High-Stress Pitcher Followups
Publication Date: July 15, 2003
Two Years Out
Before we dive into this year's pitch count carnage report (sorry, didn't
mean to give away the surprise ending) next week, I want to take a look at
how a few of the high-workload cases from the last couple of years are
doing. Let me remind you once again that this is not a complete study yet,
and that there is no proof yet that high workloads cause increased injury
rates at the college level, although the proof is fairly clear at the
professional level. What I'm presenting here are a series of anecdotes for
thought while we wait for sufficient data to be gathered to do a scientific
proof, which will require things like a non-overloaded control group for
First of all, let's look at the six guys that I
documented in 2001 as racking up more than 100,000 PAP that season.
You can start by checking on where they
were this time last year; this will bring you up to date on where
they are now.
- Kenny Baugh has been the source of good news and bad news, which
is a definite improvement over last year. He's been apparently healthy
all year and started off with three reasonably good starts (3.86 ERA) in
High A ball, but has been hit pretty hard in AA, with a 5.89 ERA over
55 innings. One of the hidden downsides to early injury to former college
pitchers is that age concerns then tend to push them quickly to levels in
the minors which their experience doesn't really prepare them for.
Nonetheless, the future is brighter for Baugh now than it was 12 months ago.
- The long, strange trip of Pete Montrenes continues as he's now
pitching for the Niagara Stars of the independent Canadian Baseball League.
It's too soon to get a feel for the competition level of the CBL (and,
apparently, always will be, since they're shutting down operations), but
Montrenes has only appeared in two games, so he's basically been a
non-factor. There's still no telling if his problems have been physical
or mental, but it's been quite a fall.
- Jon Switzer has continued to progress up the ladder with no
injury problems; he has a 3.89 ERA in the Southern League over 14 starts.
- Lane Mestepey did not pitch this year. LSU could have used him.
At this point, everyone claims that he'll be ready for the 2004 season.
- Mark Prior has had some mild success. While we're being
anecdotal, it's worth noting that Prior has what could be the best pure
mechanics since Tom Seaver. It's also worth noting that he's been worked
hard enough in Chicago that pinning blame on his time at USC West would be
tenuous at this point.
- Justin Pope is pitching poorly in High A ball, with a 5.63 ERA
and way too many walks. It's way too early to write him off, though, and
the injury problems of last year have not recurred.
One Year Out
Now, the same sort of summary for the ten guys who I found with
the worst workloads last year. I'm doing
this particular set not because they represent a specific set for proof
purposes, but because they don't. One of the factors that I'll have to
deal with in designing the long-term study is that not all pitchers are
created equal. There's not enough data available on minor league injuries
to make it possible to study injury rates directly; we'll have to look at a
combination of longevity and effectiveness. Over the course of five years,
though, the expectations for these things are vastly different. In this
group of ten, for example, there are a couple of actual or expected
high-round draft choices, a few guys who will get a shot in the minors but
might or might not be expected to do anything if healthy, and at least a
couple of guys who are expected to be five years older in five years.
Learning to group them appropriately for comparison is going to be one of
- Ben Crockett is one of the high-expectation guys. Drafted by
the Rockies in the third round last year, he's shown no sign of injury and
considerable promise so far. In 2002, he put up 13 professional starts,
although he was overpromoted toward the end of the season. In 2003, he's
put together a great half-season, with 19 starts in low A ball with a 2.89
- Matt Kaercher, on the other hand, was definitely perceived as
a maybe. Undrafted, he's turned up as a free agent in the Red Sox system,
throwing a few innings of relief this year.
- Bill Murphy was a third round draft choice last year, and, like
Crockett, he's looked good so far, throwing nine starts last year and
another 14 this year in low A with a 2.25 ERA for 2003.
- Bo Pettit was designated as an innings-eater at LSU last year
and continued that role this year as their nominal third starter. His
outlook, though, has changed from showing up on some prospect lists to
a cloudy future as his ERA rose from 3.35 in 2002 to 5.90 in 2003.
- Chris Smith was a fourth round pick by the Red Sox last year.
He threw 19 starts last year with relatively poor results. This year he's
only managed 5 starts, although I can't find any reference to why he didn't
start pitching until June 21.
- Ryan Bicondoa had great success in 2002, putting up a 1.90 ERA
in 14 starts in short-season A ball. Unfortunately, he's spent most of
this season on the DL, managing only 5 starts.
- Justin Gabriel is sort of the ultimate outlier. His college
career was always more about where his head was than his body, and despite
flashes of brilliance he never got the prospect attention he probably could
have had. The Brewers drafted him late last year and tried him out in
relief, but gave up and released him a couple of weeks ago.
- John Williams was always a non-prospect; he returned to MTSU and
put up a 6.54 ERA this year.
- Similarly, Erik Causey was not a good pitcher by Division I
standards; he was just the staff ace on one of the worst teams around.
Howard gave up the sport after last year, and Causey didn't pitch anywhere
this year that I can find.
- Justin Verlander is apparently trying to set some sort of
record. He'll feature prominently again in next week's report, as he
pitched well but long again for ODU, putting up a 2.40 ERA in 15 starts.
On top of that, he's serving as the staff ace for Team USA this summer.
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