Thursday, August 18, 2011

Working Overtime

Ya know, with all the talk of regression and such, it seemed like the Sabermetric spooks had put the hex on Pirate pitching through science. But the eyeball guys prefer Occam's Razor to weighted averages; they look at simple fatigue. A half dozen Buc arms, split between the pen and rotation, have pitched more times for more innings than ever before in their careers.

For the starters, vets Paul Maholm and Kevin Correia had logged plenty of innings in their day; Maholm has never thrown fewer than 176 frames and KC has topped out at 198, so they should be able to handle the load. They've been there and done that. 

But for James McDonald, Charlie Morton, and Jeff Karstens, it's a new world. J-Mac has never tossed more than 71-2/3 big league innings and he's at 133 now. Morton threw a career high 97 innings last year; he's at 133-2/3 today. And Jeff Karstens' high mark was 122-2/3 frames; he's gone 141-1/3 so far. Each should have another 45 innings or so of work remaining to finish out 2011, so they're all looking at roughly 180 frames.

The number of starts made are also career highs for the trio: McDonald has made 24 starts; the most he made prior to this year was 19. Morton has started 22 times; his high was 18 in 2008. Karstens has begun 22 games; his previous best was 19  last season. And remember that each guy could have eight more starts before the off season begins. They're on track to approach 30 outings each before the year has run its course.

None has a minor league background to lean on. Morton's top workload was 124 innings on the farm, J-Mac's 140, and Karstens hasn't work 100 minor league innings since 2006.

It's a big jump in starts and innings for the threesome, with both mental and physical adjustments to be made. The good news is that the experience should bode well for the future; the bad news is that this isn't the future.

With Evan Meek's arm woes, the back end of the bullpen has been frazzled; that's why the FO was looking for a set up man at the the trade deadline. Hanny is OK; he's been in about 70 games each year since 2008, and his innings and appearances are well in line with his past history. 

But his three bridge amigos, Chris Resop, Jose Veras, and Daniel McCutchen, have their arms dragging. 

The most appearances Resop had made in the majors were 22 and the most innings he's logged were 21-1/3 for Florida in 2006; he's at 60 outings with 54-2/3 innings now. Veras has peaked at 60 outings (in 2008 for the Yankees) and 57-1/3 innings; he's racked up 63 appearances and 57-1/3 frames as of today. D-Mac, in his first full season from the pen, had career highs of 28 games and 67-2/3 innings; he's at 55 and 65-1/3 now. Add another 15 appearances and innings to the total to carry them through 2011.

It's especially a learning experience for Resop and McCutchen. Veras knows the drill and has been around the block as a fireman after six seasons, but the other two are converted starters. Resop became full time as a reliever just last August, and this is D-Mac's first season without being used as a spot starter. The pair's minor league time doesn't help in the transition as they spent it in the rotation.

With the relievers, the mental and physical challenge may be even greater than the starters. They're up and down a zillion times in the pen, and when they do get the ball, more often than not guys are already dancing on base. More than any position, the pen guys have to learn to grind it out through the dog days.

So hey, give the Sabermetric guys their due; their formulas predicted a drop-off, and they got it. But the KISS gang could see it coming, too, as the innings piled up. As we said, it's not necessarily a bad thing to make the guys earn their money and the experience should pay off down the road. None of the stats are approaching a burn-out situation, but there are a lot of guys stretching it out big time for the first time this year.

But for now, six guys are running on fumes and have to figure out to stoke the engines for the long haul, not only for this season but for their careers.

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