John Kruk Doesn’t Get It

I was laying down on this beautiful Sunday morning, minding my own business and catching up on the news by watching ESPN’s Baseball Tonight.  They began talking about today’s pitching matchups, which features the Yanks’ Joba Chamberlain against Freddy Garcia of the White Sox.

All of a sudden, ESPN analyst and former big leaguer John Kruk begins to lambaste the Yankees for their handling of Chamberlain’s first three years in the majors. “Give him the ball and let him pitch every five days,” Kruk says.  “They still don’t know if he’s a starter or a reliever,” he continues.  ESPN brings up a graphic comparing the 23 year old Chamberlain with the 23 year old Felix Hernandez of the Mariners.  Kruk reasons that both are the same age, but Hernandez has a lot more innings than Chamberlain.  “Why don’t the Yankees just let him pitch like King Felix?” Kruk asks.

Here’s why.

Felix Hernandez began his major league career by pitching 84.1 innings and posting a 2.67 ERA in 2005 at the tender age of 19.  Very nice.  His next season saw his innings balloon to 191.0 and his ERA also jumped to 4.52.  This is naturally the smooth transition with zero problems with that Kruk was talking about.  Hernandez’s innings have since leveled off to around 200 and his ERA dipped down to 3.92 then to 3.45 and is 2.77 this season.  There are natural bumps and bruises in developing young pitchers and King Felix had his.

There once as a pitcher named Mark Prior. Prior followed a path to development that Kruk would probably approve of.  He really didn’t have any innings limitations.  Prior pitched 116.2 innings in his rookie year of 2002 (age 21) and posted a respectable 3.32 ERA.  The next year was a career year for the promising young Cubs pitcher as he threw 211.1 innings, earning a 2.43 ERA, 18 wins and third place in the Cy Young voting.  Impressive.  The next season, 2004, Prior was hurt for much of the year (surprise, surprise) and only mustered 118.2 innings and a less than spectacular 4.02 ERA.  In 2005, he pitched 166.2 innings with a 3.67 ERA.  Prior pitched 43.2 innings with an ERA over 7.00 in 2006 and hasn’t appeared in a major league game since then.

Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci did some research on innings limits on young pitchers and found that pitchers under the age of 25 who have 30-inning increases year over year tend to underperform. Injury Expert Will Carroll independently found that pitchers who break the “Rule of 30” tend to get injured.

In other words, the Yankees could unleash Chamberlain, a la Prior, and get a couple solid years out of him before, according to Carroll, he’d probably get hurt.  On the other hand, they could be patient and develop him at a cautious pace and get more quality years out of him in the long run.  The Yanks aren’t really known for their patience, but at least in this case, they seek long term consistency from Chamberlain rather than an immediate reward.

Luckily, John Kruk isn’t running the Yankees.


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2 Responses to “John Kruk Doesn’t Get It”

  1. Andrew Says:

    I think you mean 30% inning increases. Big difference than 30-inning increase

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