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The Verducci Effect and the Orioles

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Tom Verducci has posted his annual Watch List for pitchers thought to be at heightened risk for injury or poor performance due to overuse. He calls it the Year After Effect, most everyone else calls it the Verducci Effect. Here's Verducci's explanation:

After the jump, I'll take a look at why no Orioles pitchers are on the list, and why that's the case.

The Orioles have four pitchers who started last year that fall in the under-26 category that started a significant number of games last year. They are:

Name 2008 MiLB IP 2009 MiLB IP 2009 MLB IP 2009 TOTAL IP
Brad Bergesen

165.1

11.0

123.1

134.1

Chris Tillman

135.2

65.0

96.2

161.2

Brian Matusz

131.2*

113.0

44.2

157.2

David Hernandez

141.0

61.1

101.1

162.2

*Includes the 2007-2008 NCAA season and the 2008 Arizona Fall League.

There have been two reactions by MLB clubs to the Verducci Effect. The first was the most obvious to fans, especially of the O's. Teams simply started shutting pitchers down when they came close to the Verducci Effect line of 30 more innings pitched than the previous year. The second wasn't so obvious, and I found extremely interesting:

Let's deal with the second effect first. The only pitcher of note the Orioles sent to the Arizona Fall League was Brandon Erbe, and he had missed two months of the season with an injury. As it is, he only added another 9.0 IP to his total for 2009. He is not expected to be added to the Orioles this year, but his IP for 2010 in the minors will be interesting to note for 2011.

There's no doubt the Orioles had the Verducci Effect in mind ending the season, however. David Hernandez was the only pitcher of the four on the O's active roster younger than 26 that ended the season still pitching. Brad Bergesen's season ended early due to injury, but Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman were both shut down by the O's organization while still healthy.

Glancing at the chart, it's easy to see why. While Bergesen had about 60 more IP left to throw before he approached the Verducci Effect line, Tillman had added 26.0 IPfrom his 2008 total. The additional innings put him perilously close to the 30+ IP mark, and the O's shut him down after his worst start of the season Sept. 27, costing him one last start.

Matusz was in his first full year of professional baseball, having thrown 26.2 IP in the Arizona Fall Leaguein 2008 in addition to the 18 starts for the University of San Diego in 2007-08 with 105.0 IP. He had 13 starts and two relief appearances in 2006-07 with 123.0 IP. His 2009 total was 26 IP higher than his college and AFL totals of 2008, and the decision was made to shut him down on Sept. 12, after his best start of the season, beating  New York 7-3 with just one earned run and four hits in 7.0 IP.

Hernandez added 21.2 IP, which left him plenty of room for 2010 as a starter. But he is expected to see considerable time in the bullpen this season, which will drive down his projected 2010 IP totals considerably.

As for 2010, the shutdown of Tillman and Matusz in September 2009 still leaves them plenty of room to be full-year starters barring injury for the Orioles. Tillman, if he adds around 30 IP to his 2009 total, would throw 192 IP, certainly near the target of 200 IP for a full-time starter. Matusz would project to just four innings fewer, leaving him in the neighborhood of 188 IP for the season as his target.

The Orioles have left themselves in an enviable position with Tillman and Matusz. They allowed the two pitchers to learn on the job in 2009, but can afford to lean on them in 2010 if they prove successful. If healthy and pitching well, we should be able to see 31 or so starts for each pitcher if they average 6.0 IP a start. If they struggle, the Orioles will still have the option of letting them finish the season at AAA and taking the ball every fifth day without an innings constraint due to the shorter season. In either case, the Orioles, by limiting their seasons last year, have left themselves all sorts of options this year with two of their best young arms.