In 2006, Tom Verducci famously put forth his theory on pitchers' limit and created a phenomenon across baseball. Originally called the “year after effect,” it has since been renamed in his honor. The Yankees took this to heart and employed strict versions of it with Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes.
Verducci wrote his column in November of 2006 and predicted downturns for pitchers in 2007. Using statistics and reasoning, he made a good argument as to why pitcher’s should be coaxed along in their careers. The following summer, Joba was drafted, Hughes was brought up to the MLB, and Joba followed him to the show shortly thereafter.
The theory is that young pitchers (under 25) should not have their innings increased by more than 25 or 30 innings from year to year. The results could be drastic downturn in abilities or even serious injury.
Still, even after babying them along with strict innings limits and shuffling of starts to coincide with the theory, Phil Hughes has been on the DL for over a month with a mystery arm ailment. Joba Chamberlain is now facing Tommy John surgery.
Suffice it to say, the innings limits did not work.
The theory is not a bad one in and of itself; it just leads to overprotective teams taking it too far. Teams, for instance, like the Yankees.
For all the examples of guys like Francisco Liriano and Zack Greinke, there are other examples of Mark Prior and Stephen Strasburg. Strasburg was a player who many thought would end up injured from his mechanics, and Prior has fought various injuries his entire career regardless of innings.
Sometimes players are just prone to injury. Rich Harden is a fantastic example of a guy who could be a top pitcher in baseball if only he could stay off the DL. Sure he had some arm injuries thrown in, but there were many other oblique strains, gluteal strains and a multitude of assorted injuries.
Sometimes position players get injured too. There is no innings limit in place as a result of Eric Chavez, Grady Sizemore or Joe Mauer. There are going to be some players who are prone to injury.
Reading back on Verducci’s article, I have a hard time with some of his justifications. He talked of Matt Cain’s spike in ERA in 2006, but this was his first full season in the MLB. In 2005 (the basis for Cain’s example in the article), he threw 46 innings over seven starts.
Call it the year after effect if you want to, but I’m more apt to call it an example of a young pitcher having to battle through a league who recognizes him. Furthermore, Cain's 145 minor league innings added to his 40 MLB innings in 2005 result in only an innings increase of five innings for 2006.
Should Young Pitchers Be Limited?
Cole Hamels was predicted to fall victim in 2007 but instead threw 183 innings and posted an ERA of 3.39. After leading his team to the World Series in 2008, the following season might have been seen as the delayed reaction to the Verducci Effect. However his current 8-2 with an ERA of 2.58 would seem to disagree.
Others extrapolated this as well. "Felix Hernandez and the Year After Effect" and other articles were posted talking about the possibility of Felix Hernandez falling victim to this in 2010 (he won the Cy Young award). Don’t even talk to me about where CC Sabathia and Tim Lincecum fit into this.
In hindsight, there are plenty of exceptions to Verducci’s rule. People have just jumped on board with it and haven’t gone back to reevaluate the results since Verducci published it.
Still, for all the evidence both for and against the effect, it was a nice theory, and it should have shed light on the proper way to maintain pitchers. It just has to go further than babying them along to begin their careers.
Verducci talks a lot about innings, and the Yankees limited Joba and Hughes to innings, and innings show up nice and big on the stats sheet on Baseball-Reference in terms of if a guy was a workhorse. But pitchers are a more important number that aren’t kept track of longer than a few weeks after the start.
Don’t get me wrong. Over the course of a season it usually averages out to where you still throw way more pitches in 200 innings compared with 180. But the problem lies on the day-to-day handling.
The Yankees had games where Joba would be throwing well but would be pulled in the fourth inning because of innings. Other games, he was stretched out to throw more pitches over seven innings even though he labored through his outing.
As a result of the over management and mismanagement, Joba became a mental failure. Now he’s no longer considered a potential. You can’t call it a success physically either as Joba is now facing major arm surgery.
With the heightened awareness on innings, pitchers are now being held back to preserve their arms in the minors. As a result, pitchers don’t have it in them to come to the MLB and be a workhorse.
It’s like preparing for a marathon by running five miles a day so you don’t get too tired. While you don’t want to be running 40 miles the day before a marathon, you still need to get your arm into shape.
Yes, Verducci does have a point in that you don’t want to just beat up young pitchers by throwing them into a schedule which increases their workload by too much. You don’t want to switch from five miles to 40.
But at the same time, you also want to make sure that pitchers are being stretched out in the minors, so they have the stamina once they hit the MLB. How is a pitcher ever going to throw nine innings a game and 230 over the season when he’s only ever stretched out to 90-100 pitches a game and 180 innings a season?
Teams are overly cautious, and now they’re wrecking young players. After tearing a ligament in his elbow, Joba still doesn’t feel anything worse than just some tightness in his elbow. Are the Yankees seriously suggesting that his arm was never built to withstand the rigors of pitching as a starter? He could have done it, they just messed with him too much.
Now he’s broken, and now Phil Hughes is broken. Their No. 3 starter is on the DL, and their best bullpen arm not attached to Mariano Rivera is now out for 12 to 14 months. The Yankees have dealt permanent damage to their young pitchers. By tying to protect them, they ended up crushing them.