Worn Down by a Heavy Work­load

In­nings Pitched, Stress of Pen­nant Race Of­ten Will Carry Over to Fol­low­ing Year

The Washington Post Sunday - - Sports - By Dave Sheinin

When the Chicago White Sox stormed their way to the World Se­ries ti­tle in 2005, they did it, as most cham­pi­ons do, largely on the backs of their start­ing pitch­ers. Four hurlers — Mark Buehrle, Jon Gar­land, Freddy Gar­cia and Jose Con­tr­eras — com­bined to throw nearly 1,000 in­nings be­tween Open­ing Day and the clinch­ing game of the World Se­ries, ca­reer highs for all four, and the pitch­ers were as ef­fec­tive as they were durable.

The fol­low­ing year, how­ever, was a dif­fer­ent story. Though all four re­mained mostly healthy, their com­bined ERAs rose by more than a run — from 3.45 in 2005 (reg­u­lar sea­son and post­sea­son com­bined) to 4.58 in 2006, and the White Sox fin­ished in third place.

The phe­nom­e­non was nei­ther new, nor wholly un­ex­pected. Teams whose work­horse start­ing pitch­ers carry them deep into Oc­to­ber typ­i­cally see them regress the fol­low­ing year. In fact, of the 30 pitch­ers who threw 240 or more in­nings in a sea­son be­tween 2001 and ’05, the vast ma­jor­ity (21 pitch­ers, or 70 per­cent) saw their ERAs rise the fol­low­ing sea­son — and 11 of them ex­pe­ri­enced a jump of at least one full run. Still oth­ers ex­pe­ri­enced arm in­juries the year af­ter their high­work­load sea­son.

“I think you could ar­gue,” White Sox as­sis­tant gen­eral man­ager Rick Hahn said in an e-mail, “that the year-af­ter re­gres­sion is the price a club pays for mak­ing it to the World Se­ries. [But] should a team will­ingly pay that price? I think the an­swer is yes.”

White Sox Gen­eral Man­ager Kenny Wil­liams said the team an­tic­i­pated the drop-off in 2006, and traded for vet­eran pitcher Javier Vazquez as a hedge — but it wasn’t enough.

“We think our plan­ning in ’06 was on the mark,” Wil­liams said in an email, “but the stress­ful in­nings of 2005 ul­ti­mately took their toll.”

The re­gres­sion trend is gen­er­ally harsher to­ward those pitch­ers who go deep into the post­sea­son. In other words, 250 in­nings for a pitcher whose sea­son ends in Septem­ber may not be the same as the 250 in­nings thrown by a pitcher whose team goes well into Oc­to­ber. “We are talk­ing about in­nings pitched at the high­est level of in­ten­sity un­der the pres­sure of the stretch run and the post­sea­son,” Hahn said. “I also think the fact their off­sea­son is one month shorter im­pacts a pitcher’s abil­ity to main­tain their per­for­mance level the year fol­low­ing a cham­pi­onship run.”

The team the White Sox beat in the 2005 World Se­ries, the Hous­ton Astros, ex­pe­ri­enced a sim­i­lar de­cline in 2006. In win­ning the 2005 NL pen­nant, Roy Oswalt, Andy Pet­titte and Roger Cle­mens com­bined to throw 744 in­nings, with a com­bined ERA of 2.59. But in 2006, their com­bined ERA was 3.32 — most of it due to Pet­titte’s steep rise — and the Astros also missed the play­offs.

“The approach we took with some of our pitch­ers af­ter our World Se­ries ap­pear­ance was to ad­vise them to start their pre­sea­son work­out and prepa­ra­tion a bit later than usual, and we pur­posely backed off the in­nings they threw early in spring train­ing,” Astros Gen­eral Man­ager Tim Pur­pura said.

So who should be wor­ried this year? Well, in St. Louis, home of the de­fend­ing World Se­ries cham­pion Car­di­nals, the sit­u­a­tion is be­yond worry — their ace, Chris Car­pen­ter, al­ready is on the dis­abled list with an el­bow in­jury. Car­pen­ter, in fact, posted “work­horse” sea­sons in both 2005 (2622⁄ com­bined in-

3 nings) and 2006 (254 in­nings).

Also keep an eye on Jeremy Bon­der­man, who led the AL cham­pion Detroit Tigers staff with 2341⁄

3 com­bined in­nings — or 451⁄ more

3 than he had thrown in any pre­vi­ous sea­son. So far, he seems fine, post­ing a 3.18 ERA (nearly a run and a half be­low his ca­reer norm) through his first five starts of 2007.

But the sea­son is long, and who knows what trou­ble lurks out there over the next five or six months?

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