Any discussion of minor leaguers eventually touches on the inherent risk of pitching prospects. The easy part of that discussion is to simply drop a dismissive acronym on every pitching prospect and move on. Thereís so much inherent risk with young pitchers you can never depend on any specific pitching prospect.
The flip side to that risk and uncertainty is that once upon a time every good MLB pitcher was a TINSTAAPP. Is there any commonality to the ones who actually were APP? Using the benefit of 10 years of hindsight we can look back at not just the small pool of top pitching prospects from 1994, but essentially the complete pool of every minor league pitcher.
Iím just going to focus on the Top 37 pitchers. Itís an odd number (both literally and figuratively), but thatís life. Itís every pitcher that cleared 25 WARP and a handful of good starters who missed that benchmark because they were in the low minors in 1994.
Top 37 Pitchers Ranked by WARP
Rk Team Player Level WARP3 29WARP3 BA 1 Minn Brad Radke AA-SL 68.1 55.6 2 NYY Mariano Rivera AA-EL 66.6 30.0 3 NYY Andy Pettitte AAA-IL 61.2 47.8 4 Cle Bartolo Colon R-APPY 52.6 40.8 5 Cal Troy Percival AAA-PCL 48.2 25.8 6 Bal Armando Benitez AA-EL 46.2 34.3 1 7 Sea Derek Lowe AA-SL 45.6 37.7 8 Hou Billy Wagner Lo-A-MWL 45.1 27.4 2 9 LA Ismael Valdes AA-TL 42.0 40.2 10 Mon Uggie Urbina AA-EL 40.1 36.9 11 Pitt Esteban Loaiza AA-SL 39.5 23.5 12 Tex Rick Helling AAA-AA 36.9 26.8 13 Atl Jason Schmidt AA-SL 36.8 19.7 14 Minn Eddie Guardado AAA-PCL 36.2 17.6 15 Tor Kelvim Escobar Comp-GCL 35.6 35.6 16 LA Chan Ho Park AA-TL 34.8 32.9 10 17 Bal Arthur Rhodes AAA-IL 34.0 18.4 18 Bos Jeff Suppan Hi-A-FSL 32.9 32.9 10 19 Atl Kevin Millwood R-APPY 32.1 32.1 20 NYM J Isringhausen Hi-A-FSL 29.8 21.7 4 21 Col Curt Leskanic AAA-PCL 29.3 9.9 22 ChiNL Frank Castillo AAA-AA 29.1 15.8 23 Minn LaTroy Hawkins AA-SL 28.2 17.5 2 24 Sea Shawn Estes R-NWL 27.6 23.2 25 LA Omar Daal AAA-PCL 27.3 21.9 26 NYM Mike Remlinger AAA-IL 26.6 1.0 27 ChiAL James Baldwin AAA-AA 26.4 24.9 1 28 PHL R Bottalico AA-EL 25.8 16.9 29 NYY Ramiro Mendoza Hi-A-FSL 25.8 20.2 30 SD D Hermanson AA-TL 25.4 20.6 3 31 ChiNL Terry Adams Hi-A-FSL 25.3 20.1 32 Col John Thomson Lo-A-SAL 25.1 20.2 33 Tor Chris Carpenter R-Pio 24.5 24.5 3 34 SD Matt Clement Comp-AZL 23.6 23.6 35 Cle Paul Byrd AA-EL 21.8 8.3 36 CLE Jaret Wright R-APPY 15.7 15.7 3 37 Hou Scott Elarton Comp-GCL 12.0 12.0 2
So far just ten pitchers cleared 40 WARP. The group includes a HoF reliever and four future twenty game winners (Radke, Pettitte, Colon, and Lowe). Itís almost evenly split between starters (5.5) and relievers (4.5) if you count Lowe as both. Two pitchers made their league top 10, but four pitchers (Radke, Colon, Lowe, Valdes) did not even make their team top 10.
There are nine pitchers with 30-39.9 WARP. A future 20 game winner (Loaiza) and a late bloomer ace (Schmidt) highlight this group. Two of these pitchers made their league top 10 lists, but five pitchers (Helling, Guardado, Escobar, Rhodes and Millwood) did not even make their team top 10.
The next group of pitchers is a pretty motley Ėfungible even - group with the exception of Isringhausen who managed to salvage his career by moving to the pen and becoming a pretty good closer.
The last five add-ons are highlighted by Carpenter, another 20 game winner and a likely Cy Young winner. Clement has had a good career as a mid-rotation starter. Byrd, Wright and Elarton have fought a lot of injuries, but have been pretty good when healthy.
Top 37 Split by Starter and Reliever
Since the top of the list had so many relievers I thought it would be worthwhile to split the list into starters and relievers. I put Lowe and Escobar with the starters even though they have spent a lot of time as relievers as well.
