CC Sabathia vs. Tim Lincecum: Which Pitcher Is More At Risk for Injury?

July 21, 2010

Two pitchers with heavily decorated resumes.

The first, CC Sabathia, has more of a track record and is completing his 10th full season in the Majors.

The second, Tim Lincecum, affectionately known as “The Freak,” is in his fourth season, and has two Cy Young Awards.

However, both are known as workhorses, the proverbial baseball term that gives revered status to those pitchers who miss very few starts to injury and normally throw 200-plus innings per season.

Based upon their sizes, both Sabathia and Lincecum are on the opposite ends of the spectrum of pitchers you would consider workhorses.

CC is a hulky 6’7″ 290-pound behemoth, while Lincecum stands 5’11” and 170 pounds. Yes, even though Tiny Tim appears more slight, he is listed at 170.

Both have thrown a lot of innings in their careers. Sabathia has averaged 31 starts and 210 innings during his first nine full seasons, while Lincecum has averaged 32 starts and 226 innings in his only two full seasons.

In today’s game, those are huge amounts of innings…but somewhere Steve Carlton is laughing.

Both pitchers are headed for similar (if not higher) numbers this year. CC has made 20 starts and Lincecum 19, with both having double-digit wins once again.

Interestingly enough, Sabathia is the only active MLB pitcher who has double-digit wins and a winning record in each season of his career.

But with the similarities between the two pitchers (team workhorse aces) and their differences (body type), which hurler is the more likely pitcher to eventually break down?

I don’t think either one will break down anytime soon. Both have pretty good pitching mechanics. Their arm actions are great, putting less stress on their elbows and shoulders.

But history does provide a glimpse of those types of pitchers who have long careers, and they are not usually the slight of build guys.

There have been 70 pitchers in baseball history who have thrown 3500-plus innings. The leader, of course, is Cy Young, with a ridiculous 7,356 innings. It doesn’t matter what era you are pitching in, that is a preposterous amount of innings.

So, of all these 70 pitchers, only eight are of the recent era. They are Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens, Tom Glavine, Randy Johnson, Jamie Moyer, Dennis Martinez, Jack Morris, and Mike Mussina.

All of the other 62 pitchers played the bulk of their careers before the 1980s.

Almost all of these 70 pitchers were six feet tall or bigger. Ten were under six feet tall, and all but one played before the 20th century, when pitchers threw with less velocity but more often during a season.

The only pitcher under six feet tall who pitched in the modern era was Whitey Ford, who tipped the scales at a robust 5’10”, 178 pounds.

But Ford was a soft-tossing left-handed pitcher who would pepper the corners with moderate fastballs, change ups, and cut pitches (literally). Similar to Glavine, minus the cut balls.

There are not many smallish built pitchers who throw many innings, especially hard-throwing slight of build pitchers like Lincecum. Even Pedro Martinez and his lengthy career, has thrown only 2,827 innings, and he is similar in size to Lincecum with the same velocity.

Martinez, who had tremendous pitching mechanics, ended up having rotator cuff surgery in 2006. His rotator cuff issues began back in 2001 (at age 29) when he missed a good chunk of that year to the injured shoulder.

Lincecum is now 26 years old, but at the same age, Pedro had thrown about 300 more innings than Lincecum will throw this season.  

Sabathia, as of this writing, has thrown 2,027 innings. That is good for 404th place all time. At his current rate, CC will move into the 360th-place range.

He has a workhorse frame, and even with the seven postseason series (and 61 more innings), Sabathia looks as strong as the day he broke into the Majors.

With his slight build, Lincecum should not compile as long a Major League career as Sabathia. He may not break down for major arm surgery like Pedro, but I would not bet against it.

History shows us smaller guys do not last as long or throw as many innings as bigger guys.

But both smaller and bigger guys end up getting surgery. That is the nature of the beast with pitchers.

