I'm a big fan of sports-talk radio, and I have to admit, there's a certain type of caller that always seems to amuse me.
He -- yes, it is usually a he -- will sound something like this: "I don't get this whole pitch-count thing, Warren Spahn threw 16 innings once, blah blah blah."
Not that it's an unreasonable point. We worry about pitch counts, innings totals, days' rest, etc., to the point that, as that caller reminds us, pitchers today are "babied." It's a valid statement, and sure, it'd be nice to see some of today's starters finish what they started.
Problem is, that's baseball in the modern age. Face it, it's not going to change. You don't have to like it, but you need to deal with the reality of it.
This might not be what you want to hear, but a handful of current big league starters might be facing late-season workload concerns. Think back to a year ago, when Tim Lincecum was shut down early and there was such a thing as "Joba Rules." There's often a cap on a pitcher's innings total, and that matters this deep into a season.
The following 10 pitchers could be facing early shutdowns, thanks to enduring full-season innings paces nearly (or more than) 50 innings higher than their 2007 totals. All innings accrued in the regular season, minor leagues or, in one case, high school, are listed for each year back to 2005, and only pitchers 25 or younger are included. For the most part, pitchers older than that generally don't experience innings caps.
John Danks, White Sox, age 23, 150 1/3 IP, pace of 194 2/3
2005: 156; 2006: 140; 2007: 139
The White Sox have done an excellent job monitoring his workload, allowing him to top 100 pitches only nine times in his 25 starts, and doing so in back-to-back starts only twice all year. That might make Danks the least worrisome of the bunch, but remember, the White Sox are a contender and might need to save some of his frames for a possible October appearance. If you consider that Danks had a 7.11 ERA in his final 11 starts in 2007, allowing him to approach 200 frames does seem like a risky strategy.
Zack Greinke, Royals, age 24, 158 1/3 IP, pace of 205 1/3
2005: 183; 2006: 112 1/3; 2007: 122
He has a 4.86 ERA in 14 starts since June 1 and a 5.50 mark in six turns since the All-Star break. Not that Greinke hasn't demonstrated that he can handle an ace's workload in the past -- he did in 2005 -- but the Royals shouldn't want to abuse him, especially given that they face a pretty brutal remaining schedule for a pitcher.
Jair Jurrjens, Braves, age 22, 151 1/3 IP, pace of 194 2/3
2005: 142 2/3; 2006: 141; 2007: 143 1/3
What a breakout season he has endured, and he's in a streak of five consecutive quality starts. Still, it's a concern that Jurrjens has thrown 100-plus pitches in eight of his past nine starts, four times doing so on four days' rest coming off another 100-pitch outing. He might not get shut down, not with Atlanta hit by a barrage of injuries of late, but considering the funk this team is in, a sluggish finish seems possible.
Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers, age 20, 134 IP, pace of 173 2/3
2005: N/A; 2006: 101; 2007: 122
The Dodgers said in the preseason that they wanted to cap his innings at 25 per month and 170 for the season, and he already has exceeded the former, with 32 2/3 in July alone. That's not an objectionable stretch of those guidelines, but the Dodgers are in the thick of the pennant race, meaning higher-stress workloads and potential extra frames to come in October. They might use off days to skip Kershaw or push him back in the rotation, or even shut him down entirely should they fall out of the race.
Jon Lester, Red Sox, age 24, 167 2/3 IP, pace of 215 2/3
2005: 148 1/3; 2006: 128 1/3; 2007: 153 2/3
Mark it down: The Red Sox will not shut him down early. They need him too much, and will be in the pennant race all the way to the end (and arguably well into October). The problem, though, is that since (and counting) his 130-pitch no-hitter on May 19, he has tossed 100-plus pitches 12 times in 16 starts, averaging 103.6 per outing. It's not abuse that should hurt his late-season chances, but with higher-stress innings right around the corner, Lester might be a slight candidate for burnout heading into 2009.
