September 19, 2011 at 10:20 am by Capitol Avenue Club under Atlanta Braves
In September Jonny Venters has not been the same shut-down reliever we’ve come to expect, having given up 5 runs on 10 hits and 7 unintentional walks (plus a hit batter) with 10 strikeouts in 8 and 1/3 innings. Venters’ stuff remains intact–his strikeout rate being virtually unchanged–but his command has been poor, leading to the 8 free passes and, to a lesser extent, 10 hits. Because he has pitched a lot this year and struggled lately, many have jumped to the conclusion that his struggles are the result of being overworked. That’s certainly possible, but I’m not buying it.
The type of workload Jonny Venters has handled this year is not historically unique. Pitchers have been asked to pitch this often many times before and handled it just fine. Since 1995 24 pitchers have been asked to pitch in at least 80 games and face at least 350 batters without starting a game (Venters is currently at 81 and 340, so he’ll likely reach these thresholds over the next 9 games). On average, one or two pitchers a year since 1995 have been asked to do this. Venters is hardly in unique company.
Five of the 24 pitchers accomplished this before 2000–when baseball-reference started keeping track of the number of pitches a player throws. If Venters were on this list, the number of pitches he’s thrown would rank 19th of 20 since 2000. He could possibly get up to 16th by throwing at least 66 pitches over the season’s final 9 games (he’s averaged 15 and 1/2 pitches per appearance, so with 4 average appearances he’ll be close). The point being, Jonny Venters has actually been quite efficient and there is plenty of (recent) historical context for players throwing more pitches than he has this season and being successful.
There is also no medical or developmental reason to think Jonny Venters can’t handle one of the top reliever workloads in the game. The only medical issue Venters has had in his professional career is a UCL replacement surgery (Tommy John) in 2006. Surgery is serious business, obviously, but the procedure is basically automatic these days. Tommy John does not hinder a pitchers’ effectiveness or durability after they’re full recovered from the procedure. Since Venters fully recovered from his operation–and it did take longer than it normally would–he has been exceptionally healthy. Furthermore, Venters is 26 years old, past the age at which you have to worry about damaging yet-to-be-fully-formed joints and at least a decade before the age at which you have to worry about overworking an older player.
The ‘overworked’ explanation seems, at best, purely speculative. There is no evidence that this is the case and no evidence that asking Venters to pitch this much was irresponsible. Sure, there have been games that Venters needlessly pitched in, but I’m not buying that as the reason he’s struggled as of late. Which isn’t to say it isn’t the reason–it very well could be–but there are tons of other explanations that have nothing to do with the fact that Venters has pitched as much as many before him have and been fine.
[UPDATE: If I'd seen this before I could have cut this article in half. Great job by Dave Cameron (Insider)]