fourth year as a major league starter, and compared to the Bob Boone era his arm must feel wonderful.

On the flip side of the coin are the 10 least-worked pitchers in baseball (minimum 5 starts):

Name               Team            Age   PAP   GS   PAP/S

Gil Heredia Oakland 33 2 11 0.2 Tim Belcher Anaheim 37 3 10 0.3 Ryan Rupe Tampa Bay 24 2 5 0.4 Jason Bere Cincinnati 28 4 9 0.4 Jeff Weaver Detroit 22 5 9 0.6 Bret Saberhagen Boston 35 3 5 0.6 Jim Abbott Milwaukee 31 4 6 0.7 Pete Schourek Pittsburgh 30 7 10 0.7 Chad Ogea Philadelphia 28 9 10 0.9 LaTroy Hawkins Minnesota 26 9 10 0.9

This list contains the kinds of pitchers that you would expect: fragile arms (Saberhagen, Schourek) that need to be protected carefully; pitchers that have been so awful they rarely make it out of the fifth inning, both the Dick Such kind (Hawkins) and the well-coached kind (Belcher, Bere, Abbott).

Heredia has been neither ineffective nor injury-prone; he simply has phenomenal control, and as the A's #3 or #4 starter is not being asked to do too much in front of a very underrated bullpen. Rupe has been handled well by Larry Rothschild, although five starts is hardly a large sample. He had a major arm injury in college that allowed him to drop to the sixth round of the 1997 draft, and given the talent he has flashed already this year (the first 90 game score of the season), it would be extremely prudent for the Devil Rays to watch his pitch counts carefully.

But the real name to watch here is Jeff Weaver, the outstanding rookie starter for Detroit. The Tigers have made their share of mistakes in recent seasons. Actually, they've taken on the Braves' and Astros' share as well. But the organizational decision to forbid Weaver from throwing over 100 pitches in a start, one they have only recently relaxed (he has yet to throw over 105 pitches), may be the best and most significant decision made by a team this season. If you haven't seen Weaver pitch, do so the next chance you get; he's quite fun to watch. He throws from a near-sidearm delivery, and has the uncanny ability to throw strikes while never throwing a pitch in the heart of the strike zone. The nearest comparison I can make is to David Cone, and imagine how much better Cone might have been had his workload been monitored as carefully as Weaver's has been. If the Tigers stick to their guns, Weaver may very well be one of the best pitchers of the next decade.

Finally, for those of you who like gory endings, we'll finish with a list of the highest Age-Adjusted Workloads in baseball. The age-adjustment, as explained in the Baseball Prospectus 1999, multiplies a pitcher's PAP score by a factor dependent on their age. The formula for the age factor is (38-age)/6, with a minimum of 1. So for pitchers 32 and over, their age-adjusted workload (AAW) is the same as their PAP/S, but for a 29-year-old, his PAP/S goes up 50%, for a 26-year-old it is doubled, and for a 23-year-old it would go up 150%.

The 12 most-abused starters in baseball:

Name               Team            Age   PAP   GS   PAP/S    AAW

Pedro Martinez Boston 27 426 11 38.7 71.0 Livan Hernandez Florida 24 301 10 30.1 70.2 Russ Ortiz San Francisco 25 253 10 25.3 54.8 Randy Johnson Arizona 35 421 11 38.3 38.3 Shawn Estes San Francisco 26 186 10 18.6 37.2 Wilson Alvarez Tampa Bay 29 189 8 23.6 35.4 Chris Carpenter Toronto 24 140 10 14.0 32.7 Freddy Garcia Seattle 22 118 10 11.8 31.5 Curt Schilling Philadelphia 32 338 11 30.7 30.7 Pedro Astacio Colorado 29 202 10 20.2 30.3 Bartolo Colon Cleveland 24 126 10 12.6 29.4 Brian Bohanon Colorado 29 195 10 19.5 29.3

What a race we have here! Last year's winner of the Most Abused Pitcher award, Livan Hernandez, and the third-place finisher, Pedro Martinez, engaged in a neck-and-neck race for this year's prestigious award. Stay tuned all season to see which pitcher pulls ahead to win--or pulls up lame in the process.

Rany Jazayerli is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Rany's other articles. You can contact Rany by clicking here
Keith Woolner is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Keith's other articles. You can contact Keith by clicking here

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1999-07-27 - Pitcher Abuse Points: Midseason Update
1999-07-27 - Pitcher Abuse Points: Midseason Update
1999-07-08 - Bullpens: The Last Word
1999-06-09 - Pitcher Abuse Points Report
1999-05-28 - Pitcher Abuse Points - One Year Later
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1999-05-10 - Prospectus Q&A: Miles Prentice