Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Paul Effect

  • The Paul Effect (pôl -f kt), adj.---A syndrome named for Paul (The Prince of New York) Lebowitz related to and caused by an aversion to self-aggrandizing associations, rampant pomposity, agenda-driven factual distortions or omissions and outright ignorance emanating from those in positions of power or authority.

The Verducci Effect?

I honestly had no idea what this thing was until I started hearing it referenced about a month ago.

Tom Verducci is a respected (even by me) writer for Sports Illustrated; to put it in his own words as to what "The Verducci Effect" is, here's a snippet from the Sports Illustrated article in which it was unveiled to the world:

More than a decade ago, with the help of then-Oakland pitching coach Rick Peterson, I began tracking one element of overuse which seemed entirely avoidable: working young pitchers too much too soon. Pitchers not yet fully conditioned and physically matured were at risk if clubs asked them to pitch far more innings than they did the previous season -- like asking a 10K runner to crank out a marathon. The task wasn't impossible, but the after-effects were debilitating. I defined an at-risk pitcher as any 25-and-under pitcher who increased his innings log by more than 30 in a year in which he pitched in the big leagues. Each year the breakdown rate of such red-flagged pitchers -- either by injury or drop in performance -- was staggering.

I called the trend the Year After Effect, though it caught on in some places as the Verducci Effect. As I was tracking this trend, the industry already was responding to the breakdown in young pitchers. The Yankees instituted the Joba Rules. The Orioles shut down pitchers late in the year. Teams set "target innings" for their young pitchers before camp even began. Clubs sent underworked starters to the Arizona Fall League to build their arms to better withstand regular work the next year.

Then when the plummeting king of objective analysis and case study for creative non-fiction (also known as Moneyball), Billy Beane, was questioned on his use of two young pitchers, Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson, he said: "We always keep an eye on the Verducci metrics."


I have absolutely nothing against trying to come to a consensus and baseline work level to keep pitchers healthy; I respect Rick Peterson as a pitching coach and think Tom Verducci is a quality baseball writer, but this to me is another example of taking every single person and trying to find a way to pigeonhole them into a set series of principles based more on trying to absolve oneself of blame if they get hurt rather than finding their individual potentials and using them accordingly.

To me, it's absolutely arbitrary to pick certain pitchers and adjust their various bodytypes, motions, pitches, genetics----everything----and bash them into a chart to dictate their deployment and then point to the similar arbitrary factors if they get hurt and cast blame on the manager, the pitching coach or the organization.

It's the simplest thing in the world to pick and choose various pitchers who got hurt and say, "Aha!!! I knew it!!" after the fact. It happens all the time and we're seeing it again with Stephen Strasburg. The armchair experts are popping up and saying his mechanics, including the "inverted M" style of bringing elbows up to shoulder height when getting into throwing position were major culprits in Strasburg's needing Tommy John surgery.

I'd love to see the full metrics on the pitchers and how they came to the conclusion that 30 inning increases for a pitcher 25-and under who pitched part of that season in the big leagues was a red flag. It's convenient that Peterson and Verducci point to the health and success of Mark Mulder, Barry Zito and Tim Hudson as "proof" that Peterson's techniques and innings limits----along with dropping in the still-respected name of Beane----to justify the Verducci Effect by means of context switching.

Does it count that Mulder's shoulder blew out two years after he left the Athletics and was finished at 30? That Hudson needed Tommy John surgery at 32? That Zito's velocity disappeared? Peterson wasn't presiding over the pitchers when these things happened so he's cleared of direct implication in the crime, but if this were a conspiracy case, there'd be anecdotal evidence to include Peterson in the indictment.

There are so many bits and pieces that are left unsaid in a study such as this. How much use did the pitcher endure as a kid? Did he throw curveballs at age 10? Was he abused in high school? In college? For every Tim Lincecum who had a father tightly controlling his son's career and dictating everything from his mechanics to innings and pitch counts, there are other pitchers like Daisuke Matsuzaka who threw a ridiculous and legendary number of pitches in high school because of cultural differences and the belief in another style of development.

The names mentioned as having gotten injured or have a potential for injury are all well and good, but just as Dusty Baker was held responsible for Mark Prior and Kerry Wood, how about their mechanics and other factors? Wood's curveball was of the hard, snapping variety that is a portent for elbow injuries; Prior may have been a PED case who got hurt again-and-again to numerous parts of his body.

Is there anyone to blame? Really? A person? A workload? Or is it just the human body and unfamiliar stresses being placed on joints and ligaments? These stresses aren't supposed to be placed on them by natural order.

Why is it that the injured are referenced and the healthy pitchers aren't? Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Steve Carlton, Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, Mike Mussina, David Wells, Andy Pettitte, David Cone, Justin Verlander, Adam Wainwright----all deviated or are currently deviating from the Verducci Effect, but never blew out their arms.


And if they do get injured while under the regulations and judicious care, does that disprove the Verducci Effect? Or is it explained away to bolster the theory?

