The Miami Marlins are going to limit stud pitcher Jose Fernandez's innings this season, and there is no good way around it, No matter how many cries from Marlins fans come to see Fernandez for a few more starts, the Fish will continue with the plan to shut him down after 170 innings or so. The best we can hope to see is for Fernandez to stretch out his starts by skipping a start or so to reach the middle of September.
Why are the Fish doing this? For exactly the reason that struck Matt Harvey and the New York Mets yesterday: to avoid injury, especially the dreaded elbow injury.
Mets ace Matt Harvey underwent an MRI this afternoon and it was revealed that he had a partial UCL tear in his right elbow. It's not year clear if he will need surgery, but UCL tears usually lead to Tommy John surgery. If Harvey does need Tommy John, he would miss the rest of the season, and likely all of 2014.
Of course, there is no guarantee that Harvey's injury comes from overuse or any other potential cause, but that does not mean that those reasons are not among the ones speculated to be behind this. After all, Harvey was carrying a heavy pitching load in his first full Major League season, and it is easy to blame a heavy workload (178 1/3 innings and 2687 pitches thrown) on the downfall of a young starter.
But as Jonah Keri of Grantland pointed out, we should not get carried away by Matt Harvey's injury.
Nine out of 26 starts with 110-plus pitches thrown is hardly excessive for a pitcher who'd thrown well enough to post double-digit complete games this season if the Mets had let him. With a cap of roughly 200 to 205 innings this year (210-215 at the absolute most), the Mets planned to shut Harvey down after four or five more starts anyway. There's a balance to be struck between responsibly managing a young pitcher's workload and letting him develop stamina, work deep into games, and figure out how to get out of jams. The Mets did fine on that front. But no matter how judicious a team might be, no matter how much of a physical specimen he might be, shit just happens.
Keri believes that the Mets did the right thing with regards to Harvey in letting him work, or at the very least that the team didn't do the wrong thing. Jeff Zimmerman of FanGraphs recently calculated an injury likelihood index for pitchers and rated Harvey as a very low injury risk based on his fastball velocity trends and his zone percentage trends.
So if we were not to jump to conclusions about Matt Harvey, why are the Marlins jumping to the same conclusions about Fernandez? Well, for one thing, Fernandez's injury risk according to Zimmerman's database is higher than Harvey's; he resides 23rd out of the 26 pitchers Zimmerman listed with the highest risk. Zimmerman prefaces this by saying that Fernandez's concern is in his decrease in zone rate, or ability to locate pitches in the strike zone. Fernandez's velocity has remained clean, and Zimmerman did not see this as a major risk. Still, Fernandez's presence on that list does bring up a little more concern.
(Side note: Jacob Turner is also on that list right next to Fernandez, and given Turner's recent struggles, it would not surprise me if we hear about an injury, mild or otherwise, in the near future.)
Other than that, it is difficult to say if we can learn anything from Harvey here. The Marlins have taken a more careful approach, perhaps because Fernandez is a younger pitcher who has less experience pitching heavier innings loads; he threw 96 innings in his final season in the University of North Carolina and, two years later, had already worked almost 170 total innings between Triple-A and the majors. Fernandez just reached the 130-inning mark last year, which is about where Harvey was two years ago in his first professional year. Based just on what the Mets did, the Marlins are following an advisable progression of innings pitched.
Then again, with so little evidence, this is more or less a gut call by either team. The Mets thought their progression was appropriate, and there is now a question as to whether it was. The Marlins think their progression is appropriate, and it is going to be difficult to tell whether it is or isn't. At this point, the Fish are basically weighing the risks of another 20 innings of experience versus the likely small chance of injury. Matt Harvey is just another data point in the argument for rest, but his lesson is ultimately no more dramatic than any other young pitcher's.