Erasmo gets Earl Weaver'ed


Q.  Does SSI buy the idea that Erasmo Ramirez needs to be kept well under 200 IP this year?

A.  Am very skeptical about this belief system, because (1) I haven't seen any convincing studies on it, none that convinced me anyway, and (2) logically, I don't see why sitting on the couch strengthens your muscles.  If you go to the gym once per week to lift weights, is there some reason you should take June, July, and August off?

The James paradigm, which he shares with the Japanese, is that pitching is good for the arm.  James thought that 125 pitches, for the 30-year-old Roger Clemens, was literally good for him.

But it's possible that the "X number of bullets in the gun" paradigm is right.  I guess Jamie Moyer was born with a lot of bullets.


James answered our question on this by saying he didn't buy the dogma, either, but "you can't resist conventional wisdom with intuition."  Since there's no feasible way to study this issue, there isn't going to be anything you can do about the belief system.  Maybe some day people will notice all of the Lincecums, Verlanders, Felixes and etc.


Q.  Does the Michael Pineda experience play in?

A.  You've got to remember how loudly this 2011 music was turned up in Zduriencik's and Armstrong's headphones.  They boldly put Pineda in there to start the season, and Pineda was in fact a bug on the windshield at 170 innings, had to be YANKED out of the rotation in a panic in mid-September.

Then, Pineda came to camp this year and the "overwork" seemed to have lasting effects.  It's a scary visual.

The fact is, Pineda is one of 400-500 such young starters since 1970, and cool-headedly, you'd have to consider the other 499 pitchers, too.  Tim Lincecum threw 227 innings as a rookie, and he isn't quite Pineda's size.  Justin Verlander tossed 30 games his rookie year and has never had a moment's trouble.  There's Felix.  You could point to lots of pitchers who didn't stagger under an early workload.

But Pineda was a very powerful, up-close visual, and this year they've decided not to send Erasmo out on the Pineda schedule.  I sympathize, and it's not like Noesi isn't a pleasant alternative.


Q.  Is that why Earl Weaver put rookies in long relief, to keep their innings down?

A.  Absolutely not.  Earl Weaver did not buy into the IP-max dogma in any way, shape or form.  Earl would give Mike Flanagan 250 innings, year after year, and keep him healthy.  He would take guys like Mike Torrez and Mike Cuellar, guys with injury histories, and give them 290 innings a year with no problems.

He put rookies in long relief to let them learn the league.  In my view, that's not very relevant for a kid like Erasmo Ramirez, whose command and confidence is already off the charts.  But, whatever.  It won't kill Erasmo to get acclimated at the poker table before betting no-limit.


Q.  Should Erasmo be put in line ahead of the Big Three?

A.  Do you want to play me for a million dollars tomorrow, you get Erasmo and I get Taijuan?

I loved the fact that Zduriencik conceded, "there are times when your prospects may have more ability than the players on your ballclub."  That is definitely the case with Walker, Paxton, and Hultzen.  All you amigos who think that minor-league time is "correct" for Danny Hultzen ... just play me a 5-game series for $1 million this week, I get the kids and you get Blake Beavan and Hisashi Iwakuma.  

;- )


But.  If you don't get Erasmo in there now, you'd be in danger of seeing him buried in a mountain of sawdust.  I like Erasmo's chances to join the rotation on May 15*, to become a mini-sensation and now what?  Now you've got Felix-Erasmo rather than Felix-Pineda, with the three rock stars coming up behind an existing Big Two.

There's a real elegance to the idea of getting your #4 prospect into that 2 slot, having the Scorpions open the show, and then bringing on Van Halen behind them.  Firm up Erasmo's value as a preliminary to the main event.


Q.  So if Erasmo is being Weavered, and Iwakuma is toast, then...

A.  Right.  Noesi, Beavan, and Millwood look embarrassingly obvious in retrospect.

Tell ya, that's a huge thing I like about Jay-Z.  His decisions surprise you -- Hultzen, for example -- and then those decisions turn out to wear well, over time.  The experts should be ahead of the rest of us.  That's their job.



