To say that Mets righthander Matt Harvey has been good this season would be an understatement. Harvey has been fantastic, making even the most dangerous lineups in baseball look foolish. However, Harvey’s success comes with a lot of work. Up to this point in the season, Harvey has pitched 123 innings. Last week, Manager Terry Collins said that Harvey’s innings cap would be increased from 185 innings to anywhere between 205-225 innings. The large volume of innings that Harvey is on pace to consume raises some concern over Harvey’s health down the road.
Harvey’s workload has put him at risk for what’s called the “Verducci Effect.” In 2008, Sports Illustrated writer Tom Verducci hypothesized that a pitcher under age 25 who pitched 30 innings more than his previous career high was at risk of an injury the following season. The data has been supported in the cases of guys like Phil Hughes, Francisco Liriano, and Mark Prior.
Hughes pitched 86 innings in 2009, and then jumped to 176 innings in 2010. The following season Hughes came out of spring training with a dead arm, and was limited to just 74 innings. Liriano pitched 23 innings in 2005, increased to 121 innings in 2006, and found himself undergoing Tommy John Surgery, missing all of 2007 and most of 2008. Prior increased from 116 innings in 2002 to 211 innings in 2003. As a result, Prior pitched fewer than 170 innings in the following two seasons, and eventually his career as a starter ended due to injuries.
Harvey does fall into the mold of an at-risk pitcher according to the “Verducci Effect” since he only threw 73 innings last year and has thrown 123 innings and counting this year. The data is convincing that Harvey could get injured, however just because Verducci found a correlation between innings, age, and injury does not mean that these factors necessarily contributed to a given pitcher’s injury. The main difference between Harvey, and pitchers who have fallen victim to the “Verducci Effect” is that he has much smoother mechanics. Liriano has herky-jerky mechanics, Hughes has an inverted L, and Mark Prior had an inverted W — all factors that could lead to injury. The fact that their innings had been increased most likely just exploited faulty mechanics that led to injury.
If Harvey ends up throwing more than 200 innings this season, it’s not set in stone that he’s going to get injured down the road just because he happens to fall under the same category of other pitchers who have had injuries. Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez, and Justin Verlander have all increased their innings at a young age, and all of them have gone on to have healthy successful careers. There is no reason to assume that Harvey couldn’t do the same.