* Yes, I'm trolling. But don't blame me. Blame the Handbook for Internet Headline Writing & Trolling, which is very clear about these things.
In fairness to Tom Verducci, it's not really his fault the Verducci Effect is called the Verducci Effect. After all, he modestly calls it "the Year-After Effect". He's been writing about this for a while, and in America's Best Selling Sports-and-Swimsuit Periodical, no less ...
The Year-After Effect, as I called the risk after a big innings jumps, is not a scientific, predictive system. It's a rule of thumb to identify pitchers who may be at risk because of a sharp increase in workload. The older the pitcher, the bigger the body type and the closer to the 30-inning threshold is their increase, the less they seem to be at risk. Think Matt Harrison of the Rangers, who took a jump of 36 1/3 innings at age 25 in 2011 and pitched very well the next year.
This time around, Verducci identifies 11 pitchers who are at particular risk in 2013 because of their sharp increase in workloads last season: Chris Sale, Jarrod Parker, Jose Quintana, Joe Kelly, Stephen Strasburg, Chris Rusin, Matt Harvey, Alex Cobb, Felix Doubront, Dan Straily, Andrew Werner.
Five of those pitchers hail from just two teams: Sale and Quintana are slated for the White Sox rotation; Parker and Straily for the A's rotation, with Werner trying to win a spot this spring on the staff.*
* Also from the Handbook, White Sox fans are more trollable than A's fans. Some posit this is because of "medical" marijuana, but that's just a crackpot theory and we're all about the science here.
But wait! I have good news! If you're a White Sox (or A's!) fan, there are two reasons to NOT PANIC.
1. As near as anyone can tell, the Verducci/Year-After Effect is bullshit.
Every single person who's studied this says there's nothing to it. In fact, Verducci says as much: It's not a scientific, predictive system. Yeah, no kidding. The latest single person who's looked at the "Effect" scientifically has come to the same conclusion as everyone before him. Here is just a snippet of Russell E. Carleton's comprehensive study (via Baseball Prospectus):
The Verducci Effect is a case of speculation mixed with a really poor understanding of the scientific method, and that is a dangerous combination. It gives the illusion of knowledge, and that's more dangerous than simply not knowing something. It's tempting to want to grab onto the Verducci explanation, especially when a young pitcher with so much promise suffers such a large setback, because a wrong explanation feels better than no explanation.
With that said, my findings are not a license for teams to go out and Mark Prior-ize their pitchers. You can blow out a young (or old) arm from overuse. It's just that the Verducci formulation isn't a good guide to figure out who is at risk. I'll suggest that the reason has to do with how Verducci defines his sample.
So here's to hoping that I don't have to resurrect this column a year from now. It's time to just admit that the Verducci Effect doesn't hold water and move on.
2. It's not clear that Verducci actually believes in His Effect
He makes great pains in the second half of the article to quote White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper, who's had a great deal of success keeping pitchers healthy.
Essentially, Verducci's trying to have it both ways. If a young pitcher on his list gets hurt, he can say, "See, I told you he was at risk!" And if a pitcher on his list doesn't get hurt, he can say, "See, I told you there are lots of variables and everybody on the list won't get hurt!"
There's nothing predictive in his article, though. So everything after the anecdote about his father's pitch counts and before Don Cooper is essentially worthless. (Oh, and a further demerit for including Gary Gentry in a list of pitchers who exemplify longevity.)
If I'm a White Sox or A's fan, I'm worried right now. But not because of Verducci's bad math. Because young pitchers, whichever list you come up with, tend to get hurt. Especially if they've been pitching well enough to pitch enough.