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The Astros Minor Philosophy: Innings Pitched

Sorry to keep you waiting, TCBers. I read this feature on Ross Seaton by Zach Levine and it got me thinking. Actually, it kicked over a few things in my head and forced me to get into full-bore investigative mode. Haven't been there in a while, so I thought I'd take my time and give you something besides notes columns and book plugs.

Before I get to my mental ramblings, I had some quick thoughts on Levine's piece. The best thing I heard in here is that Seaton has been hitting the low 90s and touching 94. That's pretty much perfect for a guy who's more of a sinker ball pitcher. His numbers on the road this season suggest that he can be around a 50 percent ground ball guy as he progresses. He also gives up a ton of line drives at Lancaster, but really hasn't thrown many innings there this season. I don't know what his ceiling is at this point, but holding his own at his age in the California League should mean something. If he moves up to Corpus next season, he'd still be one of the youngest pitchers in the Texas League. This season, only the Rangers' Martin Perez and Jordan Lyles were younger than Seaton's Age 21 season will be. There's still something to like about Seaton, and I'm interested to see what he can do away from Lancaster.

Back to the question that's been haunting me lately about innings. How many innings will the kids in the minor leagues throw this season? Should we be concerned by jumps in inning totals? Is there a difference between how many innings a guy like Dallas Keuchel will throw and what Jordan Lyles will? To answer these questions, I did a little research. I got innings totals from 2008, 2009 and 2010 to see what the historical trends were for these guys. I then figured out how many starts each player figures to make in the second half, took his average innings per start and got a season total for 2010. That's how I calculated the jump in innings for the rest of this analysis. The results are after the jump.

Name Age 2008 2009 2010 Diff.
Felipe Paulino 26 0 132 1/3
86 - 140 +7 2/3
Bud Norris 25 80 175 2/3 63 1/3 - 123 1/3 -52 1/3
Polin Trinidad 25 169 1/3 170 93 - 144 2/3 -25 1/3
Sergio Perez 25 27 1/3 142 1/3 88 - 127 1/3 -15
Doug Arguello 25 142 83 111 - 179 +96
Jordan Lyles 19 55 1/3 144 2/3 96 2/3 - 151 +6 1/3
Dallas Keuchel 22 74 2/3 164 2/3 114 2/3 - 178 1/3 +13 2/3
Ross Seaton 20 4 136 2/3 95 2/3 - 149 +12 1/3
Shane Wolf 23 128 2/3 121 82 2/3 - 126 +5
Kyle Greenwalt 21 77 2/3 139 1/3 82 2/3 - 131 1/3 -8
Brad Dydalewicz 20 10 110 58 2/3 - 103 1/3 -6 2/3
Robby Donovan 22 68 2/3 110 86 1/3 - 132 +22
Tanner Bushue 19 0 22 1/3 80 - 125 +102 2/3
Juan Minaya 19 0 52 2/3 77 1/3 - 118 1/3 +65 2/3
Jose Cisnero 21 29 55 2/3 76 2/3 - 120 +64 1/3


The first thing that jumped out was the lack of a jump from the first year in full-season ball and the second. While the guys at Lexington have a pretty significant jump in innings, the guys at Lancaster and Corpus are pretty reasonable. That tells me that for all the Astros talk of "letting each pitcher dictate these things," as they said with Bud Norris last season, they do have some sort of organizational philosophy on innings jumps.

What made me happiest about this table is that Jordan Lyles is both on pace for only 150 innings and only going to increase his total by less than 10 innings. That's phenomenal, when you think about it. I also have a suspicion that may mean Lyles doesn't get pushed to the big leagues in 2010. So, breathe a sigh of relief. I mean, the Astros could push him in September, but he'd probably only get three starts in the big leagues if they did that and add less than 20 innings to that total. Even if that happens, it would be a jump under 30 innings, which is the real danger zone. Lyles would also be on pace to throw about 170 innings in 2011 and somewhere around 190 in 2012. That's why I can definitely see him staying in Triple-A for the entire 2011 season, to control his innings pitched.

Look at Bud Norris, though. Is there a better example of why just judging by the Verducci Effect (increase in innings) is a bad way to predict injury? While Norris has suffered through a DL stint and is going to have a drop in total innings this season, I'd argue that the ones he did throw were much higher stress than in 2009. That's what causes injuries more than a gross total. So, while I like that his innings total won't rise again so soon, I'm still concerned about his long-term health.

Of the guys in full-season ball, Doug Arguello probably has the biggest red flags around him. He's been injury prone in the past and is seeing a huge jump in innings pitched this season compared to the past two years. Yes, he's now 25, so he isn't at as big a risk, but could this be why the Astros have avoided promoting him? Or, more likely, they just want to get a full season of Double-A ball under his belt to better evaluate him. Still, I wouldn't be surprised if he gets dinged up over the winter.

How important does that DL stint for Paulino look now? It basically cut about 20 innings off his projected total, keeping his increase down under 10 innings over 2009. That's pretty important, especially since his jump from 2007 to 2009 was pretty big, plus he's coming off an injury that cost him the entire 2008 season.

Lastly, notice how only three pitchers are on pace to throw over 150 innings. Is that a coincidence or is that about saving young arms? There isn't really a distinction made between older guys and younger ones. Dallas Keuchel is not quite as old as Arguello, but may end up catching him for most innings thrown this season, if things break right. Since Arguello is 25 and Keuchel is 23, they probably can stand that total better than someone like Ross Seaton. Still, I was surprised to see that Keuchel won't really increase his innings total that much, once you factor in his college experience last season.

If anything, this little study made me feel much better about the Astros and their minor league philosophy. I'm guilty of expecting the Astros to rely only on scouting and not looking at things like these numbers, but for this wide swath of pitchers to all have about the same jump and around the same total innings thrown, there has to be a greater imperative working. Whether they set pitch counts, or just control innings thrown in games, the Astros are clearly doing a good job of saving their young arms.