Rk Team Player Level WARP3 29WARP3 BA 1 Minn Brad Radke AA-SL 68.1 55.6 2 NYY Andy Pettitte AAA-IL 61.2 47.8 3 Cle Bartolo Colon R-APPY 52.6 40.8 4 Sea Derek Lowe AA-SL 45.6 37.7 5 LA Ismael Valdes AA-TL 42.0 40.2 6 Pitt Esteban Loaiza AA-SL 39.5 23.5 7 Tex Rick Helling AAA-AA 36.9 26.8 8 Atl Jason Schmidt AA-SL 36.8 19.7 9 Tor Kelvim Escobar Comp-GCL 35.6 35.6 10 LA Chan Ho Park AA-TL 34.8 32.9 10 11 Bos Jeff Suppan Hi-A-FSL 32.9 32.9 10 12 Atl Kevin Millwood R-APPY 32.1 32.1 13 ChiNL Frank Castillo AAA-AA 29.1 15.8 14 Sea Shawn Estes R-NWL 27.6 23.2 15 LA Omar Daal AAA-PCL 27.3 21.9 16 ChiAL James Baldwin AAA-AA 26.4 24.9 1 17 Col John Thomson Lo-A-SAL 25.1 20.2 18 Tor Chris Carpenter R-Pio 24.5 24.5 3 19 SD Matt Clement Comp-AZL 23.6 23.6 20 Cle Paul Byrd AA-EL 21.8 8.3 21 CLE Jaret Wright R-APPY 15.7 15.7 3 22 Hou Scott Elarton Comp-GCL 12.0 12.0 2
Out of this group Iíd say there are 15 or 16 significant starters Ė the first 12 and Carpenter, Clement and maybe Thomson and/or Byrd. Over half of that group of 16 did not make their team Top 10. Those under the radar prospects, split by high or low minors, were:
High: Radke, Lowe, Valdes, Helling, Byrd
Low: Colon, Escobar, Millwood, Clement
One trait the group shares is a low draft pedigree. Valdes, Colon and Escobar were international FAs. Radke and Lowe were 8th rd picks. Millwood was an 11th rd pick. Clement (3rd) and Byrd (4th) were towards the top of the draft, but not really premium picks. The only exception is 1st rd pick Rick Helling who is also, perhaps, the worst pitcher in the bunch. Most under the radar pitching prospects were low pedigree amateur players.
The low minors group is stereotypical raw, high ceiling tools players that were successfully developed by their organizations.
The high minors group generally contains the kind of modest K rates that suggest a low ceiling for both traditional and performance analysts. Valdes is the exception with a 8.6 K rate in AA/AAA. The K rates for the others are 5.9 (Radke), 4.5 (Lowe), 5.4 (Helling) and 6.2 (Byrd).
There are six (so far) 20 game winners: Radke, Pettitte, Colon, Lowe, Loaiza and Carpenter. Carpenter, who had to survive major arm injuries, was the only one to make a league top 10. Pettitte and Loaiza at least made their team top 10s. That means half of the future 20 game winners did not make their team top 10. Colon subsequently dominated the minors in 1995 and 1996 so Iím sure he eventually made top prospect lists. Radke and Lowe probably never did.
Rk Team Player Level WARP3 29WARP3 BA 1 NYY Mariano Rivera AA-EL 66.6 30.0 2 Cal Troy Percival AAA-PCL 48.2 25.8 3 Bal Armando Benitez AA-EL 46.2 34.3 1 4 Hou Billy Wagner Lo-A-MWL 45.1 27.4 2 5 Mon Uggie Urbina AA-EL 40.1 36.9 6 Minn Eddie Guardado AAA-PCL 36.2 17.6 7 Bal Arthur Rhodes AAA-IL 34.0 18.4 8 NYM J Isringhausen Hi-A-FSL 29.8 21.7 4 9 Col Curt Leskanic AAA-PCL 29.3 9.9 10 Minn LaTroy Hawkins AA-SL 28.2 17.5 2 11 NYM Mike Remlinger AAA-IL 26.6 1.0 12 PHL R Bottalico AA-EL 25.8 16.9 13 NYY Ramiro Mendoza Hi-A-FSL 25.8 20.2 14 SD D Hermanson AA-TL 25.4 20.6 3 15 ChiNL Terry Adams Hi-A-FSL 25.3 20.1
Rivera makes any group of relievers special, but even without him this seems like an unusually good group. Letís just do a quick look at the top closers to see what their roles where in the minors.
Rivera Ė Rivera was a starter still recovering from Tommy John surgery. He played in three levels and had modest K rates of 6.6, 5.5, 6.7. That was a far cry from the 9.7 K rate he had in his only full season prior to his arm injury. At this point in his career Iím sure there were some concerns that he was permanently damaged goods.
Percival Ė A converted catcher he was exclusively a reliever. His minor league career consisted of ~130 games and ~150 IP.
Benitez Ė Benitez was also exclusively a reliever in the minors. He made 187 appearances with just seven starts and 283 IP total. He was considered a top prospect despite being a minor league reliever.
