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Stephen Strasburg vs. Leo Mazzone's Young Studs


Introduction

I assume everyone has read or listened to Leo Mazzone's comments blasting Mike Rizzo for putting an innings limit on Stephen Strasburg. His basic argument is that while he was the pitching coach for the Braves, he developed an exceptional pitching rotation without using innings limits. Essentially, he's saying that what was good enough for his young future Hall of Famers is good enough for Stephen Strasburg.

So let's take a look at how Mazzone's pitchers were actually treated. Tom Glavine and John Smoltz were both young pitchers handled by Mazzone and both went on to have long, Hall of Fame caliber careers. Were these two pitchers really let loose in the manner Mazzone suggests?

Below I have listed the innings pitched and percentage increase over the previous maximum innings pitched for the first several full professional seasons of Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. After that, I list the same numbers for Strasburg's young career, including a 2012 season as Mike Rizzo is planning it and a 2012 season as Leo Mazzone is suggesting.

Tom Glavine:

Year (level) IP Increase
1985 (A) 168.2
1986 (2A-3A) 185.1 +10%
1987 (2A-MLB) 200.2 +8%
1988 (MLB) 195.1
1989 (MLB) 186.0
1990 (MLB) 214.1 +7%

John Smoltz:

Year (level) IP Increase
1987 (2A-3A) 146.0
1988 (3A-MLB) 199.1 +37%
1989 (MLB) 208.0 +4%
1990 (MLB) 231.1 +11%

Stephen Strasburg:

Year (level) IP Increase
2010 (2A-MLB) 123.1
2011 (A-MLB) 44.1
2012 (Rizzo) 170.0 +38%
2012 (Mazz.) 203.1 +65%

Conclusion:

It turns out that the 2012 innings pitched increase that Mike Rizzo is planning is right in line with the maximum increase for John Smoltz and much less than what Tom Glavine faced. Mazzone's proposed 2012 season for Strasburg would represent an increase almost twice as severe as anything his own pitchers went through.

By the time Smoltz and Glavine were pitching 200+ IP seasons, they had already had their innings slowly increased over a number of years. Strasburg's never gotten that chance. Mazzone seems to be ignoring this important fact.

Notes:

For Rizzo's planned innings pitched, I took the average of the two most commonly cited numbers, 160 and 180. It seems clear that Strasburg will be shut down after pitching a number of innings somewhere between these two numbers.

Here's how I worked out the innings pitched under Mazzone's plan. Currently, Strasburg has 139.1 IP over 24 starts, so let’s assume he’ll make eight more starts and multiply that by 1.33. That’s 185.1 IP for the regular season under Mazzone’s plan. Mazzone doesn’t want to shut Strasburg down in the playoffs, though, so let’s be conservative and say Strasburg gets just three postseason starts of 6 IP each. The grand total would be 203.1 IP.

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