They say pitchers’ careers are made with their legs, and the arms are just along for the ride. When the legs get tired, the arm gets tired, and that is when injuries occur.

That is why a Major League pitcher who is throwing around 120 pitches can still throw more if his legs are strong, but a guy can be wiped out after 90 if his legs are weak.

From the looks of both pitchers, it appears Sabathia’s legs have a bunch more strength than Lincecum’s.

For that reason, his size, and the longer history of sustained work with no ill effects, I believe CC Sabathia will have the longer career, logging many more innings than “The Freak.”

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With Phil Hughes, as Yogi Berra Would Say, It’s Deja Vu All Over Again

April 22, 2010

He is not the savior, and he was never a prodigy, but he was a talented right-handed pitcher who had a popping fastball and killer, knee-buckling curve.

The fact that Phil Hughes carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning of last night’s game on the road, against an American League West opponent in his second start of the season, seemed familiar to Yankee fans.

That is because Hughes turned the same trick three seasons ago on May 1, 2007, as a 21-year-old in his second ever major league start at Texas. That game ended with Hughes allowing no hits but being removed from the game, as he popped his hamstring* making a pitch.

As Yogi would say, “It was deja vu all over again,” which is basically being repetitively redundant.

*The great image on SNY a few days ago of New York Mets reliever Ryota Igarashi’s hamstring popping and visible from underneath his pants was the same as Hughes’ hamstring issue in 2007 and Pedro Martinez’ in 2008.

Hughes did return that season, starting 13 games total.

Hs second start last night was just as dominating—probably more dominating. His fastball was great, and his curve induced many weakly hit balls, as there were not too many balls in play that were hit hard. The hardest-hit ball might have been Eric Chavez’ up the middle grounder that hit Hughes and bounced away, and Chavez made it to first base safely.

His final line last night was impressive: 7.1 IP, one H, one ER, two BB, and 10 K’s, with 70 strikes thrown in his 101 total pitches. He probably would have been able to finish the eighth inning, but Hughes walked Gabe Gross in a nine-pitch at-bat two batters after Chavez’ single.

Hughes pretty much threw fastballs, cutters, and curves all night, and when he needed to, he blew the ball by hitters for many of his 10 strikeouts. Interestingly, the pitch f/x summary indicated Hughes did not throw a single change-up, the same pitch he worked on throughout spring training.

Hughes’ command of that new pitch was the primary reason manager Joe Girardi and GM Brian Cashman gave Hughes the coveted fifth starter’s job.

The Yankees had too much invested in Hughes’ development as a former first round pick and projected savior. He is not a savior, but just a talented kid finally getting another chance at starting in the major leagues.

I am not complaining about Hughes getting that fifth starter’s job, as it was a foregone conclusion that he would “win” the job. It did not matter how well Alfredo Aceves or Sergio Mitre pitched. That is why the manager and GM came out with those change-up command reasons for keeping him in the rotation and sending Joba Chamberlain to the pen.  

I was against Joba in the pen (I believe Mark Melancon can be a dominant closer), as I feel he can still be a very effective starting pitcher, but it appears Cashman and Girardi’s plan of Hughes in the rotation and Joba in the pen has worked very well.

Everybody is happy with that.


Alex Rodriguez Must Adjust His Hitting Approach

November 1, 2009

An in-game analysis of Alex Rodriguez hitting approach:

In the second inning of tonight’s game, Alex was hit in the upper back by a pitch from Joe Blanton. It was the third time in the last five at-bats Rodriguez was hit by a pitch.

After a conference between the umpires, they decided stupidly to warn both benches about retaliation. Alex exacerbated the situation by telling home plate umpire Mike Winters it was obvious the Phillies were throwing at him.

I disagree with Alex. The Phillies are not throwing at Alex, but are following the game plan all teams have this postseason.