Wagner Ė Wagner was the 9th overall pick in the 1993 draft out of college. In 1994 he dominated the SAL as a starter at age 23 Ė 153 IP, 204 K. He continued to pitch well as a starter in 1995-96, but heís been exclusively a reliever in the majors, probably in deference to his small stature.
Urbina Ė Urbina was used as a starter in the minors. He generally had good ERAs, but modest K rates. He started 17 games in his rookie year and his full stat line (including 16 releif appearances) is quite good, but he was moved to the pen full time.
Guardado Ė Everyday Eddie mostly cooled his heels pitching every 5 days in minor league rotations.
Isringhausen Ė Izzy was a stud starting pitching prospect who suffered significant arm injuries and made a transition to the pen in the majors.
There were seven future closers in the minors. Percival and Benitez were the only ones used as relievers in the minors. Rivera, Wagner, Urbina and Izzy were all considered top prospects as starters. Guardado is the only one who was an unheralded starter who was converted into a good closer. Thereís a general idea that many closers were mediocre or failed starters. At least on the minor league level most of these future closers were at least very good starting pitcher prospects. These pitchers didnít come out of nowhere so much as they came out of a very small, defined pool of top prospects.
The next set of tables separates these pitchers by their amateur background.
Top 37 Pitchers Ė Intl:HS:JC:C
Rk Team Player Level WARP3 29WARP3 BA 2 NYY Mariano Rivera AA-EL 66.6 30.0 4 Cle Bartolo Colon R-APPY 52.6 40.8 6 Bal Armando Benitez AA-EL 46.2 34.3 1 9 LA Ismael Valdes AA-TL 42.0 40.2 10 Mon Uggie Urbina AA-EL 40.1 36.9 11 Pitt Esteban Loaiza AA-SL 39.5 23.5 15 Tor Kelvim Escobar Comp-GCL 35.6 35.6 16 LA Chan Ho Park AA-TL 34.8 32.9 10 25 LA Omar Daal AAA-PCL 27.3 21.9 29 NYY Ramiro Mendoza Hi-A-FSL 25.8 20.2 10 out of 37 total or 27%; 5 out of 10 over 40 WARP or 50%
As expected about 25% of the pitchers were international FAs. However, they are disproportionately represented in the over 40 WARP group. Somewhat surprisingly, pitchers from the Dominican Republic donít dominate the group. There are two each from the DR (Colon, Benitez), Mexico (Valdes, Loaiza) and Panama (Rivera, Mendoza). There are three from Venezuela (Urbina, Escobar, Daal) and one from Korea (Park).
Rk Team Player Level WARP3 29WARP3 BA 1 Minn Brad Radke AA-SL 68.1 55.6 3 NYY Andy Pettitte AAA-IL 61.2 47.8 7 Sea Derek Lowe AA-SL 45.6 37.7 13 Atl Jason Schmidt AA-SL 36.8 19.7 17 Bal Arthur Rhodes AAA-IL 34.0 18.4 18 Bos Jeff Suppan Hi-A-FSL 32.9 32.9 10 19 Atl Kevin Millwood R-APPY 32.1 32.1 22 ChiNL Frank Castillo AAA-AA 29.1 15.8 23 Minn LaTroy Hawkins AA-SL 28.2 17.5 2 24 Sea Shawn Estes R-NWL 27.6 23.2 27 ChiAL James Baldwin AAA-AA 26.4 24.9 1 31 ChiNL Terry Adams Hi-A-FSL 25.3 20.1 33 Tor Chris Carpenter R-Pio 24.5 24.5 3 34 SD Matt Clement Comp-AZL 23.6 23.6 36 CLE Jaret Wright R-APPY 15.7 15.7 3 37 Hou Scott Elarton Comp-GCL 12.0 12.0 2 16 out of 37 total or 43%, 3 out of 10 over 40 WARP or 30%
This is a pretty impressive group with four future 20 game winners including a possible Cy Young winner. Jason Schmidt also had a few years as an ace and Millwood just lead the AL in ERA. Carpenter was a 1st rd pick, but the other five were drafted in the 8th rd or later. Teams that donít take mid to late rd flyers on HS pitchers guarantee that they will never find one of these sleepers.
Rk Team Player Level WARP3 29WARP3 BA 14 Minn Eddie Guardado AAA-PCL 36.2 17.6 20 NYM J Isringhausen Hi-A-FSL 29.8 21.7 4 32 Col John Thomson Lo-A-SAL 25.1 20.2 3 out of 37 total or 8%
There are always a handful of JC pitchers in any study like this, but the groups are too small to say much. Guarado-esque relievers Ė though usually without the saves - are somewhat common.
