On Inning Limits, the Indians Rotation & Injury Concerns

After much gnashing of teeth and about 20,000 wasted words from me, this weekend the Indians decided to relegate Justin Masterson to the bullpen for the remainder of the 2010 campaign.  According to the team, the decision was based not on any belief that Masterson slots better out of the bullpen in the future, but entirely on innings limits that the Indians believed they should put on pitchers who are ramping up workloads.

Indeed, according to Manny Acta, Masterson will enter Spring Training as a rotation option unless the team signs “five Bob Fellers” this offseason.  So this move was clearly intended to limit Masterson’s innings and allow his arm to rest after pitching more innings than ever before in his young career.

Innings limits are funny things, because nobody is quite sure how to handle them.  Some believe you shouldn’t add more than 20 innings per season to a young pitcher’s arm.  Some believe you shouldn’t increase innings by more than 15% to 20% year over year.  Some believe that pitching limits are silly, and young pitchers need to compete.  This last group of people typically get fired from their broadcasting jobs in rather hilarious fashion.

Regardless, the Indians appear to have set Justin Masterson’s inning limit between 170 and 180 innings this season; when he was removed from the rotation, Masterson had thrown 166 innings.  At that time, Acta indicated that he had 8 to 10 innings left before reaching his limit.  After throwing seven innings in relief of Mitch Talbot on Sunday, Masterson sits at 173 innings pitched.  Basically, he’s almost at the Indians’ magic number, and we likely won’t see much of him for the rest of the season.

Which got me to thinking: how many innings have our starters pitched this season, compared to last?  Table-time (all numbers include minor league and major league innings):

2009 2010 % change
Fausto Carmona 171.2 186.2 8.8%
Justin Masterson 129.1 173.0 34.0%
Mitch Talbot 68.1 150.1 120.4%
Carlos Carrasco 137.0 171.0 24.8%
Josh Tomlin 145.0 154.2 6.3%
Jeanmar Gomez 147.1 160.1 8.8%
David Huff 167.2 154.0 -7.9%

The interesting thing about this table, to me, is that we only have one viable pitcher who has pitched more than 170 big league innings in a season: Fausto.  I guess that’s what happens when the majority of your rotation comprises rookies.

In fact, Masterson has already increased his innings from 2009 by 34%—quite a bit from what I’ve read about increasing workloads on young pitchers.  I can certainly understand why the Indians are being cautious with him, considering the current standings and the likelihood that he’ll be relied upon in the rotation again next season.  Furthermore, both Josh Tomlin and Jeanmar Gomez appear to have some more innings to contribute to the 2010 season: if the Indians are comfortable increasing Masterson’s workload by 35%, both Tomlin and Gomez should be able to contribute about 75 more innings combined this season just by adding 25% to last season’s respective totals.

All this makes sense.  I hadn’t looked at these numbers before, but it was definitely time to limit Masterson’s innings.

No, what sticks out to me is Mitch Talbot.  Last season, between Rookie ball, high A, and AAA, Talbot pitched only 68.1 innings.  This season, he’s already thrown 150.1, for a year-over-year increase of 120.1%!  Obviously, his innings in 2009 were limited by an elbow strain: in 2008, Talbot threw 170 innings for the Rays organization, after throwing 160 in 2007.

But doesn’t it seem odd that a pitcher coming off a significant elbow injury that cost him most of the last season was allowed to immediately ramp his innings back up to previous levels without skipping him in the rotation once?  All this after pitching an additional 23 innings in the Arizona Fall League?  All this for a team whose playoff chances were effectively zero by mid-May?  Or, to put it another way, should we be at all surprised that Mitch Talbot is currently day-to-day battling “shoulder inflammation”?

This isn’t a gotcha-question: I’m not an expert on innings limits.  I understand that most inning limits are designed for players who have never thrown 150 innings.  Talbot has now done that three times.  But it does look a bit odd when you go out of your way to limit one guy’s innings on a rather strict schedule, while another guy, coming off a serious injury, gets his workload gets increased by 120% and ends up with shoulder inflammation.

Am I missing something?

__________________________________

On a completely unrelated note, check this out.  If you’d like to contribute to rating the Indians’ defensive abilities, this is a good place to do it, and we need as many defensive metrics as possible.

  • Rico Despeedstra

    I think 5 Bob Fellers would be an upgrade next year. He would only be 92 at the start of the season…

  • Pingback: Link Fix 9/14/10 | Deep Left Field | A Cleveland Indians blog()

  • Jackson

    Keep those arms rested for next year’s 100 loss season!

  • http://tribescribe.wordpress.com tribescribe

    Jon, compare Talbot to Jaime Garcia and C.J. Wilson. Garcia threw 37.2 innings in 2009 before succumbing to injury. After 163 innings in 2010, he’s a Rookie of the Year candidate. Wilson, who hadn’t thrown more than 74 innings in a season since 2003, has thrown 180 as a starter for Texas this season. Both have been effective, but I wouldn’t bet money on that continuing into the playoffs or 2011.

  • destiny_driven

    The Tribe has no pitching left any way. Lets trade what we have for another batch of under achieving minor leaguers. Then wheel out a pitching machine every half inning to throw to the opposition. Use the cash saved on human pitching to drop ticket and concession prices. Hey, if the Indians are going to lose year after year, at least we should be able to watch it in an economical fashion. All of this talk and hope about the Tribe is nothing more than wasted words. Until this team gets quality frong office management, they will continue to struggle. Those morons have no idea what they are doing, and are getting paid big bucks to do it.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Jon

    @ tribescribe:

    the cards just shut down garcia for the year: http://twitter.com/dgoold/status/24602600672

    good call.

  • Pingback: Tribe Trying Its Hardest to Make 100 Losses a Reality | Deep Left Field | A Cleveland Indians blog()