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Has Salas hit The Verducci Effect?

The Verducci Effect” is named after writer/broadcaster Tom Verducci who popularized the theory that 25-year-old and younger pitchers who experience 30-inning increases in workload will underperform in the second season. He originally called it the “Year After Effect.”

The Verducci Effect has generated considerable discussion across baseball circles in recent years as injury prediction is sort of a holy grail for some. Though certain members of the sabermetric community disagree, others are in support. Baseball injury writer Will Carroll followed with work that suggested an increased risk of injury by pitchers who break the “Rule of 30.”

Though the studies have been focused on starting pitchers, the Fernando Salas situation has led me to consider the common-sense extension of the concept that relievers could bend under increased workload as well.

As readers know, Salas has struggled this season, leading to his demotion to Triple-A Memphis on Saturday. He was 25 years old at the start of the 2011 season.

I am not going to present a case here. The thought has already been well-articulated by Joe Strauss of the Post-Dispatch via Twitter on Saturday. The St. Louis Cardinals beat writer tweeted these related messages:

“It’s difficult to find a reliever anywhere used harder than was Salas in 2011. And we’re to believe that has nothing to do w/his ’12?”

“…Most unsung hero of season. Filled variety of roles well w/o complaint.”

“Salas did not pitch last winter. Nor did McClellan. Neither has been right since camp. Rent coming due for last season.”

“…Velocity, command down.”

At first blush, the appearance numbers didn’t look out of line. Salas (between Memphis and St. Louis) tied Marc Rzepczynski (between Toronto and St. Louis) with 71 regular season games-pitched last season to 78 for closer Jason Motte. Strauss suggests looking deeper, raising the yearly uptick as a factor.

“Salas in ’11 (inc AAA, postseason): 82 G, 91.1 IP, 50 GF after pitching winter ball. Had never worked > 61 games previously,” Strauss tweeted.

This is what sets Salas apart, as year-to-year increases did not appear to be unusual for either Motte or Rzepczynski.

Including the post-season, Motte’s games pitched were up 15.3 percent (78 to 90) and innings increased 17.8 percent (68 to 80 1/3) in 2011 over 2010. Scrabble had been a starter in 2010, with his 2011 innings total in relief about half his workload the previous year, though of course, his games-pitched increased substantially.

On the other hand, Salas’ 2011 innings-pitched jumped by almost 38 percent over 2010, while his appearances increased by more than a third.

Fernando Salas, 2011 versus 2010

2011 Games Pct increase Innings Pct increase 2010 Games Innings
StL regular season 68 75 StL regular season 27 30 2/3
StL post-season 11 13 1/3 Post-season (DNP) 0 0
Memphis 3 3 Memphis 34 35 2/3
total 82 34.4% 91 1/3 37.7% 61 66 1/3

Even so, no one in a position of authority has suggested injury or even a need to dial back. The prevailing organizational thinking seems to be focused on mechanical adjustments.

In fact, Salas pitched in his first game back with Memphis on Saturday night. Asked to hold a one-run deficit in the ninth, he yielded a solo home run to Cubs third base prospect Josh Vitters and struck out two.

I don’t know about a Verducci Effect for relievers, as it would be a predictive model compared the more observational view Strauss offers. Looking at the substantial workload increase Salas endured in 2011 combined with the struggles in 2012 can’t help but lead one to wonder.

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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13 Responses to “Has Salas hit The Verducci Effect?”

  1. JumboShrimp says:

    Without Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, the Phillies are not a strong team. We should have beaten on them like a drum. At least we did today.
    Playing the Braves in Atlanta will be more challenging.

  2. blingboy says:

    If 91 innings in a year trashes a guy, so be it. Let him work for minor league money.

    Wow. I see it took four guys to close out the last three innings of an 8-1 game. And two catchers to somehow make it through the vicious pre-memorial day weather. pshaw. powderpuffs.

  3. blingboy says:

    Maybe I’m being irrationally optimistic, but Greene seems to be settling in some. Looking more comfortable in the field and at the plate.

    Like Adams so far.

    Lets get a few more before the pen comes on.

  4. blingboy says:

    Yesterday and today, with big leads, would have been good to rest up the pen guys who get worked a lot. If Dickson isn’t going to do anything else, why wouldn’t he be used for multi-inning mop up duty?

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