Rk Team Player Level WARP3 29WARP3 BA 5 Cal Troy Percival AAA-PCL 48.2 25.8 8 Hou Billy Wagner Lo-A-MWL 45.1 27.4 2 12 Tex Rick Helling AAA-AA 36.9 26.8 21 Col Curt Leskanic AAA-PCL 29.3 9.9 26 NYM Mike Remlinger AAA-IL 26.6 1.0 28 PHL R Bottalico AA-EL 25.8 16.9 30 SD D Hermanson AA-TL 25.4 20.6 3 35 Cle Paul Byrd AA-EL 21.8 8.3 8 out 37 total or 22%, 2 out of 10 over 40 WARP or 20%
The ďsafeĒ and ďrisk minimizedĒ class of college pitchers is pretty terrible. There are a couple of good closers Ė well Wagner is more great than good Ė and a couple of decent mid-rotation starters and thatís about it.
And if you were to more specifically look at college drafted pitchers it would be even worse. Percival was drafted as a catcher and Bottalico was signed as an undrafted free agent out of a Connecticut adult baseball league. There were only six college drafted pitchers worth noting in the entire minors in 1994.
Again, this seemingly unexpected disparity between ďsafeĒ C and ďriskyĒ HS pitchers isnít really much of a surprise for anyone who has looked closely at the early 1990s drafts that predominantly fed the minors in 1994.
Prospects and Usage
It seemed like many of the eventual best pitchers were under the radar prospects so I thought it would be interesting to look back at the pitchers who were considered top prospects. Here are the top 25 pitching prospects from BAís 1995 Top 100.
BA Rank Player 1 11 Armando Benitez* 2 12 Bill Pulsipher 3 14 Alan Benes 4 15 Antonio Osuna* 5 16 Paul Wilson 6 17 Billy Wagner 7 18 Dustin Hermanson 8 19 Doug Million 9 23 Scott Ruffcorn 10 25 James Baldwin 11 27 Uggie Urbina 12 30 LaTroy Hawkins 13 33 Jose Silva 14 36 Frank Rodriguez 15 37 Jason Isringhausen 16 39 Jim Pittsley 17 41 Chan Ho Park 18 42 Jason Schmidt 19 44 Julio Santana 20 45 Jimmy Haynes 21 47 Brian Barber 22 49 Andy Pettitte 23 50 Jeff Suppan 24 53 John Wasdin 25 54 Terrell Wade
* denotes fulltime relievers
No pitcher made the top 10 and two of the top four pitchers were relievers, so perhaps this was considered a bit of a weak year for elite pitching prospects.
The two things that jumped out at me from the list are the number of prospects who became closers and the presence of some notorious abuse victims (the Mets Generation K trio and Benes). Wagner, Hermanson, Urbina, and Isringhausen all made the list as starters, but eventually became major league closers. Hawkins became a pretty good setup man as well. I believe only Isringhausen made the transition as a direct result of injury.
This time of year any mention of a top pitching prospect is usually quickly followed by some kind of statement that his team is/was trying to limit his innings to protect his arm. Weíve certainly seen it with the Sox current trio of pitching prospects and as Iíve pointed out thatís a big change from the way Pavano, Suppan, Rose, Pena et al were treated in the mid-90s. Each of those pitchers topped 180 IP at a young age. None of the Sox current trio of pitching prospects will top 150 IP.
Is that team specific example a part of a broader trend to reduce the innings of top pitchers? Letís compare the workloads of these 1994 prospects and a comparable group of 2005 pitching prospects.
Hereís the same group of pitchers ranked by IP. I left out the two relievers and the late Doug Million whose stat line wasnít easily available (by which I mean Iíd have to actually look it up in a book instead of plug it into The Baseball Cube search engine).
BA Rank Player Age IP (MLB) 1 14 Alan Benes 22 206 2 12 Bill Pulsipher 20 201 3 30 LaTroy Hawkins 21 194 4 37 Jason Isringhausen 21 193 5 45 Jimmy Haynes 21 187 6 36 Frank Rodriguez 21 186 7 50 Jeff Suppan 19 174 8 23 Scott Ruffcorn 24 172 (6) 9 49 Andy Pettitte 22 170 10 16 Paul Wilson 21 169+ 11 53 John Wasdin 21 168 12 44 Julio Santana 20 163 13 25 James Baldwin 23 162 14 39 Jim Pittsley 20 162 15 17 Billy Wagner 23 153 16 18 Dustin Hermanson 21 148+ 17 42 Jason Schmidt 21 141 18 33 Jose Silva 20 134 19 54 Terrell Wade 21 130 20 27 Uggie Urbina 20 121 21 47 Brian Barber 21 121 22 41 Chan Ho Park 21 105^ Ave 21.1 162
+ collegiate draft picks. I estimated 120 IP in college.
^ Park signed from Korea in 1994 and went right to AA. Iím not sure how much his low IP total is due to a usage philosophy as opposed to cultural transition issues, but I left him in.
I included a parenthetical notation with the number of MLB innings. Iíll get to the importance of that distinction in a bit. For now, just note that nearly all of these pitchers compiled these totals exclusively in the slightly shorter seasons of minor league ball.
Most of the pitchers were 20 or 21 with an average age of 21.1. The average workload was a reasonable 162 IP, but that includes some big totals on the high end. Nearly half of the pitchers threw at least 170 IP. There were six pitchers over 185 IP, four pitchers over 190 IP and two pitchers over two hundred innings.