Throw Alex fastball inside on the hands to get two strikes on him, then go away with junk to get him out. Pedro Martinez worked this to perfection in Game Two. When the Phillies pitchers miss on that inside pitch, they are missing inside off the plate, and a couple of those errant pitches have hit him. With any power hitter, if you miss inside, you better miss off the plate.

This approach by the Phillies has retired Alex most of the series, as he has only one hit (albeit a big one last night) with six strikeouts.

But Alex has to change his approach this game, and this game only. Due to the warning to both benches, The Phillies will not be able to pitch him inside with hard stuff as consistently. Rodriguez’ next two at-bats after being hit resulted in a few token inside pitches, with most of the stuff form Blanton being off-speed stuff right over the plate.

For example, the first pitch in his third at-bat (with two men on and two outs), Blanton threw Alex a “hit me” curveball right over the middle. Alex took it for a called strike and went immediately behind in the count.

Because he is so conscious of being pitched inside, Alex is pulling out early and basically waving at the slow stuff middle out.

HE NEEDS TO REALIZE THAT THE INSIDE STUFF IS NOT HAPPENING TONIGHT.

He can avoid looking inside this game because of the pitchers’ fears of being ejected of coming too close.

By looking to be aggressive early in the count on pitches over the plate, Alex can become a factor late in the game.

But that all changes again tomorrow when a new set of rules will apply, and Cliff Lee will again be pounding the inside corner with fastballs—before looking to get him out away with soft stuff.

One reason why the little guys like Mark Lemke for the Atlanta Braves in the 1990s, Brian Doyle for the Yankees in 1978, and Al Weis for the New York Mets in 1969 were successful in the World Series is the opposition goes to great lengths to attack the big hitters. Sometimes, the little guys slip through the cracks because the concentration level is not that high for each of their at-bats.

The concentration level for all the Phillies pitchers is very high when Alex is up at bat, and it shows this series.

Alex needs to adjust for every at-bat, but especially this Game Four.


A Dominant World Series Performance while on the Mound at Yankee Stadium

October 29, 2009

An in-his-prime Cy Young Award winning pitcher was making the start in Game One of the World Series on the hill at Yankee Stadium (one of the few stadiums left that does not receive money for naming rights). He completely dominates the Bronx Bombers power laden lineup, and out dueled the Yankees ace left handed pitcher.

Having won the prior years World Series, his team was seeking to become the first National League team since the Big Red Machine in 1975-76 to repeat as a World Series Champions. The Yankees meanwhile, had not been to the Series in years and were looking to continue their comeback kid way of the prior playoff series.

However, on this Game One night only the Yankee shortstop and lead off hitter, Derek Jeter, crossed the plate, while a former Boston Red Sox hitter batting second for the Yankees had one of the few hits allowed by this veteran stud pitcher. 

A young slugger for this pitcher’s team hit two home runs, one a mammoth shot whose sound of bat meeting ball reverberated throughout the stadium, that is until the entire stadium went quiet. After the second home run in as many at bats, the way this starter was pitching, it was apparent to Yankee fans knew the game was likely out reach.  

Even this Yankee fan predicted that the Yankees would win Game One.

And on this night, the Yankee bullpen put gasoline on the fire, doing their part to allow that loss to materialize.

This pitcher had the Yankees waving at pitches all night, continuing his utter dominance in the post season. Up to this game, the pitcher started Game One in both prior series, was undefeated with a ridiculously low ERA and WHIP, handily defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers along the way.

His great start and solid offense from his teams lineup gave the Yankees thoughts that the Series might not go as they expected. They knew that even if they won the next couple games, they would have to face this ace once again.

After Game One, a Yankee hitter lamented that the next time his team “might have to beat that guy 1-0 or 2-1 the next time they face him.”

Could the Yankees beat this guy the second time around, likely going head to head again with that lefty Yankee ace on the hill?

Of course they can…and they already did! And that pitching rematch was one of the classic duels in World Series history, and the Yankees went on to win the World Series title.

Cliff Lee and 2009? Hardly.

