Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci helped push the idea of innings limits pitchers into the mainstream. Call it whatever you like — the Verducci Effect, the Year After Effect, the Rule of 30 — but it’s become widely accepted that young pitchers who experience a significant workload increase are at risk of a season like Phil Hughes is having right now.
When Verducci singled out 11 pitchers who might be at risk this year, Hughes was the sixth name on the list. Verducci called him “lower-risk” because of his age (nearly 25) and his size (6-foot-5 and well over 200 pounds), but Hughes made the cut after a significant innings bump last season. So did Ivan Nova, by the way.
Now Hughes is going for an MRI even though he feels perfectly healthy. The Yankees have to send him for medical tests because they can’t figure out what else might be wrong with him.
“Usually if a guy says he has pain you go for MRIs,” Joe Girardi said. “He just said he felt like it was dead and there wasn’t a lot coming out. We figured that maybe he needed to be built up. We put him on a program, and now that the program didn’t seem to work, then we go get an MRI. He still says he’s not experiencing pain.”
It could be that Hughes’ problems are little more than last year’s workload catching up to him. And he might not be alone.
The first three names on Verducci’s list heading into this season were Madison Bumgarner, Alex Sanabia and Mat Latos.
Bumgarner’s velocity has been just fine — higher than last year according to FanGraphs — but he has a 7.79 ERA through four starts for the Giants. Sanabia is on the Triple-A disabled list and has yet to pitch for the Marlins. Latos has a 5.94 ERA and has seen a slight dip in his velocity for the Padres.
Travis Wood, Brett Cecil and Nova have also struggled after having their names on Verducci’s list. David Price, Brandon Beachy, Gio Gonzalez and Dillon Gee were on the list and have pitched well.
“I’ve seen a lot of young pitchers that have thrown a lot of innings a year before and not come back quite with the same velocity,” Girardi said. “I think Cecil went through it. I can’t tell you exactly what’s going on with Cecil in Toronto, but here’s a guy that we had as hard as 92-93 and you weren’t seeing that (when the Yankees faced him last week), and he just got sent down. Guys have taken steps backward after being extended, more innings that they’re accustomed to doing, but as I said, there is a level of concern (with Hughes) because everything seemed to be going in the right direction and it kind of halted a little bit today.”
Of the names on Verducci’s list, the Cecil comparison seems to be the best one to match next to Hughes. They’re the same age and saw a pretty similar increase last season. Cecil was optioned to Triple-A after the Yankees knocked him around on Wednesday. Here are two paragraphs from the MLB.com story about Cecil’s demotion.
The 24-year-old has been suffering from a loss of velocity on his fastball. Cecil is used to throwing from 90-94 mph, but during Spring Training and the early stages of the 2011 season, he was consistently clocked in the mid-to-high 80s.
That loss of velocity caused him to overthrow the ball at times in an effort to increase speed. That led to his pitches being elevated in the zone and success for opposing hitters quickly followed.
It reads like a Hughes story. Just like the Yankees coaching staff when talking about Hughes, the Blue Jays coaching staff has been quoting talking a lot about control and confidence, but the velocity issue lingers. Toronto ultimately decided to option Cecil rather than put him on the disabled list. The Yankees considered doing the same with Hughes.
It could be that today’s MRI will show some sort of damage to Hughes’ shoulder, or it could be that Hughes is simply feeling the impact of 2010, just like a lot of other young pitchers.
Associated Press photos