Workloads may be catching up with workhorses like Sabathia, Halladay

Tuesday September 24th, 2013

CC Sabathia had an off-year and was shut down this week with a hamstring injury.
Frank Franklin II/AP

On Monday, the same day the Yankees announced that CC Sabathia would not make his final regular season start because of a strained hamstring, the Phillies' Roy Halladay was pulled from his start after facing just three batters. Thus came the official ends for both men to what already had been rough seasons -- similar to the ones endured in 2013 by Chris Carpenter, Tim Hudson, Josh Beckett, Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jered Weaver, Justin Verlander, Yovani Gallardo, David Price and Josh Johnson, all tried and true veteran pitchers who were All-Stars as recently as just two or three years ago. Throw in Johan Santana, who never threw a pitch, and it's been a bad year for workhorses.

High-priced pitching is probably not going to be a decisive factor in the playoffs, largely due to the unusual declines of the Yankees (though they are technically still alive the wild card race), Phillies and Giants -- not since 1992 has there been a postseason without games in New York or Philadelphia. Next month, only two of the 10 most expensive pitchers in baseball are likely to get the ball: the Tigers' Verlander, 30, and the Dodgers' Zack Greinke, 29.

Jack Weinberg was helping to lead the free speech movement in the 1960s when he said, "We don't trust anyone over 30," but he may also have been foreshadowing a general manager's view of pitching in this era of banned drugs. You can find exceptions, such as the Athletics' Bartolo Colon, 40, the Red Sox' John Lackey, 34, and the Pirates' A.J. Burnett, 36, all of whom are having comeback seasons that should continue with postseason starts, but only four pitchers 30 or older have won 15 games this year. (Jeremy Guthrie, 34, Cliff Lee, 35, and Bronson Arroyo, 36, each have one start left to try to get the job done.) In 1998 there were a record 20 such 15-game winners. If Guthrie, Lee and Arroyo don't get there, this will go down as one of the worst seasons ever for pitchers reaching 15 wins. And even if all three do reach 15, the fact will still remain that since baseball went to 30 teams in 1998, the six seasons with the fewest 15-game winners age 30 or older all occurred in the past six years.

Here are the full seasons in baseball history with the fewest 15-game winners who were at least 30 years old:

1918: 2
1968: 3
2013: 4
1966: 4
1965: 4
1955: 4

What has happened to baseball's expensive workhorses? Their workloads may be catching up to many of them. Here's a look, in order of innings pitched, at the 10 pitchers who threw the most innings from 2008-12, and whether this season should be a cause for concern.

1. CC Sabathia, 33, Yankees
2008-12 IP: 1,158
2013 IP: 211

The big guy threw more than 200 innings for the seventh straight year -- including the postseason, he has averaged 244 frames per season in that time -- but all the mileage seems to be catching up to him. He gave New York a quality start only half the time in his 32 outings, the worst percentage of his career. His strikeout rate matched his lowest since 2005, and his extra-base hit percentage was a career worst. Sabathia's season ended with a hamstring injury, but the major concern for the Yankees is that his pitches this year lacked finish and bite. He is owed $71 million over the next three seasons, with a $25 million option for 2017 that vests if he doesn't hurt his shoulder in 2016.

JAFFE: What Yankees' record might be if not for injuries

2 (tied). Felix Hernandez, 27, Mariners
2008-12 IP: 1,154 2/3
2013 IP: 198 1/3

Youth is on his side, as his heavy workload hasn't yet caught up with him. His percentages of strikeouts (26.3) and walks (5.6) this season are career bests.

2 (tied). Justin Verlander, 30, Tigers
2008-12 IP: 1,154 2/3
2013 IP: 212 1/3

Velocity isn't the problem for Verlander. He has been fighting his mechanics, which has sapped his confidence in his fastball. Verlander has increased the use of his slider every year he's been in the majors. He is still very good, but hitters are getting better swings against him now than they used to. He gave up a greater percentage of line drives this year than any point in his career, and the batting average against him was .256, the highest since his rookie season. It's enough to question whether Detroit manager Jim Leyland should start Max Scherzer instead of Verlander in Game 1 of the Division Series.

4. Roy Halladay, 36, Phillies
2008-12 IP: 1,125 2/3
2013 IP: 62

The level of concern here is high. Two years ago he was throwing 92-93 mph with pinpoint control. This month he was throwing 87-88 mph and struggling with his command before he fell to 83 mph last night. But hold off on judgments just yet. Give Halladay a full offseason to condition his shoulder, and see what he brings to the mound next spring.

CORCORAN: Halladay leaves early; what does future hold?

5. James Shields, 31, Royals
2008-12 IP: 1,115
2013 IP: 221 2/3

Shields is an exception, given his age and durability. A freakish workhorse, he has averaged 221 innings a season for the last seven years -- and he leads the AL in innings with that many right now. Shields has been everything the Royals hoped for -- leading their rotation and saving their bullpen from overuse -- when they traded Wil Myers to the Rays to get him.

6. Cliff Lee, 35, Phillies
2008-12 IP: 1,111
2013 IP: 214 2/3

Another rare one who just keeps rolling, he is the best strike-thrower in the business and has near flawless mechanics. Lee didn't throw 200 innings in a season until he was 26, and that may be helping his longevity. Over the past six years he is 85-49 with a 2.90 ERA and just 197 walks in 185 starts.

7. Matt Cain, 28, Giants
2008-12 IP: 1,099 2/3
2013 IP: 177 1/3

Cain averaged 239 innings from 2010-12 (postseason included), and with his ERA ballooning to 4.06 this year, it seems the bill finally came due for all that work. His peripherals were actually not so bad. He was very good in the second half (2.34 ERA) and he had a better ERA in his 12 no-decisions (2.28) than in his eight wins (2.70). He is a great candidate for a bounceback season in 2014.

8. Dan Haren, 33, Nationals
2008-12 IP: 1,095 1/3
2013 IP: 162 2/3

His workload and love of the cutter have robbed him of velocity over the past few years. His 4.87 ERA this year was his worst in a full season, and he allowed the most home runs in the National League. The silver lining is that Haren, who rarely puts together two good halves, has fought back with a stronger second half (5-4, 3.88 ERA).

9. Tim Lincecum, 29, Giants
2008-12 IP: 1,067 2/3
2013 IP: 190 2/3

In 64 starts over the past two seasons, Lincecum is 20-29 with a 4.80 ERA. Declining velocity and inconsistency are problems, but he still has a good strikeout rate. He will make for a fascinating free agent. Is he one fix away from getting straightened out, or is he the next Dontrelle Willis?

10. Cole Hamels, 29, Phillies.
2008-12 IP: 1,061
2013 IP: 214

With a wicked changeup and a smooth delivery, he remains durable. An early season funk led to a career-worst in the percentage of extra base hits allowed, but Hamels still went 7-5 with a 2.96 ERA in his last 20 starts. No reason to worry.

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