The Verducci Effect for MLB Handicapping
by Robert Ferringo - 04/14/2009
I believe in mystics. I believe in psychics and clairvoyants, crystal ball gazers and fortune-tellers. I put my faith in Faith, as well as in oracles, shaman and clerics. I believe in Luck and in Karma, and I relish in sadistic heathen rituals, long-forgotten ancient rites and bizarre and perverse ceremonial expressions. After all, I am a latter-day prophet. And while I am not paid to denounce the hypocrisy of Our Times, I am paid to stumble through the dark cave of the Space-Time Continuum and see what I can scavenger up. So why wouldn't I use any methods and means at my disposal to make for damn sure that it's done Right?
So what if I told you that Tim Lincecum's shaky start and 7.56 ERA were predictable? What I if had informed you that Cole Hamels' arm troubles and the disappointing season that he is due for have all been forecast? And what if I could tell you that Jon Lester's slow start is not an aberration, but that it was in the bones? Well, I wish I could tell you that those were my Visions. I wish I could. But instead I can only guide you to a soothsayer who worships at the altar of Mathematics and describe to you the riddle that is The Verducci Effect.
Tom Verducci is a Senior Writer for Sports Illustrated, that former favorite bathroom reading material of most of our youths. Verducci is an exceptional writer and is A Man Who Knows Things. And like most people that have followed baseball for decades he has picked up on a trend or two in his time. One particular trend, known throughout the Interweb as "The Verducci Effect", has predicted the demise of Youth and Promise in the form of young pitchers for nearly half a decade. And by studying the Verducci Effect I think that we can uncover some solid - and shocking - pitchers to fade for this season.
Basically, Verducci has tracked pitchers age 25 or younger that threw 30 or more innings beyond their previous season (or in the case of injury their previous career high). He discovered that when these players either became injured or flamed out at an alarmingly high rate. The result was a path of fractured dreams and wasted promise, as well as more than one busted bank account that was caught waiting for Jeremy Bonderman to "find his stuff".
"It's like training for a marathon. You need to build stamina incrementally," Verducci wrote on SI.com in 2006 while discussing what he termed the "Year After Effect". "The unofficial industry standard is that no young pitcher should throw more than 30 more innings than he did the previous season. It's a general rule of thumb, and one I've been tracking for about a decade. When teams violate the incremental safeguard, it's amazing how often they pay for it."
Not only teams: but bettors as well. Over the past few seasons aces and potential aces like Francisco Liriano, Justin Verlander and Hamels have had their names pop up on the list of Verducci Effect hurlers. Not surprisingly, Verlander is washed up in his mid-20s, Liriano doesn't look capable of reaching the god-like status he seemed destined for in 2006, and Cole Hamels - despite a World Series MVP - is hearing rumors about his arm being "dead". And while bettors can't figure out what is wrong with these kids' arms the books keep posting them as thick favorites knowing that the public will continue to back them on Promise and past performance alone. The results are usually messy as bettors continue to find "value" in arms that they have seen dominate.
And those are just the players that most common fans know. For every Liriano - who is one of the few to actually overcome the VE and manage to contribute to a rotation - there are two Anthony Reyeses or Scott Mathiesons. The burnout rate on these young arms is pretty staggering, and once you look at the list from the last three seasons I think you'll agree that this year's VE "prospects" might be worth steering clear of.
In 2006 the first list of pitchers that were predicted to experience the Verducci Effect was posted. Check out the names: Matt Cain, Liriano, Gustavo Chacin, Zach Duke and Scott Kazmir. In 2006 three of the six hurlers, Liriano, Chacin and Kazmir, were injured. All of the others saw their ERAs balloon by between 1.8 and 2.7 runs the following year. Chacin was the No. 23 best bet in the Majors in 2005 but has made only 23 starts since and his career may be over. Oh, and Cain and Duke's respective teams have combined to go 63-120 in the three years following their large inning increase.
Apparently pitching coaches and general managers didn't pay attention or heed the call because their were 11 Verducci Effect candidates heading into the 2007 season, nearly double the amount from the year before. I won't bore you with the stats and effects of each of them but I can give you some names like Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, Sean Marshall, Reyes, Jeremy Bonderman, Adam Loewen and Boof Bonser. I think we all know how they have worked out.
Finally, there was last year's list: Fausto Carmona, Ubaldo Jimenez, Tom Gorzelanny, Dustin McGowan, Chad Gaudin and Yovani Gallardo. Carmona went from being the No. 10 best moneymaker in the Majors in 2007 to an 8-7 pitcher with a 5.44 ERA and injury issues in 2008. Gorzelanny's ERA exploded from 3.88 to 6.66 and he is currently toiling in the minors. Gallardo and McGowan were both injured and neither has made it all the way back. Gaudin was bumped to the bullpen. And while Jimenez had some solid moments last year the Rockies are just 16-20 in his last 36 starts. And if his elbow explodes at some point this year don't say I didn't warn you.
Which brings us to 2009. By now I bet you are pretty curious who is on the list, eh? Let's just say that the 2009 season is only a week-and-a-half old and the Verducci Effect is already shaping races. Here are the arms that you may want to think twice about backing - especially because most of them will be facing inflated favorite prices - this season:
Jon Lester (76-inning increase) - Lester was being touted as one of the best left-handed hurlers in the Majors last season. But so far this year he has been shelled in both of his outings and his ERA is floating around 11.00.
John Danks (56-inning increase) - Danks was sharp in his opener this year against the Royals. And he may experience a dip in performance because the White Sox simply aren't as good as they were last season. Remember: Danks was a wreck at 6-13 with a 5.50 ERA in his rookie year before his breakout 2008 so he has some piñata potential.
Mike Pelfrey (54-inning increase) - Pelfrey, like Lester, hasn't looked comfortable or sharp in either of his outings this year. In 10 innings through two starts he has allowed 19 base runners and nine earned runs while notching just five strikeouts. Oh, and he gave up a leadoff home run to the first batter in the history of Citi Field. Classy.
Tim Lincecum (49-inning increase) - Don't look now, but The Phenom is looking a bit frightening. Lincecum was slotted to be The Next Big Thing and the tip of the San Fran Resurgence Sword. But he has thrown eight innings and given up 14 hits, six walks (2.50 WHIP) and seven earned runs (7.56 ERA).
Jair Jurrjens (46-inning increase) - Of all of the players on this list, Jurrjens has looked the best so far. He's had two outings, both wins, and his ERA is sitting at 2.45. I don't think Jurrjens' stuff will leave him but if I had to peg a guy for a random and seemingly unlucky injury he would be it. Just seems like a rite of passage for Atlanta pitchers lately.
Cole Hamels (44-inning increase) - That 44-inning increase doesn't include the 35 innings that Hamels threw in the postseason. Also, this is Hamel's second time on the list in three years. Throw all of that together and is there any surprise that Hamels has already had arm trouble and is topping out at 86 miles per hour? I - and Mr. Verducci - think not.
Also, here are a couple of names of players that saw a significant jump in their innings from 2007 to 2008 and could be worth monitoring this year: Jon Sanchez (+106 innings), Dana Eveland (+80 innings), Chad Billingsley (+65), and Matt Garza (+38).