Fantasy Baseball: Sixteen pitchers who may be approaching an innings limit, including Zack Wheeler and Jack Flaherty
Innings limits have become so common in today's game that they're hardly a talking point anymore, forcing Fantasy owners to speculate who may be in danger. Scott White has 16 names in mind.
Innings limits are an accepted part of the game now.
Granted, teams have become more sophisticated in how they enact them, introducing six-man rotations, phantom DL stints, etc. But the bottom line is the workload you've come to expect from a pitcher may change in the weeks ahead.
It won't for every pitcher, of course, just the ones who are outpacing what would be a healthy increase from their previous high. Generally speaking, a jump of 30 from one year to the next is acceptable, but what if a pitcher's career high came years ago, with a bunch of injuries in between? What if the playoffs are in his team's plans? Or what if that team just has its own ideas for what it wants to do, convention be darned?
Absent any direct comments from the team, it's all a guessing game, which means I've had to rely on my powers of deduction to identify 16 pitchers who I think could face an issue.
I'm not saying you need to get out while you still can. With six weeks remaining, every pitcher is in line for 7-8 more starts, which means these 16 will need to be able to absorb about 40 more innings to remain on their current pace. Most of them should be able to do that.
But there's enough doubt in my mind that I'd want to have some depth ready, particularly if it becomes clear there will be no more two-start weeks or six-inning starts for any one of them.
Note: Innings totals include both major- and minor-league play, as well as the postseason.
Aaron Nola has a pretty nice cushion, actually, and under normal circumstances, I would guess the time is right to push him to 200 innings. But the Phillies have designs on the postseason, and he's the biggest reason why. So they're between a rock and a hard place. Don't push him and they might miss the playoffs altogether, but do push him and he may not have any bullets left once they're there. I suspect they'll build in some extra rest down the stretch.
Gulp. Basically every inning Mike Clevinger throws from here on out establishes a new career high, and while he's not the ace of the Indians staff, they're going to need him as early as the ALDS if Trevor Bauer's leg isn't recovered by then. They figure to clinch their division early, too, so you can expect him to miss a turn or two, if not serve a phantom DL stint, to ensure he's ready.
If we're using 30 innings as the expected increase from one year to the next, Jack Flaherty should cruise through September, still having a little in the tank if the Cardinals hang in the race. But if they don't, even last year's 170 innings is a lot for a 22-year-old to throw, and because that number still puts him within striking distance of 200 next year, the Cardinals may decide it's enough.
One of Fantasy Baseball Today host Adam Aizer's favorite takes is that Andrew Heaney's aggressive accumulation of innings is responsible for his 5.02 ERA since the All-Star break, and it's plausible enough. Yeah, he had a 184-inning season once, but that was back in 2015. Seeing as he missed most of the past two years recovering from Tommy John surgery, pushing him to 180 innings would be reckless on the Angels' part.
Yup, it's already starting for Marco Gonzales, whose 7.94 ERA so far in August necessitated the Mariners skipping his next turn. His career high in innings came way back in 2014, keep in mind. He missed all of 2016 and then threw just 126 1/3 last year. The Mariners are fighting to stay in the playoff race but are fading fast and may just opt to shut down Gonzales if and when the deficit appears insurmountable.
Here's why Ross Stripling's recent move to the DL for lower back inflammation may be a blessing in disguise: It ends the innings problem before it becomes a problem. The Dodgers had planned to shift him to the bullpen as a way to curtail it, but with an eye on moving him back to the rotation at some point. Now maybe he'll get to make five starts with no real restrictions before moving to relief in the playoffs (provided the Dodgers advance).
We've seen already that the "previous high" is irrelevant for some pitchers because it happened so long ago, but Tyler Skaggs takes it to another level. His came back in 2011, when he was a 19-year-old in A-ball. He has had so many injuries since then, most notably Tommy John surgery in 2014, that the Angels probably won't look to pile on too many more innings once he recovers from this latest adductor strain, especially since he threw only 98 2/3 last year.
You may remember Jameson Taillon missed an extended stretch last year while battling testicular cancer and wound up throwing just 147 2/3 innings. So you wouldn't think the Pirates would want to push him past, say, 175 this year given that he's a third-year pitcher who's only now coming into his own. They're on the verge of dropping below .500, too, so the playoffs won't be a consideration.
As the ace of a team in the thick of the playoff race, Sean Manaea is in the same boat as Nola, but he has even less of an innings cushion to work with. He's also showing signs of fading with a 4.78 ERA since the All-Star break. Maybe the Athletics' beefed-up bullpen will allow him to make mostly five-inning starts down the stretch, but even if he does, it wouldn't be enough to have him ready for the playoffs.
By the time Stripling is ready to return from the DL, he may be taking Walker Buehler's spot. True, the Dodgers have every incentive to give Buehler as many innings as they can justify so he has a reasonable hope of building up to 180 someday, but realistically, it probably means they give him, say, three more starts before shifting him to the bullpen the rest of the way.
Do the Braves, who seem pretty likely to reach the playoffs at this point, have an actual ace? Right now, it would be Mike Foltynewicz, who is their second-longest tenured arm but hasn't built up enough innings over the years to accommodate the workload required of the role. He'd probably be fine for just the regular season, but to make sure there's something left for the playoffs, my guess is the Braves continue to mix in young pitchers like Touki Toussaint and Bryse Wilson to space out Foltynewicz's starts a little more.
Sean Newcomb, with 135 innings this year and a career high of 157 2/3, is in the same boat and will probably get the same treatment. He's showing signs of fading, though.
After spending two seasons recovering from Tommy John surgery and a third trying to regain his form, Zack Wheeler is finally living up to his potential, tossing another seven-inning gem Monday. The Mets have him under control for another year with obviously nothing to play for this year. Seeing as he threw just 87 1/3 innings in the three seasons prior to this one, how much further are they willing to push it?
Only three times in seven professional seasons — 2013, 2016 and this year — has Vince Velasquez thrown even 100 innings, so he's entering uncharted territory. How hard the Phillies are willing to push him may not even be as relevant as how his body holds up, but seeing as it's not 100 percent clear he'd be part of the postseason rotation, he may get to pitch until he drops. I mean, he's 26 and in his fourth big-league season. At some point, the Phillies have to stop protecting the investment and actually capitalize on it.
Zach Eflin could be another choice to fill out the postseason rotation and has a little more wiggle room than Velasquez. With 117 1/3 innings this year, though, and a career high of 131 2/3, he doesn't have a lot more.
Though currently on the DL with a strained hamstring, Dereck Rodriguez is expected back Friday, so it's not like the innings will stop accumulating for a while. He could probably take on another 40, but if he keeps throwing more than six every time out, he may get there with a couple weeks still to go. I could see the Giants easing up on him in September, which would obviously limit his value.
If the Rockies advance to the postseason, it'll be on the strength of their pitching, and while Jon Gray and German Marquez are their best arms, Kyle Freeland has statistically been their best pitcher this year. My guess is they only take it easy on him if they open up a lead in September and have the luxury to ready themselves for the playoffs, which is a long shot. They'll probably need him just to eke in, and then if there's a lengthy playoff run, they'll cross that bridge when they come to it.
Tyler Anderson doesn't have as much cushion as Freeland but has also been so awful in August, allowing 17 earned runs in 14 1/3 innings, that the Rockies may not be so motivated to lean on him anyway. If he gets his act together over his final couple starts this month, he'll be in the same boat as Freeland in September. But otherwise, I'm thinking the Rockies will phase him out and let him start fresh next year.
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