Looking beyond the Verducci Effect

Tom Verducci has unveiled his red-flagged pitchers to watch this season (now with video!) for the dreaded Year-After Effect — or the Verducci Effect, as Will Carroll dubbed it.

So watch out, Joba Chamberlain, Josh Johnson, Rick Porcello, Max Scherzer, Felix Hernandez and — in a perfect storm of workload and managerial risk — Homer Bailey.

Verducci’s yearly analysis of young pitchers’ innings increase (hurlers 25 and younger who set a career high in innings by more than 30), developed with help from Rick Peterson when he was the A’s pitching coach, has been pretty accurate in forecasting either a drop in production (usually seen in a rising ERA) or, in the worst cases, injury the following season. Two of the most notable examples for the latter are Francisco Liriano and Anibal Sanchez. The disappointing 2009 seasons had by Cole Hamels and Mike Pelfrey support the former. And so Verducci’s list of the pitchers to watch affects both fans who don’t want to see their teams’ hurlers named and fantasy owners, who may add a red flag to their rankings sheets in preparing for draft day.

But rehashing what Verducci has already done wouldn’t add to the conversation. Inspired by Pelfrey’s joining the club in ’09, I was curious to see what happened to the pitchers Verducci singled out in the years after the Year-After Effect. In short: Can we hope for — or expect — improvement from Pelfrey in 2010? David Gassko looked at the general numbers a few years at The Hardball Times ago, but I’m curious about specific pitchers.

Through a combination of digging up old Verducci columns in which he listed a particular year’s at-risk pitchers and use of Baseball-Reference’s Play Index tool, I set out to put together a nearly complete all-time list of a “red-flag roster,” going back to those to watch for the 2002 season. But that became cumbersome, so I edited where I felt it necessary and mostly left the prominent names, or at least those who seemed to have the most potential at that time. As Verducci says nearly every year in explaining his theory, the workload is just one factor in this analysis.

Below I’ve charted the pitchers’ seasons that prompted the alarms (the one in which he exceeded his career high in innings by more than 30), the year-after season (the one Verducci warned us about) and his “year-after-after” season, the one immediately following the red-flagged campaign. In an effort to keep the charts manageable, I’m only including innings (rounded down; I’m not bothering with the fractions), ERA and WHIP, unfortunately omitting data like batting average against and BABIP. Most stats are MLB only, though in some cases full minor-league numbers are asterisked. If there’s any combo of MLB and minor league figures, that’s pointed out in the notes below the charts.

Omar Daal 162/2.88/1.21 214/3.65/1.24 167/6.14/1.68 185/4.46/1.37
Sidney Ponson 135/5.27/1.47 210/4.71/1.46 222/4.82/1.38 138/4.94/1.43
Kevin Millwood 174/4.08/1.33 228/2.68/1.00 212/4.66/1.29 121/4.31/1.33

Daal was actually 27 years old and in his seventh Major League season in 1999, the year his innings jumped by 52, so he was outside the at-risk age range, yet he still had a precipitous fall — and never posted an ERA below 3.90 again. Ponson’s innings actually went up in his red-flag year, but we’ve since learned that he has general problems with restraint and conditioning. Millwood led the NL in WHIP and the Majors with just 6.6 hits per nine innings allowed in 2000. He’s had the longest (assuming Ponson doesn’t try to stick with a last-place club again) and most productive career, but he did take another step back in 2001.

Albie Lopez 64/4.64/1.41 185/4.13/1.45 205/4.81/1.46 55/4.37/1.51
Mac Suzuki 110/6.79/1.71 188/4.34/1.53 118/5.86/1.65 21/9.00/1.95
Ryan Dempster 147/4.71/1.63 226/3.66/1.36 211/4.94/1.56 209/5.38/1.54

Another trio with just one pitcher still active. Lopez’s jump from 1999 to 2000 (when he was 28) was tremendous — and after his red-flag season of 2001, he pitched just 78 more innings in the Majors, less than his increase from ’99-2000. Suzuki was finished after 2002. Dempster led the Majors in walks in his red-flag year, but after a three-year stint as a closer, he became an All-Star again (as he was in his breakout year of 2000).