Francisco Liriano, Twins, age 24, 152 1/3 IP, pace of 197 1/3
2005: 191 1/3; 2006: 121; 2007: 0
It's his first year back from Tommy John surgery, 'nuff said. The Twins might remain in the American League Central race, but to sneak into October, they're going to need to put all their young starters at high risk for burnout, either this year or next. Liriano is the one it makes the least sense to push to 200 innings. Sure, Minnesota needs him if it is to advance to October this season, but it has future Octobers to worry about, too. Count on an early shutdown if the Twins sag in the standings.
Ricky Nolasco, Marlins, age 25, 164 1/3 IP, pace of 211 1/3
2005: 161 2/3; 2006: 140; 2007: 55
Health problems have dogged him in each of the past two seasons, including an inflamed elbow that cost him much of 2007, so his workload needs to be monitored closely. Nolasco already has set a career high in innings and is on pace to breeze past the 200-inning plateau, which puts him in real danger of problems in 2009. If the Marlins drop any further out of the National League East race than they are already, he'll be a prime shutdown candidate.
Manny Parra, Brewers, age 25, 137 2/3 IP, pace of 175 2/3
2005: 91; 2006: 86; 2007: 133; career high was 139 in 2003
He's another pitcher with a checkered injury history, and the Brewers need to monitor his workload because they're another team looking at probable October baseball. Not that Parra's 175 2/3-inning pace appears problematic on paper, but he has a 5.11 ERA in his past seven starts, which might be a sign he's wearing down. Be cautious.
Glen Perkins, Twins, age 25, 150 IP, pace of 194 1/3
2005: 134; 2006: 121; 2007: 48
If the Twins are going to push any pitcher in an effort to make the postseason, it makes more sense to gamble with Perkins' arm than with Liriano's. Of course, Liriano is the one who gives them a far greater chance of reaching October. This is a young staff with too many arms nearing the level of workload concerns, so temper your expectations.
Jonathan Sanchez, Giants, age 25, 135 IP, pace of 175
2005: 125 2/3; 2006: 95; 2007: 75 2/3
A rotator cuff strain and tight left shoulder capsule landed him on the disabled list this past Saturday; big surprise. Sanchez already has set a career high in innings, after spending much of the past two seasons coming out of the bullpen. If it turns out we've already seen him throw his last pitch of 2008, I won't be shocked.
Two other pitchers, though both older than 25, also fit as early-shutdown worries, based on the circumstances surrounding them:
Justin Duchscherer, Athletics, age 30, 144 1/3 IP, pace of 187
2005: 85 2/3; 2006: 57 2/3; 2007: 17 1/3; career high was 182 2/3 in 2001
He had spent each of the past four seasons working exclusively as a reliever before returning to a starter's role, and in 2007, he was limited to 17 1/3 innings by chronic hip issues. So when I read that he left his start this past Monday with pain in the same spot on his hip as last year, I can't help but be concerned. I didn't really have much doubt about Duchscherer's talent; it was his ability to handle this workload boost that troubled me. If this injury is significant, it's possible we've seen the last of him this season.
Todd Wellemeyer, Cardinals, age 29, 142 1/3 IP, pace of 180
2005: 86; 2006: 78 1/3; 2007: 80 1/3; career high was 147 in 2001
Another reliever-turned-starter, Wellemeyer is of even greater concern because he already has battled elbow soreness earlier in the season. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, though, they have precious few alternatives to the right-hander, making his pace a realistic expectation. Be prepared for uglier September innings, or a down 2009, from Wellemeyer.
