The Mets got bad news for their bullpen earlier this month when it was revealed that LHP Josh Edgin was pitching with “discomfort” in his arm and would be heading to New York to see team doctors. The expected bad news came shortly after: Edgin has ligament damage that might require Tommy John surgery. (MetsBlog, March 12).
It’s unlucky that the first to be felled by injury would be the lefty specialist, given GM Sandy Alderson’s failure to acquire an established second lefty for the bullpen this offseason, but injuries are simply par for the course when it comes to pitchers. This is the primary reason why I’ve reminded Mets fans several times this offseason that they “can’t have too much pitching” heading into 2015. (MetsBlog, Sept. 19, 2014).
One player who I would keep a particularly close eye on this season is RHP Carlos Torres, who was a stalwart for the Mets last season. Torres has been flying mostly under the radar this spring, and is viewed by many as a lock to come close to replicating his 2014 campaign. Last year, Torres was ready to pitch seemingly any day Terry Collins would call on him, for as many innings as Terry needed (including one rogue starting assignment).
Unfortunately, the track record of pitchers who have had Torres’s workload is not very good. Torres hurled 97 innings last season at age 31, so I did a search on Baseball-Reference for all relievers who were put under similar stress. Despite loosening the criteria to any pitcher 28 or older, with only 90+ innings pitched, 70+ relief appearances, and 1,500+ pitches thrown (all of these figures less than Torres) only eight other pitchers met that criteria over the last fourteen seasons. Heath Bell, Scott Proctor, Scot Shields, Guillermo Mota (2x), Paul Quantrill, Joe Borowski, Scott Sullivan (2x), and Matt Herges.
On average, these eleven player-seasons put up the following pitching line: 78 games, 98 innings pitched, 34 walks, 87 strikeouts, and a 3.10 ERA (143 ERA+). In the following season, however, these eight players posted the following overall line: 71 games, 81.2 innings, 28 walks, 67 strikeouts, and a 3.56 ERA (126 ERA+).
On average, they added about a half a point to their ERA while pitching 17% less innings than the year before. Even more damningly, their collective K/9 went from 10.03 down to 7.38 per nine. Some of the players, such as Guillermo Mota and Heath Bell, were able to handle high workloads and continue to pitch effectively (even if less effectively than before) in the major leagues.
For most of the group, however, they found themselves to be ineffective or out of baseball shortly after their big season. Scot Shields pitched only 204 more innings at a 4.06 ERA; Scott Proctor pitched 84.2 more innings at a 6.59 ERA; Joe Borowski pitched 219.2 more innings at a 5.00 ERA; and Scott Sullivan pitched 203 more innings with a 4.92 ERA. Apparently you should not name your child Scott (or Scot).
There is some selection bias here, as only players who perform well will get to pitch this often, and sometimes, it is simply a career year for the player. However, those things apply in equal force to Torres who, although I like him very much, had never had more than 31 relief appearances in an MLB season before last year, and posted a career best ERA and K/9 rate at the age of 31.
Torres was great for the Mets last year, but he is the only pitcher in all of baseball to appear in 70+ games, and pitch 90+ innings, and throw 1,500+ pitches in almost a decade (the last to do it was Heath Bell in 2007). It’s probably not very good for you, or for your career, to pitch that much, that often. Although I hope Torres posts a strong 2015, he will be merely replacement-level if he adds half a point to his ERA like his peer group did. With a FIP last season almost a point higher than his ERA (his FIP was 3.86) I expect Torres will regress significantly, perhaps pitching himself out of the big leagues before June.
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Brian Mangan is an attorney who lives and works in New York City and is a lifelong Mets fan. Follow him on twitter at @brianpmangan
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n.b.: It doesn’t make me happy to publish this article right after my Zack Wheeler article, because I am not a pitch-count expert. However I had this fully written before the Wheeler MRI and injury reveal, and it felt silly not to publish it.