World Baseball Classic pitchers struggling early

World Baseball Classic pitchers struggling early
May 10, 2013, 11:15 am
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Fernando Rodney, Ryan Vogelsong and R.A. Dickey are each off to poor starts after turning in career years in 2012. (USA Today Images)

WBC Pitchers

Alfredo Aceves
Jeremy Affeldt
Henderson Alvarez
Phillippe Aumont
John Axford
Ronald Belisario
Heath Bell
Mitchell Boggs
Santiago Casilla
Xavier Cedeno
Jhoulys Chacin
Steve Cishek
Tim Collins
Jesse Crain
Rhiner Cruz
Ross Detwiler
R.A. Dickey
Octavio Dotel
Marco Estrada
Yovani Gallardo
Gio Gonzalez
Luke Gregerson
Jason Grilli
Javy Guerra
Jim Henderson
Kelvin Herrera
David Hernandez
Greg Holland
Craig Kimbrel
Kenley Jansen
Chris Leroux
Luis Mendoza
Oliver Perez
Glen Perkins
Vinnie Pestano
Cesar Ramos
Fernando Rodney
Wandy Rodriguez
Sergio Romo
Fernando Salas
Anibal Sanchez
Alfredo Simon
Pedro Strop
Jose Veras
Ryan Vogelsong
Edinson Volquez

Major-league teams may not prohibit their players from participating in the World Baseball Classic, but based on what we’ve seen so far this season teams may strongly urge their pitchers against it four years from now.

Simply put, the guys who began throwing again last November as opposed to mid-late January have struggled this season. They didn’t have a lot of down time because of WBC prep and the event itself. Fatigue, injuries or ineffectiveness have set in through the one-fifth point of the 2013 season. The added stress and workload from the WBC may not be the only reasons, but they've certainly played a role.

Of the 46 major-league pitchers who participated for any team in the World Baseball Classic, 33 have worse ERAs this season than they had last season. The composite ERA of those 46 pitchers this year is 4.43; it was 3.26 last season.

The most glaring example is Ryan Vogelsong, who has the worst ERA of any qualifying major-league starter, at 7.78. Vogelsong – who graduated from Octorara High in Chester county and later attended Kutztown – has made one quality start in seven tries, after doing that 18 times in his first 19 starts last season.

Vogelsong threw 190 innings in the regular season last year and 25 more in the playoffs, so he is an extreme case. But he’s far from the only pitcher who was great in 2012 and has started very slowly in 2013.

We’re seeing the same signs from Fernando Rodney and Kelvin Herrera, two AL fireballers. R.A. Dickey and Gio Gonzalez have been way, way worse.

Same with starters Yovani Gallardo, Marco Estrada, Edinson Volquez, Luis Mendoza and Wandy Rodriguez, as well as relievers Craig Kimbrel, Sergio Romo, Mitchell Boggs, Steve Cishek, Greg Holland, David Hernandez, Pedro Strop and Tim Collins.

Four guys have already hit the DL: Octavio Dotel (elbow), Jhoulys Chacin (back), Henderson Alvarez (shoulder) and Jeremy Affeldt (oblique). Of course, some pitchers have been wholly unaffected. Anibal Sanchez is off to the best start of his career. Jason Grilli and Jesse Crain have been lights-out.

(The only Phillies major-leaguer to play in the WBC was Phillippe Aumont, who doesn’t appear to be hurt or fatigued, but he’s been as wild as ever, with 10 walks in 11 innings.)

The causation vs. correlation argument comes into play with topics like these, but the evidence in this case is rather overwhelming. It’s not one-third of the guys pitching poorly, or half. If you include DL stints in with the struggles, it’s more than 75 percent of the participating pitchers who have felt ill affects from the World Baseball Classic.

Earlier this week, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported that “Naturally, officials with the Rays and Orioles wonder if the heavy workloads and extreme intensity of the WBC had a negative impact on their respective relievers.”

He suggests more firm pitching restrictions the next time around. This past WBC, pitchers were forced to rest the day after throwing 30 pitches or after appearances on consecutive days.

We’re several months away from forming a better conclusion on the affect of the WBC on pitchers, and several years away from figuring out a better method if it does indeed appear to be a causal relationship. But just past the one-fifth point, this is more than a mere talking point. We're seeing tangible evidence to back up the claim that pitchers who don't get enough down-time over the winter tend to struggle in the spring.

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