We are talking about John Smoltz and 1996. He tore through the playoffs that season, and beat the Yankees in Game One , with Andruw Jones smacking the ball over the fence twice. Smoltz and Andy Pettitte both came back again in Game Five with masterful performances, only to see the Yankees win that duel 1-0. 

And that was AFTER the Yankees lost Game Two at home to a magician on the mound named Greg Maddux, similar to a magician the Yankees face tonight in Pedro Martinez.

So, all those prognosticators who think this 2009 Series has already taken a bad turn for the Yankees because of Lee’s dominance should look back at 1996. There was nobody better than Smoltz that season, and the Yankees beat him 1-0 the second time around.

MATSUI’S GAFFE

Anytime a ball is hit in the air within the infield, it is the runners job to get back to the bag. If the ball drops, it is the batter’s job to hustle down the first base line to beat a throw. Do your job and don’t worry about the other guy.

No matter what happened to that mini-pop up hit by Robinson Cano last night, Hideki Matsui should have been on first base immediately after the ball was hit. He never would have been safe on second anyway! Cano hustled down the line and thought he beat the relay throw, but he was actually out on the catch. Matsui needed to be back to the bag (and not on the infield grass!).

And where was the first base coach during all of this? Why was he not yelling to Matsui to come back to first? Stupid play all around and it goes to show that some ballplayers live on talent, and not on brains.

YANKEE HITTERS

Many times last night the Yankee hitters were consumed with home plate umpires Gerry Davis strike zone. Most of the times the strike zone was too tight as Cliff Lee, Phil Hughes and David Robertson were all severely pinched, but Cano and Melky Cabrera showed displeasure when strike calls were made.

Showing disgust toward the ump will get you no sympathy as the umps usually have long memories. As a hitter you will not get many calls your way after complaining.

Disgust on the field also takes the hitter out of his approach at the plate. While now a hitter is thinking about the SOB calling balls and strikes, the hitter should be concentrating on the pitcher and the count.

Don’t ever let the umpire dictate how you approach the at bat. If the zone is bigger than you thought, don’t swing at bad pitches early, but expand the zone with two strikes.

But players need to feel out the umpire and adjust accordingly. I would much rather see hitters voice displeasure than pitchers get squeezed. A bigger zone puts more balls in play. When I first began umpiring (now doing high school and college level baseball), I was told to start out thinking every pitch will be a strike, then after the ball is thrown find a good reason why it should not be.

WORKING THE COUNT – TAKING TOO MANY PITCHES

Rogers Horsnby was the greatest right handed hitter ever . His 1921-1925 seasons were absolutely sick. His first mantra was to GET A GOOD PITCH TO HIT. Ted Williams stuck to this mantra his entire career.

But now the game has changed to taking good pitches to hit. That is a bad move.

The Yankee hitters were taking too many fastballs down the middle early in the game. Do the Yankees really think they are going to pitch count Lee out of the game? This working the count is the biggest crock in baseball, especially the World Series game one. If the game was tight near the end, Charlie Manuel was NEVER going to pull Lee out of the game. He learned that lesson in the NLCS when he pulled Pedro too early and lost Game Two in Los Angeles.

The way to get Lee out of a game like that is to knock him around by spraying balls all round the field. And you do that by going after good pitches to hit early in the count.

You hear the announcers all the time saying, “So and so should be able to go another inning because he has a good pitch count.” Go another inning?

How about demanding to you manager that you will go nine innings and then shove the ball down the oppositions throat. Intimidate the other lineup by letting your ace dominate. Tell the other team, you can’t beat me and I won’t let you ease your minds by allowing the bullpen to come in this game. Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa made that mistake in the NLDS by removing Adam Wainwright after eight brilliant innings against the Dodgers.

UMPIRES

There was almost another umpire mistake on the Cano infield pop up, but the correct call was eventually made. But the real problem is not the lack of umpire knowledge, but that umpires do not like to break that cardinal rule of overruling another umpire, especially a veteran guy.