Comings and goings
For the second time in three seasons, the Dodgers have acquired Greg Maddux as a midseason rental, getting him and a reported $1.3 million from the Padres on Tuesday in exchange for two players to be named later. He'll slot into the team's rotation on Friday, taking the spot vacated by injured Brad Penny, and gets a decent boost in fantasy value thanks to better win potential. He's 9-7 with a 3.09 ERA and 1.15 WHIP in 22 career starts at Dodger Stadium and was 6-3 with a 3.30 ERA and 1.09 WHIP in 12 starts as a Dodger rental in 2006. Adam Wainwright told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he prefers to return to the Cardinals as a starter and that he could be ready to pitch as soon as Friday. He's quite a bit ahead of Chris Carpenter in his rehabilitation, and the fact that he tossed 4 2/3 innings of shutout baseball with seven strikeouts at Double-A Springfield this past Saturday is a sign he has some late-season fantasy potential yet. Either Carl Pavano or Phil Hughes will get the start for the Yankees on Saturday, though the New York Daily News reports Pavano missed a Tuesday bullpen session with a stiff neck. Pavano was scheduled to throw Wednesday, though, keeping him in the mix. Could the Yankees get more desperate? Aaron Harang had his next start pushed back a day because of neck spasms, which means he goes from a poor matchup against the Cubs to a potentially even worse matchup at Coors Field. He's a long way from returning to fantasy relevancy. Jo-Jo Reyes got the call in injured Tom Glavine's rotation spot, tossing a quality start Tuesday at the Mets. Reyes had a 2.31 ERA in eight starts for Triple-A Richmond for the season, so he might have some matchups potential yet. The San Francisco Chronicle reports Sean Gallagher will miss a start, perhaps two, with a tired right arm. He'll take five or six days off before resuming throwing. Combine that with the shoulder soreness Gallagher was experiencing two weeks ago, and it's possible that's a conservative estimate for his expected absence. Dana Eveland is the best bet to take his rotation spot, if he's not first needed to step in for Duchscherer. To avoid any problems with the numbness he's experiencing in his hand, Josh Beckett will be pushed back from Saturday to Tuesday's game against the Yankees. His health will bear watching in the coming weeks. Jorge De La Rosa and Glendon Rusch will switch roles, De La Rosa joining the rotation and Rusch the bullpen, after the former managed a second consecutive quality start this past Friday. De La Rosa will officially rejoin the rotation Thursday, though he's not fantasy-worthy.
On the Farm
Brandon McCarthy's 13 shutout innings with four hits allowed in his most recent two rehabilitation starts for Triple-A Oklahoma has him set to rejoin the Rangers' rotation Saturday. The former top prospect could yet be of matchups help in the season's final month. With the Orioles bumping both Garrett Olson and Dennis Sarfate from their rotation in the past week, the Baltimore Sun reports Bradley Bergesen could be a candidate to join the big club before season's end. Bergesen, 22, is 15-4 with a 3.00 ERA and 1.12 WHIP in 22 games (21 starts) for Double-A Bowie, demonstrating remarkably good command (24 walks in 138 innings). Still, a promotion might come only after the Sept. 1 roster expansion, if at all this season, and at best he'd be a matchups consideration in deeper leagues. Brian Burres, who has allowed one run in his past 11 innings for Triple-A Norfolk, is probably the favorite to take the next open spot in the Orioles' rotation Saturday. Tom Gorzelanny tossed seven shutout innings of one-hit baseball for Triple-A Indianapolis this past Saturday and is 3-1 with a 2.06 ERA and 0.91 WHIP in seven starts there since his demotion in early July. He'll be back with the Pirates by Sept. 1, if not sooner. If the Indians are looking for help filling their rotation in September, David Huff might be an option. He's 3-2 with a 2.00 ERA and 0.93 WHIP in six starts since the All-Star break, though he has averaged fewer than five innings per start in that span. That might make mid-2009 a smarter estimate for his arrival. Though it's a real long shot, the New York Times names Victor Zambrano a consideration for the aforementioned Saturday start for the Yankees. He tossed five scoreless innings for Double-A Trenton this past Monday, putting him on proper rest, and has 13 shutout innings since signing with their organization. Again, talk about desperate! David Price update: The prized left-handed prospect allowed three runs (two earned) on five hits in five innings in his second start for Triple-A Durham on Monday. It's the innings total that's a little troublesome to those who might expect him up in September; he needs to work deeper into games to be of any help to the Rays as a starter. Jonathon Niese, once considered a candidate to step in for the Mets when John Maine was on the DL, has endured back-to-back rocky outings for Triple-A New Orleans, giving up eight earned runs on 16 hits in 13 innings. He might yet see time with the big club this season, but any true breakthrough might need to wait until 2009.
Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy baseball, football and hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.