Both two hundred-inning pitchers had their careers ruined by injuries. Both 190+ IP pitchers became relievers Ė Isringhausen due to serious injury, but not Hawkins as far as I know. The rest of the group over 170 IP seems pretty typical for pitching prospects with a couple durable successes (Pettitte, Suppan) and some busts.
Before I checked, I expected the high-end IP totals for 2005 pitching prospects to be much less than this group of 1994 prospects. That is only kind of true.
The BA Top 100 covering this year in the minors wonít be published for several months so a direct comparison of BA prospects to BA prospects canít be done at this time. As a replacement I used an in-season Top 50 pitchers list put together by Jon Sickels in August. I would expect most of the names to be similar. Since the rankings were released as part of his newsletter Iím not going to post how he ranked them, but will instead just skip to a rank by innings pitched.
Player Age IP (MLB) 1 Zach Duke 22 193 (85) 2 Matt Cain 20 192 (46) 3 Francisco Liriano 21 191 (24) 4 Scott Baker 23 188 (54) 5 Jason Vargas 22 182 (74) 6 Felix Hernandez 19 172 (84) 7 Fernando Nieve 22 167 8 Chuck James 23 167 (6) 9 John Danks 20 156 10 Joel Zumaya 20 151 11 Thomas Diamond 22 150 12 Jon Papelbon 24 149 (34) 13 Jon Lester 21 148 14 Jacob Stevens 20 148 15 Chad Billingsley 20 146 16 David Purcey 23 137 17 Anaibal Sanchez 21 136 18 Yusmeiro Petit 20 132 19 Gio Gonzalez 19 131 20 Justin Verlander 22 130 21 Scott Olsen 21 101 (20) 22 Phil Hughes 19 86 Ave 21.1 152
Also note that Sickels twenty-five highest ranked pitchers included three who spent time in the bullpen. I dropped them from the study, but as weíve seen with Papelbon sometimes moving a pitcher to the bullpen is part of a process of limiting innings.
The average age is the same, but thereís much more spread. There are three 19 yr olds in this group compared to one in the 1994 group. That difference is offset by four 23/24 yr olds in this group compared to two in the 1994 group.
In comparison to 1994, the average IP total decreased by ten innings. Thatís a slight reduction of 6%. The number of pitchers that exceeded 170 IP was down from 9 to 6, but the high end totals were pretty similar. The number of pitchers to exceed 190 IP only dropped from 4 to 3.
The main culprit for that is those MLB innings in the parentheses. All of the pitchers that exceeded 170 IP did so in the majors and most needed to pitch a lot of innings in the majors to do so. Thatís a dramatic change from the 1994 group that had just one player who barely pitched in MLB.
It was also a major change from a couple weeks before the season ended when I initially put the table together. At that point Duke was on the DL and I thought shut down for the year, Liriano was maybe going to get a few bullpen innings and Cain was probably going to be pulled once SF was eliminated. It looked like just a couple of pitchers would barely hit 175-180 IP and that would have represented a pretty big reduction in high end pitching totals. Those things did not happen and the pitchers continued to pitch, and pitch well, and some ended up with pretty high IP totals.
At least a handful of teams were willing to let some of their prized prospects reach fairly high IP totals during Sept callups. If those pitchers had been shut down at the end of their minor league season, they would have pitched 15-20 fewer innings and ended up in the 165-170 IP range. Thatís a significant difference from what we saw in 1994 and I still think itís worth pointing out because it does appear that that has become a rough cap on minor league IP.
The next table lists the league leaders in IP for each of the minor leagues in 1994 and 2005. For 2005 I also listed the next couple of totals in the leagues where the leader was on the high side. It wasnít easy to do that for 1994 and I donít think itís necessary to make the point.
1994 2005 Lg Player IP Player IP 2nd 3rd AA S Sparks 184 IL F Rodriguez 186 D Borkowski 183 167 PCL S Long 172 A Wainwright 182 167 EL B Pulsipher 201 A Davis 183 173 171 SL B Beatty 196 J Ryu 170 TL S Robertson 181 R Leek 186 172 171 CAL B Wolcott 181 J Mackintosh 180 174 160 CAR J Pierson 189 M OíConnor 168 FSL H Ramirez 194 T Dillard 185 162 SAL S Kline 186 A Baldwin 168 MWL M Sirotka 197 M Schlachte 168
The differences in the triple A leagues arenít that big although you can see that the 2005 league leaders were a bit anomalous at 15 innings above the second place finisher. Wainwright is a good pitching prospect. He was ranked #2 in the St Louis system prior to the year. He pitched this year at 23 and with some minor arm issues in his past was probably worked a little too hard. Borkowski is a 28 yr old journeymen.
