Matt Harvey and an innings limit

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.

11 comments for “Matt Harvey and an innings limit

  1. July 7, 2013 at 9:46 am

    Every pitcher has a different make up as to his ability and motion for pitching. Does Harvey have a fluid motion? Does he use his legs like Tom Seaver to alleviate any pressure on his back? I know it’s not like Lincecum who has an unorthodox delivery.

  2. July 7, 2013 at 10:09 am

    Ah – the Verducci Effect — the statistical version of STDs. The gift that keeps giving and keeps popping up, no matter how hard smart people try to kill it. It’s thought that some STDs began when humans had intercourse with animals. The Verducci Effect came when a sportswriter came up with a statistical theory and ignored concepts like regression, confirmation bias and the whole correlation/causation thing.

    No matter what you do – pitchers are going to get hurt. Just as importantly, no two pitchers are identical. Tom Seaver threw 250+ innings in 11 of his first 12 years and pitched until he was 41. Paul Wilson threw 149 innings as a rookie and came down with both shoulder and elbow injuries that ruined his career. Not everyone is Seaver. Not everyone is Wilson, either.

    My personal theory – with no research done whatsoever – is that pitches are more important than innings. My belief is that consistent starts with 120+ pitches, with several 150+ pitch starts mixed in, are the real danger.

    But we have pitch counts for 23 of Wilson’s 26 starts in 1996. His high was 121 pitches and 15 of his starts he threw fewer than 100 pitches. So clearly something else got him.

    I want to see the Mets be careful with Harvey, with the care being legitimate and not some artificial number pulled out of thin air which may or may not have anything to do with injury. We’ve already seen way too many decisions made that fall into the CYA mode for the manager. I don’t want this to be another one.

    • July 7, 2013 at 1:14 pm

      Beat me to it. I thought the Verducci Effect had been taken to task several times. It pops its head up every so often though.

      Beyond the shaky Verducci Effect, it DOES seem to make sense that you’d want to ease yourself into any increase in physical exertion of the body. I mean, incrementing increases in workload has got to be better than going full blast right out of the gate, right?

  3. Jim OMalley
    July 7, 2013 at 10:35 am

    Are there any generall accepted theories about the pitch assortment: ie, percent of fastballs, curveballs, change ups thrown?

  4. za
    July 7, 2013 at 12:51 pm

    Your numbers for innings pitched are all way off because you aren’t including innings pitched in the minors. Recheck all your numbers and add innings pitched that season at other levels. Harvey pitched 169.1 innings last year. I have no idea where you’re getting your numbers either since 59.1 of those innings were at the Major League level.

  5. Chris F
    July 7, 2013 at 11:23 pm

    Despite the lack of decent math behind the verducci effect, a problem that I believe is even broader, it seems reasonable to lengthen a pitcher that is just coming up. As painful as it is for me to accept, the days of the complete game are numbered, and getting pitchers acclimated to full 220 innings at mlb level by increasing the load only seems reasonable, particularly in an era when massive innings and complete games are over.

  6. July 8, 2013 at 12:09 am

    How many young pitchers continue to pitch in winter ball in warmer climates or Latin countries? Did Harvey just shut down last year or did he throw during the off season? Most Latino ball players play all year long in their native countries and participate in the Caribbean World Series. Does pitching all year round add to wear and tear on a shoulder? Or does it help to build endurance? I guess it depends on the each individual as to how they take care of their bodies and how much stress they put on their shoulders with their style of pitching.

  7. Jerry Grote
    July 8, 2013 at 8:11 am

    Take a look at the top “truly great” pitchers in the last 10 years. Halladay/Verlander/CC/Lee/Kershaw/Linecum/Felix/Santana/Webb … maybe you want to add Price to that list to come up with the round 10.

    Santana/Linecum/Webb all ended up with limited numbers of greatness – 1000-1200? You have Halladay/Verlander/CC/Lee/Felix and probably Kershaw as getting to 2000++ innings. I see Harvey as closer to the latter group than the former group. Classic body type, power pitcher; still 30% of the top pitchers end with less than seven 1500 IP.

    Other point I hear on TV some … it’s not the innings, but the high leverage innings/pitches. The closest pitcher in all of baseball to Harvey is Verlander. He dials it up for about 6 batters every game and you can see it; and when he does, he’s not throwing sliders. He’s dead red.

    All that said? Stop him at 220, and let’s see what Montero (Noah?) and others can do. We’re getting no where and we need to see what we have.

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