"Look at me," the Mets right-hander said one day last month. "I'm a pretty big guy." Yes, sir. Pelfrey is 6-foot-7. Thankfully, he is a rather pleasant, mild-mannered guy.
I didn't feel threatened, but my theory about young pitchers getting overworked was precisely in Pelfrey's crosshairs. Pelfrey was familiar with my rule of thumb that pitchers 25 and under are at risk of injury or significant regression in the year after their clubs boost their workload by 30 or more innings.
The Mets pushed Pelfrey, then 24, 48 innings beyond his previous professional high in innings pitched last year. The club preferred not to do it. In fact, the Mets had mapped out a plan to get Pelfrey about 180 innings last year, but injuries on their staff and a tight pennant race forced the Mets to keep running him out there, rolling the odometer on his innings up to 200 2/3.
Pelfrey knew that I have been tracking such cases for about a decade, but wasn't buying the idea that he should be red-flagged for 2009. His size, for one, was in his favor, he said.
"You've got a point," I told him. After all, the dude
"I threw 140 innings at Wichita State -- in three months," Pelfrey said.
"Good point," I said. "That's still not 200."
"The other thing is I bet I went through a lot more stress in 2007 than I did last year," Pelfrey said. "It seemed like I constantly had runners on in 2007, and I really worked to improve my efficiency. So I might have thrown more innings, but I didn't have all those innings with runners on base and high pitch counts."
"I'll have to check that," I said.
Pelfrey was right, but only to a point. He reduced his pitches per inning from 17.7 to 16.6. That's good, but Pelfrey still wound up throwing about 600 more pitches in 2008 than he did in 2007 (minors and majors combined.)
"Here's the thing," I told him, "I never meant this theory to be a one-size-fits-all thing. It was always a rule of thumb, and the idea came from organizations that didn't want to stretch pitchers by more than 25 or 30 innings from one year to the next."
So I agreed with some of what Pelfrey presented. He turned 25 in January and is a big guy, so maybe he withstands his 48-inning jump better than someone younger and smaller. That said, I'm still not taking him off my list of the most at-risk young pitchers of 2009 based on the Year-After Effect. There is a reason why the Mets had an innings threshold in mind for Pelfrey, a reason why the Yankees have treated
This year I red-flagged 10 pitchers -- and the list includes some of the greatest young arms in the game. Here are those pitchers and the innings jumps that put them on the list (innings totals include major, minor and postseason innings; in some cases, the previous pro high occurred in a season other than 2007):
How much should those guys be worried? Over the previous three years I red-flagged a total of 24 young pitchers at the start of those seasons. Of those 24 at-risk pitchers, 16 were hurt in that same season. Only one of the 24 pitchers managed to stay healthy and lower his ERA:
In the early years of my tracking the Year-After Effect, the Royals notoriously pushed young pitchers to awful results (
Last year I red-flagged seven pitchers: Jimenez, Gorzelanny,
What does that mean for the 10 red flags for 2009? Don't panic, though
Like Pelfrey, Lester has age (he turned 25 in January) and size (6-2, 200) on his side. The red flags seem riskier for pitchers such as Hamels (slight build, mild injury history),