The differences are more dramatic in the AA level. Pulsipher, who was 20 and one of the best prospects in baseball, cleared the two hundred inning mark all in the minors. For 2005 only two AA pitchers exceeded 173 IP and they were 30 and 28 yr old journeymen. All of the real prospects like Jae-kuk Ryu were held to roughly 170 IP.
In 1994 the five full season A league leaders pitched 181-197 IP. In 2005 only three pitchers exceeded 168 IP. Mackintosh was age 23/24 and not really a prospect. Dillard was more age appropriate at 21/22, but he didnít start the year in the BA Marlin Top 30 so heís not really considered a prospect either. The third pitcher is Garret Mock who was ranked #11 in the AZ system and is a decent prospect. He pitched at 21 this year.
There may have been some other pitchers who exceeded 170 IP in two leagues combined, but I looked at as many good pitching prospects as I could think of who were promoted during the year and none of them were over 170 IP. Outside of Wainwright at 182 IP at age 23, Iím not sure if any other legitimate prospect even dipped his toe in questionable territory. Thatís a huge change from what we see in the 1994 group of prospects. To a large degree it appears that MLB as an industry has moved towards a loose cap of 170 IP on minor leaguers.
So why did a handful of teams let their very best prospects get over 185 IP? Well, I donít know. But the five pitchers that exceeded 180 IP all did so for traditional teams Ė Pitt, SF, Minn and Fla. Those teams would be more likely to base their perception of a young pitcherís fatigue level on observing his mechanics. If a pitcher is easily maintaining his mechanics and pitching well, is there any difference between 170 and 190 IP? It would appear, that these teams would answer no. In contrast, it might be true that teams with risk minimization as a key component of their player development program would be more prone to err on the side of caution and be stricter about IP caps. Maybe.
Letís take a closer look at the five pitchers that exceeded 180 IP. Initial pitcher abuse research conducted by Craig Wright suggested that young pitchers who faced 30 batters per game were at risk. Using a BF estimate for minor league numbers and Baseball References actual numbers for MLB duty we can look more closely at the Batters Faced per start for each instead of just the gross IP totals.
Pitcher Age Level IP BF/GS Duke 22 AAA 108 27.9 MLB 85 24.4 Cain 20 AAA 146 23.8 MLB 46 25.9 Liriano 21 AA 77 24.7 AAA 91 24.8 MLB 24 23.3 Baker 23 AAA 135 24.7 MLB 54 24.1 Vargas 22 Lo-A 34 25.0 Hi-A 55 24.8 AA 19 25.3 MLB 74 25.0
Dukeís stint in AAA is the only interval much over 25 BF/GS. Generally these pitchers were so effective that they did not face a lot of batter per start. Cain is the youngest and by far the wildest. I was surprised his BF/GS was relatively low. I think you can make a good case that he was worked too hard overall. Liriano is also fairly young and has some arm issues in his past, so despite the low BF/GS and his general domination of his competition it probably would have been a good idea for the Twins to shut him down at the end of his minor league season. Will his 24 innings in Minn be a critical part of their evaluation of his readiness for 2006? The older pitchers seem to have had reasonable workloads despite the high IP totals.
If you believe overwork (as bluntly measured by season IP) is a significant factor in the injury problems behind the TINSTAAPP theory, then it should be true that pitching prospects from this era should have somewhat reduced injury risk in comparison to the pitching prospects of even the recent past. Hopefully, that will be true. If it is, then the long-term value of todayís pitching prospects should be higher than expectations based on their more overworked brethren from the past.
I thought it would be interesting to look at the year by year IP totals of some pitching prospects of this era as they moved through the late teen to early 20s injury nexus.
The first table contains the infamous abused prospects from this era, the Mets Generation K trio and Alan Benes.
18 19 20 21 22 23 24 Pulsipher 95 140 201 218 inj 82 159 Isringhausen 65 90 193 221 172 66 Wilson 169 187 162 15 Benes 157 206 72 207
Sadly, you can see the injury-induced reduction in IP for each of these pitchers prior to their age 25 seasons. These guys didnít just get hurt; they got hurt very quickly.
Pulsipher was worked the hardest. He had a high total at 18, a pretty high total at 19 and then made a big jump to a 200 IP workhorse at 20/21. He missed all of his age 22 season and never regained his effectiveness.
Isringhausen started with low workloads at 19/20 and then faced a huge jump at age 21. He was hurt by his age 24 season. He eventually resurrected his career as a good closer.
Wilsonís workload actually doesnít look that bad, at least as a pro. He could have been given a smaller workload in the summer of his draft year at age 21 and a 187 IP season at age 22 is a little high, but itís not nearly as bad as Pulsipher or Isringhausen.
The Cardinals cranked Benes up over 200 IP in his very first professional season and he immediately broke down. He bounced back over 200 IP at age 24 only to get hurt again.
The next table looks at the minor league pitchers from 1994 that generally did make it. I focused on the HS and international free agents so that we could have the fullest picture possible. Pitchers are listed by their career WARP totals to date.
