November 28, 2006
Follies of youth: Year-After Effect could strike many young arms in '07 (Tom Verducci, November 28, 2006, Sports Illustrated)
I've been tracking the [Year-After Effect] for about a decade now. It's based on a general rule of thumb among executives and pitching coaches: young pitchers should not have their innings workload increased by more than 25 or 30 innings per year. It's the same principle as training for a marathon; you get to 26.1 miles incrementally, not by jumping directly from a 10K. The body cannot easily withstand being pushed so far behind its previous capacity for work, at least not without consequences. Typically, those consequences occur the next season, not the year in which the body is pushed.Posted by Orrin Judd at November 28, 2006 2:15 PM
When I've looked at major league pitchers 25-and-younger who were pushed 30 or more innings beyond their previous season (or, in cases such as injury-shortened years, their previous pro high), I've been amazed how often those pitchers broke down with a serious injury the next season or took a major step backward in their development. (The season total includes all innings in the minors, majors and postseason. )
For example, let's look at the YAE for the Class of 2005, the young pitchers who were pushed beyond the 30-inning threshold that season: Matt Cain (+33.1 innings at age 20), Francisco Liriano (+34.2 at 21), Gustavo Chacin (+35.2 at 24), Zach Duke (+44.1 at 22), Scott Kazmir (+51.2 at 21) and Paul Maholm (+98.1 at 23). Liriano (elbow), Chacin (elbow) and Kazmir (shoulder) all suffered significant injuries. Cain (+1.82), Duke (+2.66) and Maholm (+2.58) all saw dramatic rises in their ERAs.
The bottom line: a dramatic increase in innings on a young pitcher elevates the risk of injury or a setback to their development. This has been true for years. The Kansas City Royals were negligent with young pitchers for years, pushing young arms such as Chad Durbin (+49 in 2001), Runelvys Hernandez (+92 in 2002) and Zack Greinke (+33.2 in 2004). Even breakout young stars took a step back because of the YAE, such as Kevin Millwood (+78.1 in 1999), Dontrelle Willis (+52 in 2003), Horatio Ramirez (+34 in 2003) and Mark Prior (+67 in 2003).
Like any rule of thumb, there are exceptions, especially for big-bodied pitchers. C.C. Sabathia (+40 in 2001) and Carlos Zambrano (+72.1 in 2003) proved the YAE is not one-size-fits-all.
Now the bad news for the Class of 2006. I can't remember more young pitchers getting pushed this hard in all the years I've been tracking the YAE. I found 11 pitchers 25-and-under who went more than 30 innings beyond their 2005 log, or (where marked with an asterisk) their previous professional high.