July 05, 2006
Pitch Count Musings
Remember the good old days, when men were men and pitchers pitched?
Every four days they took the ball, and the good ones wouldn't come out until the game was over.
If a pitcher was good enough and stayed healthy he would pitch 300 innings and sometimes more — Nolan Ryan got up to 380 one season! Complete games, as rare as star-shaped diamonds, used to be routine. Nowadays, a pitcher lasts six, maybe seven innings and out he goes.
Oddly, there are more injuries now than there used to be, even though the pitchers are pitching less. Why?
It's really not that the guys were better conditioned in the old days. In fact, baseball was a seasonal job for a lot of pitchers, who worked at other jobs off-season and seldom if ever worked out. The arm injuries are probably more of a function of the specialty pitches being used nowadays, specifically the split-fingered, which is tough on the arm.
Knowing what pitchers can make it through to the end of the season is key when playing Fantasy Baseball. I've had more than one staff that wilted in September and cost me the title because their arms were fatigued.
We can rely on the veterans because they do it year in and year out. Looking at the list of Innings Pitched leaders so far this season, we see some of the usual names — not to worry, these guys have been there and done that, guys like Hudson, Mussina, Glavine, Smoltz, Webb, Carlos Zambrano, Zito, Schilling, Willis, Halladay, Rogers, Moyer, Petite, and Oswalt. They might not be sharp in September, but it won't be because of arm fatigue.
Now look at some of the new names, and if you have one, be concerned — be very concerned. In fact, these guys might be trade candidates.
Dave Bush, Chien-Ming Wang, Wandy Rodriguez, Miguel Batista (who was a reliever last season), and Chris Young, just to name a few.
Here is a secret fact that gives you a huge advantage over your opponents: Pitchers who throw a career-high amount of innings pitched break down a year or two later.
Consider Mike Maroth, who logged 426 innings the last two seasons and won 25 games. He had never exceeded 200 innings before. He's out with a bad elbow after only 48 this season. An even better example is Chris Carpenter, who logged 241 innings last season and has already hit the disabled list once so far this season. Ditto John Patterson and A.J. Burnett. Want a guy who hasn't been hurt yet but who logged a career-high (231) number of innings last season? Try Johann Santana — the prevailing wisdom is he won't make it through the season.
If you play Rotisserie Baseball, your league probably has a system in place to buy free agents as they come on the market. In our league, we get a $50 allowance, bid what we want on whoever is available, and the highest bidder gets the player. Simple, right? Not always.
Take Roger Clemens, who comes on the market this week. Yes, he's the cream of the crop in the sense that few, if any, players of his stature will become available. But it's important to save some of your loot for later in the season, particularly in September, when the major league teams reward minor league players who had good seasons with call-ups. It's a great way to pick up young talent.
What to bid? If I'm one dominating pitcher away from challenging for the title, I bet the wad on Clemens, all 50 bucks, and I worry about it later. If I start losing players to injuries and I have no money to pick up replacements, I gambled and I lost.
There is another way, however — talk someone else into picking up Clemens by working a deal with him. Let's say another owner has more money than you and you know from experience he'll bid $50 on Clemens. You go to the lowest team in the standings — since ties go to the worst team — and convince that owner to bid $50 on Roger The Dodger. Why will he do this? Because you are willing to pay him through the nose, that's why. If you have a strong enough team, you'll be able to part with a young, cheap player, say a Ryan Zimmerman at $5. He gets a young stud, you rent yourself an ace for the season.
Remember, a good fantasy player is ruthless. Find a way to screw your opponent at every opportunity.
NANRL UPDATE: Skippy, with 63 points, is still behind the Bandits (78) and the Orange Pac (64), yet there is reason for optimism. The Young Marlins are on a roll and Skippy has their closer, Joe Borowski, and his set-up man, Logan Kensing, as well as Dontrelle Willis, who has been on fire. Young slugger Josh Willingham returned from the disabled list this season, giving the team a valuable bat in the catcher's slot, even though Willingham hasn't played there all season. But that's a story for another day.