After the second base umpire called Cano out on Jimmy Rollins’ catch he should have called Matsui out also when he saw Ryan Howard tag out Hideki. He should have rules on the out at first immediately EVEN IF IT IS NOT HIS CALL. he is the only one who clearly saw the catch made, so he should have the say on the first base call, too.

It appears these umps are too timid to make an immediate call, and replay on everything will only make that worse. Umpires should run the game and not worry about feelings or god forbid, worry about the media.

And in the next TV contract negotiations, Major League baseball should tell the networks that the strike zone F/x garbage shown on every pitch should be outlawed. It leads to too many psuedo-baseball fans complaining about every pitch.

AJ BURNETT

I have read many pieces today that all the pressure is on AJ Burnett to live up to that $80 million contract and pitch the Yankees to victory.

Fans at the game should just let the guy pitch tonight without putting more pressure on him. He gets out of whack quickly and fans jumping down his throat will only aggravate the situation.

That is such garbage. Sports contracts are like investments and those disclaimers at the bottom of the prospectus or spoken really fast at the end of a commercial. These disclaimers say that “past performance is not indicative of future results.”

Burnett was paid that money based upon what he did last season, pure and simple. It does not indicate how he will pitch in “big spots” or “pressure games.”

Big contract’s don’t force players to play better. If that was the case, would giving CC Sabathia another $100 million last winter forced him to pitch better last night?

So, before Yankee fans boo every ball out of the strike zone thrown by AJ and boo every out Alex Rodriguez makes, just remember that these guys will be here many more years and as a fan, you are not making it any better or easier.

Let these guys play and leave them alone.

Yankees win tonight 7-3 as Pedro gets knocked around.


Joe Blanton Continues to Win as do the Philadelphia Phillies

September 2, 2009

When the Phillies traded for Oakland’s Joe Blanton at last years trading deadline, many people were suggesting the Phillies didn’t get the right pitcher. Blanton’s good numbers over his career might have been exaggerated in the spacious Oakland ballpark. Pitching in cozy Citizen’s Bank Ballpark was supposed to equalize Blanton’s effectiveness.

But after Blanton became a Phillie, he proceeded to pitch better than ever. He went 4-0 with a 4.20 ERA for the Phillies, and the eventual World Champions would go 9-4 in his 13 starts.

In 2009, after a disastrous April where Blanton went 0-2, 8.41 ERA in four starts, he has responded to go 9-4 the rest of 2009. And Blanton has truly dominated in July and August. In 10 starts since July 1, Blanton is 5-2, 2.15 ERA  with a 1.04 WHIP, and his K:BB ratio over the last two months (only above 2.0 one other season) is an impressive 4:1.

At a time when the media has concentrated on the exploits of the newest Phillie Cliff Lee, the re-emergence of Cole Hamels to ace material, the signing of Pedro Martinez, and the continued development of JA Happ, it has been Blanton who has been at his consistent best since that terrible month of April.

And remember, Met fans, that Blanton could have gone to Flushing before the 2008 season, but Minaya declined that trade.  Or in trading for Blanton at last season’s deadline. How good would Blanton look in spacious CitiField? And it is not the first time Blanton was overlooked by Omar. As a rookie GM in his first draft in 2002, Minaya picked Clint Everts over Blanton, Cole Hamels, Scott Kazmir, Zach Greinke, Joe Saunders, Prince Fielder, Nick Swisher and Matt Cain.

I love pointing out Minaya’s faults–of which there are many.

The Phillie rotation in October is going to be tough to beat, and with the possibility of Brett Myers returning from a hip injury to pitch out of the bullpen, the late innings will be tough to score also. In addition, Pedro could be moved to the bullpen — a little wrinkle Charlie Manuel could throw out there.

It could be long October and November in Philadelphia, and that is in a good way.