Pitcher Abuse PointsBaseball Prospectus has a very interesting metric for analyzing a pitcher's level of abuse. It has been refined significantly over the years, and I think it's worth looking at with respect to Daisuke Matsuzaka. Japanese pitchers are routinely abused from the time they can pick up a ball, but how much? How does Matsuzaka compare to the most abused Major League starters? Is he really abused at all?
The first thing to understand about Pitcher Abuse Points (PAP) is that pitchers are believed to be at a threshhold of sorts at 100 pitches. Up until roughly 100 pitches a starter is in his comfort zone. It makes no difference how much rest he has between starts. 4 man rotations bore out essentially the same as 5 man rotations and I would wager to say it holds true for the Japanese style 6 man rotations as well. It's not the lack of recovery time that hurts a pitcher, but rather the point beyond the stress threshhold that each violent delivery brings after 100 pitches. Another thing to understand is that the metric itself has been called into question on a number of occasions. Take it under advisement.
This series of bullet points from a 2004 BP article called "How We Measure Pitcher Usage" will help me illustrate my point:
"So to recap, here's everything we know about the usage of starting pitchers:
*There is no evidence that the current system of employing a five-man rotation is any better at accomplishing what it was created for--keeping pitchers healthy--than the four-man rotation. It appears that most pitchers simply don't need more than three days of rest between starts.
*In the era of the four-man rotation, teams were able to get six or seven more starts, and 50-75 more innings, out of their best starters than teams do today.
*Starting pitchers have, historically speaking, thrived without use of a fixed rotation at all.
*Starting pitchers have, historically speaking, been used as relievers between starts without adverse consequences.
*What seems to put starters at risk of injury is throwing too many pitches per start.
*Roughly speaking, "too many pitches" seems to translate to "over 100".
*Once a pitcher hits his fatigue point, his risk of injury goes up very quickly with each additional pitch.
*Pitchers under the age of 25 are exquisitely sensitive to overuse."
Knowing all this, it's time to examine the various metrics in use to determine a pitcher's "Stress" level and abuse. Here's a list that I took from the BP chart of Major Leaguers. I later translated that chart to include Matsuzaka's data.
TOT_NP = The number of pitches a pitcher has thrown in 2006.
MAX_NP = The highest number of pitches he threw in one start.
AVG_NP = The average number of pitches thrown per start.
TOT_PAP = Total Pitcher Abuse Points (NP-100)^3 where NP > 100
MAX_PAP = The single highest PAP total in one start.
AVG_PAP = The average PAP total across the full season's work.
CAT 1 = 1-100 pitch starts
CAT 2 = 101-109
CAT 3 = 110-121
CAT 4 = 122-132
CAT 5 = 133+
Stress = PAP/NP
Let's take a look at the chart now and see what we find (click to enlarge):
You'll notice right away that all the pitchers on this list have started 24 or 26 games in the Majors. Matsuzaka has only started 18. (Actually, it's 19 but I discounted a start in which he left with a groin problem after only 19 pitches since it unfairly skewed the data.) In only 18 starts Matsuzaka easily tops the chart in AVG NP, Total PAP, and AVG PAP. In all of the Major Leagues this season there have only been 3 games in which the starter threw more than 132 pitches. Matsuzaka has 3 on his own. Also, the highest number of combined CAT 4 and 5 starts is Carlos Zambrano at 5. Three or four other pitchers have 3 combined CAT 4 and 5 starts. Matsuzaka has 9!
Most of the highly abused pitchers in the Majors go between 110-121 pitches on their worst days. You know, those days that Dusty Baker fell asleep in the 6th inning after a light snack. As a result the abuse is somewhat limited, especially taking into consideration the gigantic disparity in Matsuzaka's 126! Stress rating, when compared to Livan Hernandez' 2nd place finish at 45.
The data does not lie folks. Matsuzaka's rotator cuff and right elbow are being worked into shoe leather by the Torquemadan pitching coaches of Japanese Pro Yakyu. Considering that BP's analysis shows that pitchers under the age of 25 are most affected by this abuse, it's amazing to think that he's lasted this long without extended periods on the DL. No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!
Likewise, it makes it more criminal that High School pitchers are subjected to 200-300 pitch counts during the big tournaments. I will do a PAP analysis on one of these young hurlers in the future, but we must rescue Daisuke from the evil clutches of Seibu before it's too late!! I'm not worried about the durability of his arm, as he's only 25 this year. If it continues 2 or 3 more years it's trouble. We've got a 100 pitch count waiting for you in the States DM. Come and get it.
(By the way, in the high school game when Matsuzaka threw 250 pitches he earned about 3,375,000 PAP! Yowza!)