I think the belief that you need to be careful with the workload of young pitchers and gradually increase their innings is a well reasoned one.
First of all, just because something is healthy doesn't mean you can go from 0 to 60 in an instant. Running is healthy but if you are going to do a marathon you don't start training by running 26 miles. You have to steadily increase your workload over time. And if you are pushing your body to its limits (as MLB pitchers are), then that will take years.
This is especially relevant when dealing with young people who are still growing physically. What a person can do at 21 is not necessarily what they are capable of at 20.
Second, while people most certainly could safely pitch year round if they wanted just as you can lift weights, run and swim year round, that isn't relevant to professional pitchers. MLB teams aren't trying maximize how many pitches they throw in a year, they only care about what the players do from April to October. That means that teams are trying to push their pitchers beyond what they could sustain year round. It's possible to do this but it greatly complicates things and increases the chance of injury.
For example, while it may be best to have at least 6 hours of sleep a day, you could stay awake for 36 or 48 hours straight if necessary. But if you did that, when you did go to sleep you would need to be out for more than the normal 6-8 hours. And if you did this regularly it could be unhealthy. That's essentially what MLB teams are doing. They are red-lining their pitchers during the season which necessarily means they have to throttle back at some point.
It's not an issue of having only so many bullets in the gun, but rather that you can only fire the gun on full auto for short periods of time before the barrel overheats. And the more you fire on full auto the shorter the lifespan of the barrel. Since the consequence of overworking pitchers is often a severe injury that can put guy out of commission for a year or even end his career entirely, it makes sense to err on the side of caution.
So I'd say Major league teams now have the right idea, which means the main issue is determining where exactly you draw the line for young pitchers. The correct answer, of course, is that it varies with each individual player which really makes things difficult and puts more pressure on organizations to be careful.
*Small correction- Tim Lincecum threw only 177 innnings his rookie year


Nobody's on the other side of that one - of course young pitchers' workloads need to be managed.
Managed by reducing the number of workouts?  Or managed by reducing the stress of each individual workout?
Earl didn't worry about number of innings.  He worried about pitches thrown after a pitcher lost his mechanics due to fatigue.
There are a lot of paradigms that could be right, of course.


That's how I've heard major league coaches talk, about sticking with a guy as long as his mechanics are still good. However, I'm not sure that that alone guarantees pitcher health. The thing is that teams have an extremely structured system for pitcher usage that they force all pitchers to follow. That being the expectation to pitch every 5th game and as deep into the game as possible. I doubt that this is the ideal setup for every single pitcher, especially younger ones, which might mean a pitcher can look good yet still be wearing down his arm rather than building it up.
I have no idea if that's true but if teams aren't going to be more flexible with how they use pitchers then there is some logic to just shutting a pitcher down at some point in the season and then letting him pitch in the winter rather than just assuming that he can start 30+ games at age 22.
I don't doubt that this is suboptimal, but when the down side to over use is so great I just have a hard to being critical of teams, especially when we're really only talking about limiting a players work load for a single major league season.
Take a Lincecum as an example. He may have been able to throw 225 innings as a rookie, but would that really have been worth the risk? By waiting just one season to reach that point, did the Giants really miss out on anything? No, they got their Cy Young work horse at age 24 and I hardly believe that they are kicking themselves for playing it safe.
And really, how would Weaver's way have been any better? By putting him in the bullpen in his rookie year, Weaver would have got FEWER innings out of Lincecum, not more. So while I think teams should be more flexible about using talented starters in relief, that wouldn't result in them throwing more MLB innings.


On Lincecum, where are you getting 177 innings? ...
... oh, okay, you're combining his minors and majors IP in his first partial year.  Yes, I guess per the ROY award, that burned his 'rookie' year.
OK, the first year that he started the season in the Giants' rotation he threw 227.  And every year thereafter.  
In the partial year, they had Lincecum in the minors in April, brought him up on May 6, and started him every game through Sept. 16th, at which point they were -17.5 games out.  They'd of started him every game if they were in it, right?
Lincecum goes into the sock drawer that reads "nobody worried about his innings much," I'd say.


All we know is that they shut him down early and did so to reduce his innings pitched. So he isn't a point in favor of giving Ramirez 225 innings at age 22. Lincecum didn't reach that point until he was 24.
And what about the issue of risk versus reward? Is that extra 50 innings as a starter that first MLB season really worth the chance of losing a guy for a year and a half? If you were the GM of a major league team, would you really expect all your 22 year old pitchers to throw 225 innings and only reduce their workload if they showed fatigue?
What I am getting at is that while most pitchers might be able to handle 200+ innings at an early age, you and I don't know that. Since teams can't know what a pitchers limit is ahead of time, they have to decide ahead of time how they are going to handle him. And in this day and age they aren't going to push a guy until he breaks like they used to. They are going to play it safe and take stepped approach in ramping up his innings. I think that is perfectly reasonable because the reduction in innings at the major league level isn't that big of deal (it's usually only one season that is significantly managed) while an injury is often a huge deal.

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