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Should Felix Doubront Fear The Verducci Effect?

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Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci's annual look at young, at-risk pitchers tabs Doubront as a possible victim


Every year, Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci takes a look at young pitchers under the age of 25 who saw an increase of at least 30 innings in their workload. The point of this exercise is to identify those pitchers who are more likely to be injured in the upcoming season, due to said workload increase. The problem, as many of you may know -- but not enough know, given the annualization of Verducci's January opus -- is that a lot of it is just bunk.

In a nutshell, you shouldn't be any more worried about Felix Doubront and his 30-plus inning increase than you should be about any other pitcher performing the same tasks. Why not, though? The premise of Verducci's work, after all, is solid enough: more innings -- possibly too many of them -- can lead to injury. The issue is that there is a lot more that goes into "more innings" than, say, overuse, which is the obvious theme of the article given it's meant as a warning sign. Baseball Prospectus's Russell Carlton, formerly of the Cleveland Indians' front office, discusses as much in his latest:

The Verducci Effect is a case of speculation mixed with a really poor understanding of the scientific method, and that is a dangerous combination. It gives the illusion of knowledge, and that's more dangerous than simply not knowing something. It's tempting to want to grab onto the Verducci explanation, especially when a young pitcher with so much promise suffers such a large setback, because a wrong explanation feels better than no explanation.

With that said, my findings are not a license for teams to go out and Mark Prior-ize their pitchers. You can blow out a young (or old) arm from overuse. It's just that the Verducci formulation isn't a good guide to figure out who is at risk.

Carlton uses said scientific method, plain old logic, and plenty of math to point out flaws in Verducci's approach and results. Check out Carlton's work in full to see the math and method -- the results of which show pitchers who aren't included in Verducci's study as being more likely to suffer a long-term pitching injury -- to see how he broke down Verduccu's own methods, as well as his takes on performance, injuries, and even size of a pitcher in relation to likelihood of injury. Most important, though, might be Carlton's conclusion, where he brings up the many reasons why pitchers might have increased their workload by 30 innings in ways that shouldn't bring on any kind of additional injury risk besides that which is inherent to the act of pitching professionally.

Verducci's heart is in the right place with his annual look at young pitcher workloads -- remember, it wasn't that long ago that Mark Prior was overworking his way into becoming a poster boy for mismanaged pitch and inning counts -- but as Carlton shows (and many others have taken a stab at in the past), his head isn't coming at this from the right angle. It's the spread of misinformation, as its broad strokes don't do a complicated issue the justice it deserves.