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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Matt Harvey and Michael Pineda: shut down like Stephen Strasburg?

Stephen Strasburg was shut down a few years ago so that he would not throw too many innings and pitches too soon in his career.  Will that happen to other pitchers?  For instance. the two leading pitchers in New York in 2015: Met Matt Harvey and Yankee Michael Pineda?

Strasburg has seemed to have generally benefited.  In 2014 Strasburg led the National Conference in starts (34) and strike outs (242), throwing 215 innings.

I am assuming that teams are counting pitches for the season but to keep this simple I'm using innings.

All three pitchers have had arm problems and been shut down.  Harvey missed all of 2014.  Pineda missed 2012 and 2013.  Here are their basic numbers.


Strasburg has progressed each of the last three years in innings and innings per start.  Harvey and Pineda have pitched more than 76 innings only once each: Harvey 178 in 2013, Pineda 171 in 2011.

If each starts 30 games, that's only one start every 5.4 games.  Supposedly they are scheduled to start every fifth day and as the top starter on their teams they would not be skipped.  30 starts at their current rate of innings per start in 2015 would bring each in a shade under 200 innings.  Who thinks the Mets and Yankees will let them jump to even that many innings for the season?

Here are those numbers.


The Mets have played 47 games (26-21), the Yankees 46 (24-22).  With 9 starts each they have started about every 5.2 games.

5.2 * 30 = 156

156 is pretty close to the end of the regular season.  This is assuming that the teams allow Harvey and Pineda to approach 200 innings, which would be about 14% more than either has ever thrown in a season.

With the extra wild card introduced in recent seasons a team can be competitive to qualify for the tournament with about 85 wins in the final week of the season.  Both teams will be very tempted to go all out to qualify and sitting their ace when he is needed most will be a hard decision.

If they qualify as a wild card, they may need to play in that extra game.  If rested, the top starting pitcher will start.  If not rested, it's because the top starter has already been stressed.

Then what?  Let's say that the Mets and/or Yankees are ready to play in the opening round.  That's even more innings for Harvey and Pineda.  Do the teams continue to push them?

The Yankees could have a couple of fresh arms coming back from injuries: Masahiro Tanaka and Ivan Nova.  Tanaka played several seasons in his native Japan where he pitched once a week in the regular season.  When Tanaka joined the Yankees in 2014 they started him every fifth day, American style.  Tanaka developed arm trouble, which recurred in 2015.  When Tanaka returns he is likely to be used more as he was in Japan, except the Yankees will not openly state that.

Nova will be returning from major surgery, much as Harvey already has.  The innings and pitch counts for Tanaka and Nova should be modest by normal standards but who knows how they will react.

Old Hoss Radbourne, Hall of Fame
What the New York teams could and probably should have done is what Washington should have done with Strasburg when they knew that he would be limited in innings and pitches.  They should have them report at least two months after the normal start of spring training.  Then be prepared to begin pitching for the big league team about June 1.  That resolves all the issues, including extending them into the tournament.

I'm guessing that the teams know this but that they just don't have the gumption to act on it.  Too bad.  Everyone would be better off.

In fact this type of scheduling could be used as a regular sort of super rotation.  Have starting pitchers begin preparation every two months, with the first wave scheduled to shut down in early August, replaced by fresh arms.

Think about it.

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