18 19 20 21 22 23 24 Radke 50 166 168 186 181 232 240 Pettitte 70 168 165 170 187 221 Colon 66 129 77 151 Lowe 71 86 154 151 63 170 157 Valdes 42 187 126 198 225 197 183 Loaiza 52 143 176 154 173 155 Schmidt 45 83 117 141 141 144 188 Escobar 65 85 164 67 139 174 180 Suppan 58 174 167 168 173 146 209 Millwood 50 79 103 149 173 174 228 Carpenter 85 163 171 201 175 154 Clement 74 138 153 189 185 181 Wright 13 129 101 189 193 142 72 Ave 49 106 143 152 164 167 178
Radke was worked very hard as a minor leaguer. After a normal 50 IP short season introduction to pro ball he jumped to 166 IP at age 19 and drifted up to 186 IP by age 21. He spent his age 22 season in the majors getting knocked around a bit and then blossomed into a consistent 200+IP workhorse at age 23.
Pettitte has a very similar career path to Radke except his timeline was pushed back by the year he spent in a JC. Most of his minor league seasons were on the high side of what looks to be the normal progression and like Radke heís been a very durable starter.
Colon is interesting because the Indians were unaware of his true age. While most of his contemporaries threw ~150 IP in a full season league at age 21, the Indians treated him as a raw 19 yr old and limited him to just 66 IP in a short season league. As a result of that deception Colon faced a very light workload in his early 20s. Heís subsequently been very durable with at least 193 IP in every year since 1998.
Lowe had a slow steady increase in innings. He spent his teenage years in short season ball with under 100 IP and most of his early 20s around 150 IP. I donít know why he only pitched 63 IP at age 22. Lowe has been an extremely durable major leaguer and the reassuring tag ďnever been on the DLĒ is always attached to him (you might say like a groupie sports anchor or a bottle of jack). It would be interesting if that MLB durability followed some kind of arm injury in the minors.
Valdes career path is a little strange because he bounced between LA and Mexico. The huge IP total in his age 19 season was mostly in Mexico. He spent his age 21-23 seasons in LA as a very good starter (ERA+ of 125, 116, 146), but he was worked pretty hard with 620 IP in that time. In comparison, Colon pitched 272 IP at ages 21-23. Colon is currently a 20 game winner in the middle of a 52M contract at age 32. Valdes has spent his late 20s as a journeyman.
Loaiza had a big inning jump from short season at age 19 to full season at age 20 and then saw his IP totals fluctuate between 150 and 170 during his early 20s. Heís generally been a durable league average pitcher as a major leaguer with a one fluke 21 win season at age 31.
Schmidt is interesting because heís a product of the Braves player development program. The Braves gave him two low inning years in short season ball and then gently nudged his IP total up from 83 to 117 for his first year of full season ball. He took another small jump up at age 21 and then hit a plateau at ~140 IP for three years. Thatís a pretty gentle IP progression while he was in the Braves system. He was subsequently traded to Pittsburgh and pitched 615 IP from ages 24-26 and then broke down with injuries at ages 27/28. He re-emerged from those injuries as an ace in SF in his late 20s, early 30s.
Escobar also spent both his age 18 and 19 seasons in short season ball. He had a pretty big jump in IP totals at age 20 and then missed a lot of time at age 21. Escobarís been a good pitcher, but heís bounced from the rotation to the pen and back to the rotation and heís missed some time with recurring elbow chips.
The Sox started Suppan relatively slowly with 58 IP in the GCL at age 18, but then jumped him all the way to the FSL and 174 IP at age 19. He stayed at about 170 IP the next three years. That isnít too bad on the surface, but my recollection is that he missed small chunks of time within those seasons with elbow soreness. Suppan is a fascinating case study because he was promoted aggressively and worked hard, but was he abused? If you go by his raw IP totals, the recurring minor elbow problems and the fact that he never lived up to his Maddux-lite hype, then you could make a pretty good case that he was. On the other hand, heís been extremely durable since he turned age 24 with over 1400 innings in seven years at an ERA+ just over 100. Thatís a very good career for someone who despite the Sox hype was just the 10th best prospect in the FSL and the 50th best prospect on the BA Top 100. So was he abused, but it didnít much affect his career? In which case, was it really abuse? Or is there a hypothetical case to be made that if he had thrown 20 fewer innings each minor league season he would have never suffered any elbow problems and his stuff would have been just a little sharper and he would have had, say, Brad Radkeís career as a quality, durable #2 starter? Itís impossible to say what the right answer really is. And yes, I did pick Radke because he was worked even harder than Suppan. Go figure.
Millwood is another product of the Braves player development system. His IP totals closely track those of Schmidt from ages 18-21. They diverged at 22 as Millwood made the majors and saw his IP total increase to the low 170s at ages 22/23 before he bumped up to 228 at age 24. Millwood has been a good pitcher who has racked up four 200+ IP seasons, but he also missed time in 2001 with shoulder stiffness and in 2004 with a minor elbow problem, iirc.
