Yankees fans are on the ledge right now after another of their starters was tagged by the Orioles last night, and Mets fans are jubilant after their newly awesome bullpen (barely) closed out another win against the Reds. But though it’s still too early to draw any conclusions about what we’ve seen on the field, it’s not too soon to look ahead to how the fortunes of both teams will be impacted by a phenomenon known as the Verducci Effect. Named for Sports Illustrated writer Tom Verducci, who first discovered the trend, the Verducci Effect states that a pitcher under 25 shouldn’t increase his workload from one year to the next by more than 30 innings lest he risk injury.
How accurate is the Verducci Effect (or the Year-After Effect, as he calls it)? Of the 24 pitchers he red-flagged over the last three years, 16 were injured in the following season. Only one stayed healthy and lowered his ERA. And among those flagged last year was the super-disappointing Ian Kennedy, though when factoring in his winter-league innings, he barely crossed the 30-inning threshold. So what does this mean for the 2009 Mets and Yankees?
Two Mets are on Verducci’s list of players who threw too much last year: Mike Pelfrey, and Jon Niese, who is starting the year in AAA. This would be especially problematic since, should Pelfrey go down with an injury, Niese would be a candidate to replace him, potentially setting off a tragic chain of injuries ending in the equally tragic sight of Freddy Garcia taking the mound in a Mets uniform. For the Yankees, Joba Chamberlain’s injury last year meant instead of increasing his innings from 112.1 in 2007, he actually threw fewer innings (100.1) in 2008. So even though he’ll be starting this year, he’ll need to be skipped on occasion or pulled early from games to avoid throwing too many innings. (Think of it like a new version of 2007’s Joba Rules, but based on actual statistical evidence this time.)
There’s good news too, though — at least if you consider potentially devastating injuries to the local teams’ rivals good news. The two names on top of Verducci’s list this year are Boston’s Jon Lester and Philadelphia’s Cole Hamels. Hamels already missed Opening Day (albeit with an injury that doesn’t appear to be too serious), and though Boston’s pitching coach tells Verducci he doesn’t think Lester will be impacted, that’s what he would say, isn’t it?