Sunday, February 01, 2009

Did Tom Kelly Wreck Brad Radke's Career?

    When the 33-year-old Brad Radke retired following the 2006 season after 12 seasons with the Twins, many of those played with futile teams, he did so leaving behind a 148-139 record (.516 win pct) in 377 starts, a 4.22 ERA and 1467-to-445 strikeouts-to-walks ratio.  Yet it seems like an abrupt end to Radke's career.  Andy Pettite, who finished ahead of Radke for the 1995 Rookie of the Year award, is about to start his 16th season.  Why did Radke succumb to shoulder injuries that forced him to retire when some of his compatriots continue to pitch?  
    There were two parts to the problems that would lead to Radke's early retirement: timing and management.  The first, timing, came from personnel moves from the front office forced Radke to enter the starting rotation at a young age.  With the impending free agency of Kevin Tapani and the ineffectiveness of Scott Erickson, the Twins traded two members of the rotation that were heavily relied upon.  At 22 years old most pitching prospect are putting the final touches at AA and AAA, but Radke was about to receive a baptism by fire.  The second, and most important aspect that led to later a final rotator cuff injury, was game management.
    The best way to measure a pitcher's workload is by season is to use Rany Jazayerli's Pitcher Abuse Points system.  Between Craig Wright's "The Diamond Appraised" and Jazayerli's research, these sabermaticians found that it wasn't the amount of innings or pitches thrown that causes damage for pitchers, but rather it was pitching past the point of fatigue.  Jazayerli's analysis shows that the 100 pitch mark is about the threshold for the average starting pitcher and he devised a points-based system that assigns a value as the pitch count grows.   One point is assigned to every pitch from 101-110; Two points from every pitch from 111-120;  Three points for every pitch from 121-130 and so on.  According to his article, "These points are cumulative: a 115-pitch outing gets you 20 PAP's - 1 for each pitch from 101-110 (10 total), and 2 for each pitch from 111-115 (10 total). A 120-pitch outing is worth 30 PAP's, while a 140-pitch outing is worth 100 PAP's - more than 3 times as much. This seems fair; a pitcher doesn't get tired all at once, but fatigue sets on gradually, and with each pitch the danger of continuing to pitch grows."
    Below is a season-by-season look at Radke's Pitcher Abuse Points: 


