Not All Innings Are Created Equal

Last week, Jeremy Hellickson was pulled after three innings from a start for AAA Durham with the excuse of, “watching his workload.” Last night, Jeremy Hellickson won his major league debut  and was either called up to give every starter an extra day’s rest or to show the fanbase why the club did not trade him for Adam Dunn depending on how much tinfoil you put on your head in the morning before leaving the house.

We are often told about pitchers being held back to monitor workload as it has been drummed into our heads each time someone mentions Stephen Strasburg this season.  Each time any pundit talks about him, they bring up 150 IP and say that is his limit this year. I maintain that using innings pitched as your workload monitor is a bad strategy because all innings are not created equal and anyone who watched Scott Kazmir pitch for this franchise in his final two seasons knows that and Kazmir is up to his old tricks this season. In 92.1 innings this season, Kazmir has thrown 1726 pitches which averages out to an astounding 18.7 pitches per inning. Conversely, rookie Mike Leake has thrown 1821 pitches in 121 innings which averages out to a clean 15.0 IP.  If you were to double Kazmir’s current total, that comes out to 3,452 pitches in 184.2 innings pitched. Compare that to Jeff Niemann who threw 2890 pitches last season in 180.1 innings. Here we have two guys that were within four innings of each other but were 562 pitches apart. That is essentially an extra six starts worth of pitches!

Getting back to Hellickson, he has now thrown 1967 pitches in 2010 in 124.2 innings which breaks down to 15.8 pitches per inning. I went out and found twelve different pitchers within fifteen months of Hellickson’s age to see how he compares to those pitchers in regards to pitches per inning rather than any kind of inning threshold and the results are displayed below.

Pitcher Total Pitches Innings Pitched Pitches/IP
B. Matusz 1984 113.2 17.5
Y. Gallardo 2188 126.1 17.3
W. Davis 1985 115.1 17.2
T. Hanson 2125 127 16.7
P. Hughes 1962 117.1 16.7
G. Gonzalez 2225 134 16.6
J. Cueto 2157 130 16.6
J. Garcia 1874 116 16.2
D. Price 2154 133.2 16.1
J. Hellickson 1967 124.2 15.8
M. Latos 1844 117.67 15.7
M. Leake 1821 121 15.0
F. Hernandez 2514 167.2 15.0

After watching how well Hellickson commands his pitches last night, it should come as no surprise where he ranks on this chart. He is right there with command artist Mike Leake but not yet to the level of execution that Mat Latos or Felix Hernandez is. He compares quite favorably to his two organizational mates in Davis and Price while doing much better than more heralded rookie Brian Matusz and surpassing Jaime Garcia from the National League.

Hellickson’s role for the rest of the season remains undefined but after last night, there is little doubt that Hellickson will be back no later than September 1st and should the Rays make the playoffs, Hellickson will have a roster spot much in the same way David Price did in 2008. Will the Rays use innings pitched or a pitch count to monitor his workload moving forward is the only unknown, but I am more interested in how many pitches he is throwing than how many innings he is working.


About Jason Collette

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