Monday, April 20, 2009

Squirming Thought

Crain DLed
I honestly don't know what to add to this news that likely hasn't been written somewhere else. The key facts, in my mind are:
  • Crain's shoulder hurts
  • That's an especially bad part of Crain to have hurting, seeing as he missed most of the 2007 season with a shoulder problem and rehabbed it extensively.
  • It started hurting after a four-day span where he threw 28, 0, 11 and 30 pitches. He also threw those last 30 pitches while getting the snot kicked out of him.
Someone is going to raise that last point with an arched eyebrow looking towards the coaching staff. That's unfair. It's not a totally unreasonable workload. Or one might suggest that Crain should've been pulled earlier in that last appearance, but I could just as easily suggest given the results that he was having some problems before that outing and didn't tell anyone. Either way, it's all complete speculation, and mostly void of meaning. The bottom line is that Crain threw pitches because that's what he's paid to do. And now his shoulder hurts and needs some rest. That happens.

But I've been squirming over a notion for a couple of years now, and I'd sure like to investigate it a bit more. If Crain's injury turns out to be more serious than just the 15-day DL, or if Crain has trouble being effective after his return, does it continue a trend we've seen this decade with the bullpen? Has the extra careful attitude this organization has with starting pitchers led to overuse of their relievers?

I'm just going off the top of my head here. Besides Crain now (and in 2007) we have Guerrier's decline last year after significant use. Neshek's decline in 2007 after frequent use. Juan Rincon faded significantly. Guardado became injury prone shortly after leaving. JC Romero declined considerably after carrying the team in 2002.

The Twins, and especially Ron Gardenhire, have been extra careful with their starting pitchers, so it's not like there is an uncaring attitude for these young arms. Furthermore, Gardenhire often talks about protecting arms in the bullpen, putting some relievers off limits for games. And while there have been studies examining the effect of high pitch counts on starting pitchers, I've seen no groundbreaking studies on relievers.

But I'm starting to wonder if there shouldn't be. Something like BP's Pitching Abuse Points system that tallies the number of pitches in an outing for relievers and tallies additional points given how recent and extensive their last outing (or two) was.

The recent talk this weekend about extending Glen Perkins and Kevin Slowey made me reach back to my BP2002 book and look up the original study by Ran Jazayerli and Keith Woolner. If I get some time this week we'll go back and take a look at it for starting pitchers, because the more I read it, the more I realize it doesn't match the conventional wisdom regarding overextending young starting pitchers.

And maybe it'll provide a roadmap of what might be a path for evaluating usage patterns and injuries in relievers.


thrylos98 said...

that 11 pitch appearance in the 9th inning of a blow out game while Humber was warming the bullpen bench was unfair. You just don't use your set-up guy in these situations. I hope Gardy learn that.

SoCalTwinsfan said...

So far this season, the Twins' starters are second in the league in innings pitched per game (6.2 just behind the Royals' 6.3), so any overuse early of relievers can't be blamed on the starters. It's more the result of other relievers not being able to get enough outs consistently.

The Twins were right at league average for IP per game from their starters (5.9) last year.

Anonymous said...

It's interesting to look at the historical workloads of some of these pitchers. Guerrier logged 76.1 IP in 76 games last year, and 88 IP in 2007. Before his (first) injury, Crain had just come off two straight seasons of over 75 IP. Rincon had a four season stretch from 2003-2006 in which he averaged over 79 IP. Some of those workloads don't seem totally unreasonable in isolation, but like most teams there's probably a tendency to stress the set-up men a bit so that the closer doesn't have to work before the 9th inning (Nathan pretty much hovers around 70 IP). It may also be worth noting that some of these guys are probably more likely to warm up without being used (hence throwing more "unofficial" pitches) but I have no idea if or how much that actually matters.