Will Carroll is on the great team of writers at Baseball Prospectus and provides insight into player health and injury recovery. He was kind enough to answer a few questions about keeping young pitchers healthy.
Your research into pitcher injuries has led you to the Verducci Rule, can you briefly explain what the Rule is?
I originally called it the “Rule of 30″ but I found out that Tom Verducci had been doing this for years. He calls it the Year After Effect, but I think that my blanking on him doing this –I know I must have read it along the way–gives me more impetus to credit him for the work. Essentially, it’s that an increase in innings by more than 30, year over year, is a negative indicator for health and effectiveness.
You have said that minor league innings do not translate exactly for Verducci Rule purposes, but can we assume that the basic premise of the Rule still applies to pitching prospects in the minor leagues?
It should. I’m as confused by the results as anyone. I thought using Davenport Translations would clear up the problem, but it didn’t. I haven’t looked at level to level changes, but I’d hesitate in saying anything there because of the findings I had from minors to majors.
Teams have become increasingly attuned to the health of pitching prospects and have implemented specific restrictions in some situations (for example, the limitation on sliders from Felix Hernandez and the “Joba Rules” for Joba Chamberlain). Are there any guidelines that you think clubs should uniformly hold when it comes to using their pitching prospects?
No, I think there’s general guidelines, but I think each individual is different. What I’d like to see is a logical, individual development system that allows them to slowly work their way up, to focus on the things they need to do to advance and get better. I did an article on the logical progression at BP, but there needs to be a lot more.
Traditionally it has been assumed that pitchers with smaller frames don’t hold up well to the strain of pitching – have you found that body type is a significant factor in injury risk to pitchers?
It’s not about body, it’s about joint loads. A skinny kid with good mechanics and stable joints is going to hold up longer. I think once we know more about this, when we get every pitcher in the video analysis database, we’ll understand why some of these “freaks” hold up. All things being equal, a stronger, more stable athlete will hold up longer, which is why size has always been an issue.
Speaking about mechanics, the Cardinals held a “mini-camp” this spring for several of their top pitching prospects and brought in a consultant who stressed certain bio-mechanic constants in the pitching motions of several all time great pitchers. Do you think there are constants that pitchers should strive to emulate, or is the matter of finding a healthy pitching motion more dependent on the unique attributes of each individual pitcher?
Brent Strom is phenomenal and Cards fans should be excited that he’s part of the organization. He’s experienced and progressive (and, for full disclosure, a friend). With he and Dyar Miller in charge, I think the Cards will see great results. There are some constants, some things you have to see, but we’re still learning and finding ways to use what we know. I think we need to work on making each pitcher the best they can be individually rather than trying to change them to fit what we reverse engineered. I’m more interested in making Anthony Reyes the best Anthony Reyes he can be more than making him pitch like Roger Clemens or Greg Maddux.
Teams have “organizational philosophies” when it comes to certain aspects of playing the game (Oakland pushes OBP, the Cardinals push the sinkerball), do teams, or should teams, have an organizational philosophy when it comes to the health of players and the treatments performed by the training staff?
No. While I like the concept of the “Dodger Way” or whatever, I think letting each individual know what’s expected, what’s good and bad, what they need to do to advance, what their strengths and weaknesses are is better. We all have annual reviews at work, so why don’t players? Sure, there are things you push because you’re good at them. Give Duncan some older players like Carpenter or Dave Stewart and he gets great results, so why not use it? Just don’t get married to any idea… except winning.