22 yrs

23 yrs

24 yrs

25 yrs

26 yrs

27 yrs

28 yrs

29 yrs

30 yrs

31 yrs

32 yrs

33 yrs














    The Kelly Years (22 yrs to 28 yrs)
    The 22-year-old Brad Radke was summoned to the Twins, unscathed by AAA experience, and the burden of the those lost innings  fell on to the young Radke's shoulders.  Manager Tom Kelly and pitching coach Dick Such rode Radke hard -- the young pitcher had accumulated 187 PAP in 1995.  In four of his starts, the Twins had Radke throw 111-to-120 pitches on four occasions and once he threw over 131 pitches.  The following season he would make 35 starts and work 232 innings at the tender age of 23, amassing 288 PAP - throwing over 121 pitches four times. It was obvious that Radke was trending upwards.  At age 24, Radke had what most agree was his best season.  In 35 starts, Radke went 20-10 with a 3.87 ERA while pitching 239.7 innings.  What was most impressive about this display was the fact that his 20 victories accounted for nearly 30% of the team's total (68 in all) and his strikeout rate was up to a career-high 17.6%.  Still, with success came additional workload and Radke's Pitching Abuse Points for the season was up to 368.  The next season, 1998, Radke tallied his highest PAP of his career to date with 498 with an ERA of 4.30 in 35 starts and 213 innings.  Interestingly enough, after two consecutive seasons with heavy workloads (368 and 498 PAP each) and high strikeout rates (17.6% and 16.1% respectively), Radke's strikeout totals diminished to 13% in 1999.  In just five starts he entered the 111-120 pitch range all year - mostly staying under 100 pitches - while still throwing well over 200 innings (218) and as a result the Twins received a low 3.75 ERA, a new career low.  This success could be attributed to the fact that in 33 starts, the 26 year old finished the season with his lowest PAP total (137) since his rookie campaign.  Nevertheless, Kelly and Such regressed to their old ways and allowed Radke to labor on the mound in 2000 as a 27 year old.  In four games, Radke threw more than 121 pitches and throw between 111-and-120 in seven more. Fresh off of his contract extension, Brad Radke would finish the year with 407 PAP while making 34 starts and throwing 226.7 innings with a 4.45 ERA.  In 2001, in what would be Tom Kelly and Dick Such's last season as the field managers, Radke made 33 starts and matched his 226 innings from the prior year.  In those 33 starts, Radke would rarely throw into the 111-to-120 pitch range (four) and threw more than 121 just once, resulting in a PAP of 148 while providing an ERA of 3.94.  Judging from his 1999 and 2001 seasons, it would seem that Radke would respond better to a less abusive pitch count. 
The Gardenhire Years (29 yrs to 33 yrs)
      When Ron Gardenhire and Rick Anderson assumed the roles of manager and pitching coach, the pair seemed to approach their positions differently then the previous regime.  On the pitching mound, no Twins starter broke the 200 inning barrier.  The starters as a group went from throwing nearly 70% of the total innings just 62% in 2002.  This slight adjustment helped the rotation's ERA go from 4.46 to 4.38, a small difference.  An early season strained groin would give Radke his lightest workload since his rookie year, avoiding the 200 inning mark (118) amounting to only 38 PAP in just 21 starts.  A year later, the 30 year old Radke would be ready to throw 200 innings once again and make 33 starts, finishing 14-10 with a 4.49 ERA, and a 101 PAP -- his lowest total in a full season yet.  In 2004, Radke would make 34 starts with a 11-8 record and a career-low 3.48 ERA in 219 innings.  He would also only reach 178 PAP that season as well.  It was after that season in which Radke faced a big decision.  Once again, he would be a free agent and following a year in which he had a 3.48 ERA, he would be a desired commodity.  The Red Sox supposedly offered a four-year, $27 million dollar contract but the Twins pitcher for life passed it over to remain with the team that drafted and developed him to a two-year, $18 million contract.  "We're comfortable in Minnesota," Radke told NY Times reporters. "I was looking for something fair. If the Twins didn't come up with a fair deal, I'd be playing for the Red Sox right now. I didn't know what to expect. Half of me thought I was going to go somewhere else; the other half thought it would work out. I'm glad it did. My family is happy. Plus we've been to the postseason the last three years. Why change?"
    Radke's fortunes, along with the rest of the team, would turn in 2005.  After three straight division championships, the Twins would sink to 3rd in the division as Radke would finish 9-12 in 31 starts, working 200 innings with an ERA of 4.04.  Gardenhire's game management added only 56 PAP to his now 32 year old arm that season, an arm that was hanging by a thread.  Radke made references to the pain in his shoulder after each start.  He would try to work through it in 2006, in what would ultimately be his last season.  In mid-August the pain would be unbareable and Radke would eventually sit the month and almost all of September out in hopes that the rest would offer repair.  That final season Radke would make 28 starts and toss 162 innings, end the year with a 12-9 record and a 4.32 ERA. 






















    In seven seasons managed by Tom Kelly, Brad Radke had 2,037 Pitcher Abuse Points on his arm, an average of 8.85 PAP per start.  In five seasons while managed by Ron Gardenhire, Radke put only 400 Pitching Abuse Points on his arm, an average of 2.72 PAP per start.  There are several theories as to why Kelly used Radke more liberally, while Gardenhire more conservatively.  Gardenhire had the luxury of pairing Radke with Johan Santana, Carlos Silva and Kyle Lohse.  These pitchers provided a level of reliance that Kelly never had with the likes of Frankie Rodriguez, Mike Trombley and Rich Robertson.  Secondly, the bullpens under Ron Gardenhire were far superior than what Kelly was forced to call upon in the mid-to-late 1990s -- milking out an additional inning from Radke keeps the relievers off the mound. 
    Still, whatever the logic behind it, either knowingly or unknowingly, Kelly was slowly doing damage to Radke's arm.  Think of Kelly's increased workload of Radke to that of a smoker.  A young smoker at the age of 22 might not think there is any damage incurring to their lungs when they inhale a pack a day, but as the years progress, their lung capacity is gone.   Even when Gardenhire began to curb his usage, the damage was already done.  Sure, the entire premise of this statement seems littered with blaspheme, accusing a two-time World Series winning manager of not being able to handle his young pitcher.  However, when we review the evidence above, we find that it is true.  Tom Kelly's mismanagement of Brad Radke cost him at least one or two seasons in his career.