Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Twins and pitch counts.

About now, I should be extolling the virtues of having Philip Humber, Bobby Keppel and Jesse Crain in the bullpen, a group whose collective contributions this month prior to last night’s game was a .314 average against along with 14 extra base hits.  Humber was unhittable last night, but not the good kind.  Keppel continued to be hit hard but miraculously escaped several jams thanks to sloppy baserunning.  Crain was downright brilliant, retiring six straight O’s before Nolan Reimold nine-ironed a slider for a double in the 8th


What’s more interesting to me right now is the body count of Twins pitchers that is amassing.  Since the start of the season Boof Bonser, Pat Neshek, Scott Baker, Glen Perkins, Jesse Crain, Kevin Slowey and Francisco Liriano have made visits to the disabled list.  With the exception of Slowey’s wrist, all of the others are associated with the arms.  "Twins starter" is swiftly becoming an occupation as dangerous to your health as any profession.  Because of these injuries, the Twins have had to use Brian Duensing, R.A. Dickey, Anthony Swarzak, Kevin Mulvey, Philip Humber, Jeff Manship and now Armando Gabino to temp. 


The overabundance of sore arms and elbows has led to questions regarding their physical conditioning and how well their arms have been built up.  Are the Twins putting enough emphasis on increasing arm strength in the minor league levels?
In an article earlier this month in the Southwest Florida News Press, Fort Myers pitch coach, Steve Mintz, who is in his first-year replacing the long-time coach Eric Rasmussen (who replaced the departed Rick Knapp), revealed through a David Bromberg quote a bit of the organization’s pitching development strategy: 
"I threw 77 pitches in six innings in one of my recent starts, and I was like, 'This is it?' " [David] Bromberg said as Mintz informed him to take a seat in favor of a reliever. "He wants us to be healthy. He wants us to become playoff pitchers.”

If I understand this correctly, the Miracles' pitching coach is limiting a fast-rising prospect’s pitch count to ensure that he is healthy for the Florida State League playoffs?  This is an absurd development policy.  First, it is a meaningless post-season event.  Secondly, more and more it is becoming accepted that less pitching actually increases the risk of the injury in the long run.  In order to properly build his and other prospects arm strength, Mintz should be requiring these kids throw more in the games, not preparing for playoffs. 
Was the pitch count treatment the same when Perkins and Liriano were in Fort Myers?  Were the two lefties protected?  Obviously with both recovering from injuries that took them out for an extended period of time, the circumstances may be different, but did a soft workload weaken their arms? 
Meanwhile at the Twins' top affiliate in Rochester, manager Stan Cliburn - who has seen numerous staff members pulled into duty in Minnesota - was given a different edict regarding pitch counts.  Following Yohan Pino's August 19th start, Cliburn said:
“We carried him all the way to his pitch count – 113, three over the max of 110. It was just an outstanding performance. The whole team knows what he did. He picked up the bullpen, the whole staff.”
The 110-pitch threshold should not surprise anyone as the organization does not like to have starters go beyond that number even at the major league level.  In 124 starts in 2009
, the Twins have made just 47 starts (37 pct) in which they have gone over 100-pitches, the second-fewest in the AL.  The franchise seems to cultivate their arms to handle this limit and nothing more.  Stretching pitching prospects to a 115-mark seems reasonable as they ascend through the system.  This way, when they do reach Minnesota they'll be more than prepared to handle Rick Anderson's prescribed 100-pitches and would be ready to go further if a bullpen is in need of a rest.
The debate rages on regarding the amount a pitcher should throw in the minors.  Too much and he flames out; too little and he can't handle a full-seasons workload.  Too much and he's injured; too little and he's injured.  Baseball researchers will be intently monitoring pitchers emerging from the Rangers organization in the next few years as the team has implemented high pitch counts in efforts to keep their products from injuries.  My vote is for more pitches at the lower levels.