Mark Mulder 154/5.44/1.69 229/3.45/1.16 207/3.47/1.14 186/3.13/1.18
Brad Penny 119/4.81/1.50 205/3.69/1.16 129/4.66/1.53 196/4.13/1.28
Chad Durbin 72/8.21/1.85 179/4.93/1.45 8/11.88/2.04 8/7.27/2.42
Joe Mays 176/5.52/1.58 233/3.16/1.15 95/5.38/1.45 130/6.30/1.52
Freddy Garcia 124/3.91/1.42 238/3.05/1.12 223/4.39/1.30 201/4.51/1.33
Mark Buehrle 51/4.21/1.44 221/3.29/1.07 239/3.58/1.24 230/4.14/1.35
Tony Armas 95/4.36/1.31 196/4.03/1.38 164/4.44/1.38 31/2.61/1.07
Chris Carpenter 175/6.26/1.64 215/4.09/1.41 73/5.28/1.58 INJURED
CC Sabathia 146/3.57/1.33* 180/4.39/1.35 210/4.37/1.36 197/3.60/1.30

In his breakout year, Mulder led the AL with 21 wins and paced the Majors with four shutouts. He didn’t have much of a dropoff in 2002 or ’03 (though he pitched fewer innings). The signs came instead in ’04 (225/4.43/1.36), after which the A’s traded him to the Cardinals. After a decent ’05 (205/3.64/1.38), he’s never been the same. Penny saw an improvement in his 2003 numbers — but none of this considers the Alyssa Effect.

With Durbin’s ’02 and ’03 numbers so low, I checked his minor league numbers and saw that he pitched only eight in 2002 (injured), and 82 in 2003 (working his way back). But the reason I’m not too concerned with minor league numbers after the red-flag year is because I’m only interested in what these pitchers contribute to the big-league club. If they’re still active in the Majors, we know they made it back.

Mays’ breakout years was the only Major League season in which he posted a sub-4.00 ERA. Garcia went on to have a couple of productive years with the White Sox before his arm troubles began in recent seasons. With the exception of 2005 (3.12) and 2006 (4.99), all of Buehrle’s ERAs have been between 3.50 and 4.00 and his WHIPs have been between 1.25 and 1.35 except for ’05 (1.18) and ’06 (1.47), so that’s the kind of pitcher he is. Plus, he’s got a no-hitter and perfect game on his resume. Armas’ small sample size of 31 innings are key, because his ERA has been higher than 4.80 ever since.

And then we have two Cy Young Award winners. Carpenter missed 2003 after surgery, then went to the Cardinals (and pitching coach/healer Dave Duncan) and won 15, 21 and 15 games (and a Cy Young) before more surgery — and then nearly won the award again in 2009. Sabathia’s 2000 numbers are all from the minor leagues; ’01 was his rookie year. He’s steadily improved since, winning the Cy Young in ’07 and avoiding the catastrophic injuries that several times have been predicted.

Vicente Padilla 34/4.24/1.41 206/3.28/1.22 208/3.62/1.24 115/4.53/1.34
Roy Oswalt 141/2.73/1.06 233/3.01/1.19 127/2.97/1.14 237/3.49/1.25
Ben Sheets 151/4.76/1.41 216/4.15/1.41 220/4.45/1.25 237/2.70/0.98
Jake Peavy 28/2.57/1.11* 97/4.52/1.42 194/4.11/1.31 166/2.27/1.20

I omitted Runelvys Hernandez from this group because he was one of several Royals in the early part of the decade who was overworked and flamed out. Plus, his entire 2001 season and much of ’02, when his innings shot up, were in the minors, and I didn’t feel like doing all the math. And Andy Van Hekken was flagged for 2003, but one look at his page there and you’ll see why I didn’t bother including him.

From 2004-06, Oswalt finished in the top four of Cy Young Award voting and added a third straight All-Star season in ’07. Since then, he’s seen a bit of a drop-off. Sheets’ best season to date came in 2004, when he fanned 264 and led the Majors in K/BB at 8.25. His record was just 12-14 for a Brewers team that went 67-94, which is why I’m not including won-loss records in this analysis. I still wish the Mets had signed him. Peavy’s 2001 numbers are from the minors and his 2004 ERA remains a career best, better even than in his ’07 Cy Young season.

Carlos Zambrano 108/3.66/1.45 214/3.11/1.32 209/2.75/1.22 223/3.26/1.15
Dontrelle Willis 157/1.83/0.88* 197/2.97/1.21 197/4.02/1.38 236/2.63/1.13

Zambrano has remained pretty consistent — right through his consistent, gradual decline the past couple of seasons. But he’s apparently rededicated himself heading into 2010. Willis finished second in the NL Cy Young voting in ’05 (to Carpenter, a fellow Verducci Effect alum) but has had other problems since.

Carlos Silva 87/4.43/1.48 203/4.21/1.43 188/3.44/1.17 180/5.94/1.54
Jason Marquis 134/4.03/1.40 201/3.71/1.42 207/4.13/1.33 194/6.02/1.52

Silva’s 2003 innings represent his entire year, all of it in the Majors. Seattle has gotten five wins and 18 losses since signing him before 2008. Marquis’ first year in St. Louis was 2006, but he turned it around after that, even finding success in Colorado in an All-Star ’09.