Has anyone examined the above pitchers and tried to figure out why they stayed healthy while not under the auspices of the Verducci Effect? Or was it better to point to the injured pitchers and explain their injuries by the decision not to limit their innings?

Much like the line in Bull Durham regarding the gift of a power fastball----"You got a gift. When you were a baby, the Gods reached down and turned your right arm into a thunderbolt"----who can explain it? Every human being, within the realm of genetic differences, has a certain potential. Stretching potential, durability potential and the potential to throw a ball a certain velocity. Motion and technique can improve the natural ability, but it is what it is. Doesn't the same thing apply to those that get injured?

With the eye-rolling and scoffing criticism rained down upon the supposed "old school" thinkers who believe pitchers are too babied today and are getting hurt regardless of the babying, there is a foundation of accuracy in both camps. No one is saying that pitchers should be treated as Al Leiter was by Dallas Green and allowed to throw over 160 pitches on a chilly night and destroyed his shoulder; but can it be argued that Joba Chamberlain is being developed as he's treated so delicately by the Yankees? He may be staying healthy, but does it do anyone any good if he's healthy and pitching inconsistently to badly?

The symbol of vitriol for old school thinking is directed at Rob Dibble and Dibble brought it on himself with his perceived attack on the Nationals and Stephen Strasburg. I'm not defending Dibble, but what he said was misinterpreted as an attack on Strasburg when he was, I think, speaking about pitchers in general when he was asked about Strasburg and it came out as if he was talking about Strasburg and implying that he's a wimp.

Dibble is not well-liked; he was already under fire for his chauvinistic comments weeks before and his Strasburg-related talk----that got him fired from the Nationals telecasts----were said in characteristically coarse terms, but he's right in a sense. Pitchers expect to be babied; they expect to be removed from a game or a rotation; to have their innings and workload limited because of such things as the Verducci Effect.

The same physical gifts that have been bestowed upon the likes of Strasburg, Aroldis Chapman, Lincecum and any other pitcher you can name with that 90 mph fastball also gives a limited number of pitches in their arms; that number can be increased with proper mechanics and usage or it might not be. This to me is a way to try and calculate the incalculable. It has value, but for it to become part of the baseball lexicon as an entity unto itself and let a sportswriter dictate how a pitcher is used is the epitome of a "strawman"----to use a Bill James term.

I would hope that the people within baseball have the knowledge, intelligence and experience to come to their own guidelines and use their players appropriately and resist the Verducci Effect as a bible on how to treat their young pitchers. Teams should be careful with their investments, but it shouldn't be because of a study by a sportswriter who's speaking along with a credible voice in Rick Peterson and has become a major influence in baseball. It should be because of experience and common sense in addition to all the research being conducted.

And these are major aspects of the Paul Effect.

Learn them.

Live them.

Love them.

  • Viewer Mail 9.7.2010:

Jeff (Street Boss) at Red State Blue State writes RE yesterday's trade proposal:

Impressive. Very impressive.

I'm here to please. Or to serve and protect. Or to trash the place.

One of those.

The Brooklyn Trolley Blogger (Brooklyn Capo) writes RE yesterday's trade proposal:

Add in a first round lottery pick and an expiring contract...Then maybe Commish Stern would approve the deal. I'm open to it. I'm all for turning the page on this era...you know that. Anyone is tradable. Mets have Havens, Jon Malo and Flores to work with. A couple of this year's Cyclones had insane years. We'd be OK. Reyes ~ The whole thing with him is the "if" factor. Meh...sell High buy Low.

It's gotten to the point where the Mets must have anything and everything on the table and that includes Jose Reyes and David Wright.

Reese Havens, Wilmer Flores and all the other kids coming up through the system are a terrific foundation for a reasonably priced, exciting and enthusiastic young team that wants to be wearing a Mets uniform. They've resisted the urge to be stupid so far this year; let's see if they keep it up.

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE my proposals from yesterday:

Cliff Lee to the Red Sox would put a stake in my heart. But Papelbon to the Mets would make me very happy. :)

Is that because Jonathan Papelbon is a bane to the Yankees existence or because you want to see him suffer with the Mets? Or both?

I was a guest with Sal at SportsFan Buzz on Thursday talking about a lot of stuff. You can download it to I-Tunes via Sal's site; visit him on Facebook and get it directly here.

My book is still available on Amazon, I-Universe and Barnes and Noble.com. It's available for download as an E-book here. You can also now get it for less that five bucks on BN via download here.


Jeff said...

The important part, in my opinion, is who Verducci & Co. leave out because they had no problems when plugged into his formula.

You did the right thing by drawing attention to those players, which I believe, sorta balances everything out to even, leaving me to say: SO WHAT?!?!

She-Fan said...

Re: Papelbon. It's because I want him in the NL where I won't have to look at him make that stupid face every time he pitches against the Yankees.

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