Monday, May 9, 2011

The Rule of 30 Revisited

For some reason, this weekend I was thinking about the rule of 30. This is the rule with young pitchers that if you increase their workload from one season to the next by more than 30 innings, you are putting them at high risk for injury. You saw this play out most famously with Kerry Wood and Mark Prior for the Cubs. Two promising young starters, one of which is now in our minor league system hoping to stay healthy and get a call up. The problem I have is that I couldn't help notice that pitchers in the past would regularly increase their workload and not suffer the same problems. For example, Bob Gibson threw 75.2 innings his rookie year, then 86.2 the following year. That number jumped to 211.1 the following season, which would blow away the rule of 30, but you don't see Gibson fall apart. The next 5 seasons after that he doesn't pitch less than 233 innings. Warren Spahn threw 125.2 innings after taking a three year hiatus, I assume for the war. He then threw 289.2 the next season. Again you don't see him fall apart. He throws 257 innings the following year, 302.1 the next year, and goes on for another 12 seasons pitching at least 245.2 innings in each one. Mel Stottlemyre went from 96 innings in '64 to 291 innings in '65. Again, no break down. Now I know there are exceptions to every rule, but the more starters I look at from that era, the more you see the rule of 30 not applying.

One thing I did notice however was that the average age of these starters their first season was about 23 or 24, where as Kerry Wood, and Mark Prior were about 21 and 22 respectively. I wonder if its trying to rush these high school and college kids through the system that makes the rule of 30 true. Otherwise I have no idea how to account for increasing workloads by 100 innings for pitchers in the 60's and not seeing the rule of 30 take any effect. What do you all think?


Anonymous said...

Pitchers from earlier eras have also said that they didn't put max effort into every pitch. Instead, they would pace themselves over the course of a game and only throw their hardest when they needed to get out of a jam. I think pitchers now put more strain on their arms on a pitch-by-pitch basis than did their forebears.

Fernando Alejandro said...

That could very well be it. I think in the 90's we saw a strong emphasis put on mph instead of pitch movement. We've seen some very effective pitchers out there with low mph. I remember Cliff Lee dominating with a 91mph fastball, and even better, Mike Mussina striking guys out with his 85mph heat.

Roberto E. Alejandro said...

part of the problem has been the way line-ups have transformed. You have a lot of teams out there with guys who can hurt you 1-9. That means there are no guys pitchers can take it easy against, and so that's why you didn't need max effort in earlier eras. The DH in the AL doesn't help in this respect, and so you have to bring your A-game every at-bat as a pitcher. That can take its toll on young arms.

Anonymous said...

For every Bob Gibson and Warren Spahn, (Or Cy Young and Walter Johnson, for that matter) there's 500 fireballing kids that threw their arms out early and were never heard from again.
Back when there were 20 major league teams, and each only carried maybe 5-6 pitchers, they could afford to let them fall by the wayside. Now, there needs to be be close to 400 pitchers to go around the leagues. That kind of talent and ability is hard to find, and they can't afford to waste any of it.
Back before expansion, and when a pitcher was expected to go 9 innings every start, most of the guys pitching today never would have made the cut.
Heck, Babe Ruth's last start was an emergency spot start 6 or 7 years after he'd quit pitching. He went 9 innings, gave up 5 runs and got the win.


Anonymous said...

That's a good point Joe, but I think that the emphasis to throw harder/faster might have been influenced by the steroid era of the 90's.