Scott Kazmir 134/3.29/1.31 186/3.77/1.46 144/3.24/1.27 206/3.48/1.38
Matt Cain 158/2.67/1.19* 192/3.89/1.22 190/4.15/1.28 200/3.64/1.26
Francisco Liriano 156/3.79/1.42* 191/3.02/1.06 121/2.16/1.00 INJURED
Zach Duke 148/1.46/0.97* 192/2.44/1.21 215/4.47/1.50 107/5.53/1.73
Paul Maholm 60/3.43/1.44* 158/3.02/1.26 176/4.76/1.61 177/5.02/1.42

Kazmir — there he is again. Would definitely be useful in Citi Field, but he hasn’t yet become the Cy Young winner everyone thought he would. The Effect hasn’t hurt Cain too much since ’06, despite his 15-30 combined record in ’07-08, which had a lot to do with terrible run support. The Twins tried to bring along Liriano (whose 2005 innings include the minors) slowly, as they did with Johan Santana, by pitching him out of the bullpen to ease him in. It didn’t work. Duke led the Majors with 255 hits allowed in ’06 but made strides last year, getting his ERA back down to 4.06 and his WHIP to 1.32. Maholm has also had two decent seasons since, posting ERAs for 3.71 and 4.44 and WHIPs of 1.28 and, less impressive, 1.44.

Cole Hamels 35/2.31/1.03* 132/4.08/1.25 183/3.39/1.12 227/3.09/1.08
Justin Verlander 130/1.80/0.98 186/3.63/1.33 201/3.66/1.23 201/4.84/1.40
Anibal Sanchez 136/2.85/1.07* 200/2.97/1.23 30/4.80/2.07 51/5.57/1.57
Jered Weaver 76/3.91/1.24* 200/2.39/1.00 161/3.91/1.39 176/4.33/1.29

Hamels’ 35 minor-league innings in ’05 were all he threw, but his previous career high was 101, so while his jump wasn’t as big, it still fit the parameters. He then became a two-time Verducci Effecter with his huge jump in 2008 — and those numbers don’t include his 35 postseason innings. Verlander’s ’05 numbers are mostly from the minors, and it wasn’t until 2009 that he seemed to get back on track. This is the year we’ll see if Sanchez (whose ’06 numbers include the Minors) can regain his no-hit stuff. Weaver’s WHIP in ’08 is a good sign. And it went down again (1.24) in ’09, along with his ERA (3.75).

This was a big year for red-flagged pitchers. With all these big names, I decided to skip Sean Marshall, Scott Olsen and Jeremy Bonderman, as well as several who haven’t really been heard from since, incluing Adam Loewen, who has given up pitching and trying the Rick Ankiel route.

Ian Kennedy 104/3.81/1.35* 165/1.91/0.99 116/4.27/1.30 23/1.59/1.10
Fausto Carmona 101/5.52/1.53 215/3.06/1.21 120/5.44/1.62 125/6.32/1.76
Ubaldo Jimenez 151/3.80/1.36* 185/5.16/1.51 198/3.99/1.44 218/3.47/1.23
Tom Gorzelanny 61/3.79/1.31 201/3.88/1.40 105/6.66/1.80 47/1.32/5.55
Yovani Gallardo 155/1.86/1.00* 188/3.35/1.18 41/3.07/1.34 185/3.73/1.31

All of Kennedy’s numbers include a mix of Majors and minors, and 2006 is actually college and minors — with only 2 2/3 innings in at short-season Staten Island. So those underwhelming stats are mostly with USC. Any further comeback from his recent injuries will be in Arizona after this offseason’s trade. Carmona’s ’06 has 27 minor-league innings, and so far, his breakout ’07 is a fluke.

Jimenez is an interesting case. He also pitched seven innings with the Rockies in ’06, but I left those out. His ’07 totals don’t include the 16 postseason innings he pitched, which put him over the threshold for Verducci’s list. And despite the red flag last year of pitching in the World Baseball Classic, he truly had a breakout season at 25. So perhaps this year we’ll see a fall.

Gorzelanny has minor league numbers all around — in ’06, ’08 and ’09 — that aren’t included. He’ll be 27 in July, so this is the year we’ll know what we’ll get from the big lefty — if we don’t already. The Brewers may have caught a break with Gallardo, who injured his knee covering first base in 2008 and had his innings limited that season. He posted decent numbers last year, so we’ll see how he progresses this summer. Dustin McGowan was part of this class, too, but surgery knocked out his ’09 season, so there are no further numbers for comparison.

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