Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Pedro gave up 5. Remain calm.

First of all: Nice catch, David.

Unfortunately, it only served to help keep the score respectable, as Pedro gave up five runs, including homers to Brian Giles and the less-than-beastly Khalil Greene, in his five innings of work. Chan Ho Park, meanwhile, looked fiendishly effective against the NYM lineup, allowing two runs and striking out 8 in 5.2 IP. Padres win, 8-3.

Unsurprisingly, Pedro's outing has elicited some concern from fans and in the media. It was, after all, his worst start of the year, and his third consecutive start for which he was not credited with the much revered "W".

For another thing, to the extent that we kept our post-signing expectations cautiously optimistic, Pedro has surpassed them in spectacular fashion. For a fan base still nursing the psychic scars left by the FA acquisitions of Vaughn, Alomar, Burnitz et al, Pedro's 2005 has been a wonderful and wholly unfamiliar ride.

So it only seems reasonable at this point in the season to wonder when the other shoe is going to drop, Pedro-wise. As has been pointed out in many spaces, including this one, he's thrown honey bunches of innings this season. His 157 IP ranks 5th in the league, and projects to 232 for the season, which, as Andrew at C'nD points out, would be his highest mark since 1998.

He's 33, slightly built, and no stranger to shoulder injury, yet appears to be getting yoked like a prize ox. Something is clearly wrong with this picture.

As it happens, there is. The number of innings he's thrown is the result of Pedro's uncanny efficiency, not medieval or shortsighted handling by Randolph and Peterson. On average, Pedro has needed 14.0 pitches per inning. That's the lowest figure in the National League.*

Venture a guess how many NL starting pitchers have thrown more pitches than Pedro this season? More than 4 (the number with more IP), surely. Maybe 8? 12? Try 18. After runaway leader Livan Hernandez, they include pitchers of varying ages and styles. Chris Capuano (#4), Noah Lowry (#6**), and Jeff Weaver (T13) are just a few of the many NL starters who have required more pitches to complete fewer innings than No. 45.

But wait, there's MORE evidence that Pedro hasn't been overworked!

Baseball Prospectus keeps a statistic called Pitcher Abuse Points, which looks not only at the number of innings and pitches but how they are distributed on a start-to-start basis. Studies have shown a pitch count distribution of, for example, 140-120-100 to be more harmful than 120-120-120. In other words it's the really grueling outings that hurt.

By this measure, Pedro is off the charts... as in taking much scrolling to find, down in 90th place. That's all MLB (no league filter, oddly), but the list of NL starters who've taken more abuse per BP includes Brian Lawrence, Vicente Padilla, even Jerome Williams! That's right, Felipe Alou and Dusty Baker have combined to ride Jerome Williams harder than Willie's been riding Pedro. That's both shocking and reassuring.

Yes, Pedro got hit yesterday, and his velocity was down. But his velocity's been down all season, and it hasn't stopped him from dominating opposing hitters, striking them out in droves and not giving up walks. That the Padres rapped out 9 hits against him, including 2 homers, is more disappointing to me than it is worrisome. Just tip your cap to the Friars and wait for Pedro's next start.

He may not finish the season with a sub-3 ERA, but there's little to suggest that his workload or slower fastball will prevent him from doing so.


* He trails three American Leaguers: the rather freakish Carlos Silva (12.0), usual suspect Roy Halladay (13.5), and unusual suspect Jason Johnson (13.9). It's worth noting that none of these superefficient performances include K-rates remotely ressembling Martinez's. Efficiency vs. Dominance is usually an either/or proposition.

** Lowry's thrown a whopping 17.9 pitches per inning, most in the NL behind teammate Jason Schmidt.

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