Carpenter was a #1 pick out of HS. Iím not sure if his negotiations were drawn out and contentious or the Jays were just being cautious, but he didnít pitch professionally in his age 18 season. He threw 85 IP in short season ball at age 19. He jumped to 163 and 171 at ages 20/21 in full season ball. That looks a little high, but not ďabusiveĒ just in terms of IP. It is true, however, that he had a lot of walks (173) and strikeouts (259) in those 334 IP so a pitch count measurement might show a bigger red flag. Halfway through his age 22 season he made the majors and he ended up just over 200 IP for the year. Carpenter pitched reasonably well at 23/24, but in reduced innings. Iím not sure if there were some minor injuries there. He was awful (ERA+ of 79) at age 25, but bounced back with 216 IP at a 116 ERA+ at age 26. I guess it looked like he had turned the corner and put aside whatever minor injuries and growing pains he had suffered through. Not quite. He was awful and injured at age 27 and missed all of his age 28 season. It looked like his career was finished. This year heís probably going to win the Cy Young at age 30.
Clement had an unusual start to his career. He didnít pitch the summer after he was drafted at age 18, but he spent most of his age 19 season in lo-A. Nevertheless, he only pitched 74 IP, a total more typical of a short season league. He was bumped up to 138 IP at age 20, but with 91 BB they were probably high pitch count innings. He made another small increase to 153 IP at age 21. He was then over 180 IP in both his age 22 and 23 seasons. His walk rate was good at 22, but mediocre at 23 (4.5/9 IP). Given his command issues Clementís workload was a little high. After a difficult transition to the majors, heís basically been durable and good through his age 30 season.
Wright is the only pitcher in this group that has suffered from significant injury problems. He got a small taste of pro ball at age 18. He made a big inning jump from 13 to 129 at age 19. The 129 IP by itself isnít very high for full season ball, but like Clement there were a lot of walks (79 in 129 IP). He dropped to 101 age 20. Iím not sure if there was any kind of minor injury involved. At age 21 he threw 189 IP between AA, AAA and the regular season in the majors. He then threw another 24 IP in the post-season for a full year total of 213 IP. He was ok at age 22 with another 193 IP. Due to significant injuries he threw just 289 innings from ages 23-28. He bounced back with 186 very good innings with the Braves at age 29, but was hurt again at age 30.
If there is any kind of pattern to the usage of these pitchers I donít see it. And thatís not much of a surprise. I expected there would be someone like Radke who was worked very hard and yet was durable and that there would be someone like Jason Schmidt who was treated carefully and yet broke down anyway.
That teams seem to have capped minor league IP totals should be a good thing for the long-term health of these pitchers. I think. Itís at least worth a try.
Addendum: Just to be complete here are the pitchers that didnít make the Top 37.
Rk Team Player Level WARP3 29WARP3 BA 30 PHL Mike Williams AAA-IL 24.5 8.2 31 Det Jose Lima AAA-IL 24.3 18.5 32 Cle Paul Shuey AAA-IL 23.8 15.5 33 NYY S Hitchcock AAA-IL 23.1 20.3 35 Mil Scott Karl AAA-AA 21.7 21.7 43 Mon Gabe White AAA-IL 17.7 13.2 48 Bos Frank Rodriguez AAA-IL 12.6 12.6 27 Cinn Scott Sullivan AA-SL 20.2 12.2 28 Bal Jimmy Haynes AA-EL 19.4 19.2 29 Sea Jim Mecir AA-SL 19.4 6.5 30 LA Darren Dreifort AA-TL 18.4 15.4 1 32 Col Juan Acevedo AA-EL 16.6 7.5 33 Sea Ron Villone AA-SL 16.1 6.7 36 Cle Alan Embree AA-EL 14.9 6.1 37 Oak John Wasdin AA-SL 14.7 14.8 4 39 Oak Tanyon Sturtze AA-SL 13.3 1.8 40 Minn Rich Garces AA-SL 13.2 10.9 41 NYY B Boehringer AA-EL 13.2 7.4 21 Det Brian Moehler Hi-A-FSL 24.4 23.4 25 Bal Jay Powell Hi-A-CAR 14.6 13.0 26 Cal Bill Simas Hi-A-CAL 14.4 14.4 27 Bal G Stephenson Hi-A-CAR 14.1 10.0 15 Cle Steve Kline Lo-A-SAL 22.5 17.1 16 Mil Cory Lidle Lo-A-MWL 21.3 9.8 17 KC Glendon Rusch Lo-A-MWL 20.3 20.3 19 ChiAL Mike Sirotka Lo-A-MWL 19.7 19.7 21 Hou John Halama Lo-A-MWL 18.0 10.7 23 Atl Esteban Yan Lo-A-SAL 17.5 17.5 25 SF Bobby Howry Lo-A-MWL 16.9 14.3 26 Sea Matt Mantei Lo-A-MWL 16.2 15.3 29 StL Jay Witasick Lo-A-MWL 12.3 9.5