By Ernie Palladino
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Mark it down. Sept. 4, 2012. The day I changed my mind.
It doesn’t happen that often because, well, you know, I know better than they do. But this time, somebody indirectly presented some great evidence as to why the Mets should exercise caution with the fastballer’s right arm and shut him down before the end of the season.
After reading a fellow named Mike Wise, a wise Washington Post columnist blessed with the sound judgment that hard statistical data makes theories all the more viable, I became convinced that shutting down Harvey could be a smart move.
It’s not just because the Mets are facing a lost season, so why chance Harvey blowing his arm out in a meaningless October game, thereby endangering his 2013 season. It’s because the kid has proved himself of potential quality, and a 165-to-170-inning season offers enough work for a 23-year-old whose arm is still physiologically maturing.
This conclusion was reached after reading Wise’s expert breakdown of the NL East-leading Nationals’ recent decision to shut down their phenomenal fireballer, Stephen Strasburg, after his Sept. 12 outing against the Mets at Citi Field.
No rest of the season. No playoffs. Assuming the Nats hold onto their 6 ½-game lead over Atlanta and reach the postseason, Strasburg will watch the playoffs, however unwillingly, from a comfortable seat on the bench while folks like Jordan Zimmerman and Gio Gonzalez and Ross Detweiler and Edwin Jackson try to take care of business.
Full disclosure here. I was once of a mind that innings limits hurt young pitchers, and to an extent I still believe that. I believe the Joba Rules hurt Joba Chamberlain, and I am an apostle of Nolan Ryan, who advocates innings, innings, innings for his young pitchers in the Texas Rangers organization.
But Wise produced some compelling points in the Strasburg explanation, even though Strasburg and Harvey come from different backgrounds. First of all, Strasburg had Tommy John surgery in 2010, his first year in the minors, something the Mets’ hope their handling of Harvey will make unnecessary. And second, Strasburg has pitched 36 more innings than Harvey’s 288 in two seasons of minor and major-league ball.
The numbers are close enough though to warrant a similar caution. As Wise points out, fastball pitchers who throw 600 innings by the time they’re 23 put themselves at danger of an early burnout. Take Strasburg’s and Harvey’s major and minor league totals, throw in the college stats, and they’re close enough to proceed with care. Harvey has 527 innings and Strasburg has 571.
Wise cited a list of 12 pitchers between 1983 and 2003 who had thrown 600 innings by 23. Among them — Greg Maddux, Dwight Gooden, Fernando Valenzuela, Steve Avery, and Bret Saberhagen — only Maddux threw more than 700 innings past age 30, and he wasn’t primarily a fastball pitcher. Even Maddux, though, underwent a rigid conditioning and strength program during his younger years, Wise noted.
Another study conducted by super-agent Scott Boras looked at 21 pitchers who threw 1,500 innings past the age of 30 since 1990. Roger Clemens, Orel Hershiser, Randy Johnson, Al Leiter, Jamie Moyer, David Wells, and Maddux were among them. Only Maddux threw as many as 500 innings by age 23.
Again, not a pure power guy.
So the Nationals will shut down Strasburg in the midst of a division race in hopes of keeping him around as staff ace for a long, long time. It seems like a good move.
The Mets want to shut down Harvey after 165, 170, 175 innings? Sure. Why not? If it helps a promising, hard-throwing starter reduce the wear and tear on the shoulder, keep him in the rotation for years to come, then maybe pulling him out of an otherwise lost season is the way to go.
A few days ago, I probably would have said otherwise. But I always reserve the right to change my mind.
Especially when someone puts some good, hard facts in front of me.
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