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posted: 6/1/2014 8:00 AM

The win-win for pitchers who dial it back

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  • Royals starting pitcher Yordano Ventura, who averages 96 mph on his fastball, has been told to hold back on his fastball in the early innings to avoid stress on his arm.

      Royals starting pitcher Yordano Ventura, who averages 96 mph on his fastball, has been told to hold back on his fastball in the early innings to avoid stress on his arm.
    Associated Press

 
By Matt Spiegel
Special to the Daily Herald

Adjustments made to preserve a pitcher's health need not be thought of as automatic detriments to effectiveness.

Chris Sale and Yordano Ventura brought this to mind this week.

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Ventura, the Royals' flame-thrower, gave his team a scare when his velocity dipped by 8 mph and he had to leave a start in the third inning with elbow discomfort. He was diagnosed with something called "Valgus Stress Overload," which can lead to arthritis, bone chips, cartilage damage, and ligament instability.

Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan tweeted this week that six of the hardest-throwing nine starters over the last two seasons have, at some point, had Tommy John surgery. It's another sign of an epidemic.

Ventura regularly hits 100 mph and tops that list with a fastball average of 96. He would have been the seventh. He has now been advised by coaches and team doctors to not throw as hard early in games.

For a pitcher, it's an opportunity to learn, with several models to emulate.

The great Justin Verlander doesn't hit 97 or 98 in the first three innings. His fastball hovers at 93 or so. He learned he's best served by ramping it up later in the game.

Verlander always has that extra gear to hit in the seventh or eighth to blow it by a slugger in a key spot. Lots of big Paul Konerko at bats in recent years flash across our brains.

You can see Verlander's velocity by inning depicted graphically over his last two full seasons, via the always great BrooksBaseball.net website.

Looking back at other decades, there are many other precedents. Bob Gibson ramped it up. Rapid Robert Feller did the same. Deception can come in the form of speed changes.

Pace yourself, young fireballers, and know that preservation can actually enhance your excellence.

Chris Sale has looked more dominant than ever since returning from the DL. This year's excellence has coincided with a serious rise in the usage of his change-up.

FanGraphs has the data. Since becoming a starter in 2011, here are Sale's change-up percentages by year: 11.7, 13.7, 19.0, and now an extremely high 30 percent.

Meanwhile, his fastball numbers have risen too, up to a career high 50.8 percent this season. This means he's throwing fewer sliders. His most wicked pitch has been used just 18.2 percent this season, far and away his lowest.

Fewer of those filthy sliders means less stress on that golden arm. And in his case, it has only meant more unpredictability and dominance.

Get older, smarter, stay healthy, and don't approach every inning like you're a closer.

Shark dealing:

Trading Jeff Samardzija makes sense, because the team's timeline just isn't a fit with his contract situation. But the Cubs should not be imprisoned by the idea that it has to be now.

Recent starting pitcher trades of consequence show value can be had at varying points of the final two contract years.

Tampa sent James Shields to the Royals with a full two years left on his deal, and got a stud prospect in Wil Myers. Myers isn't hitting well this year, and Shields may be a deadline asset for the Royals, but that's beside the point.

Jake Peavy netted the White Sox Avisail Garcia with a year and change on his deal.

Matt Garza was a flat-out two-month rental for the Rangers, and still yielded a much discussed haul that is benefiting the Cubs now and should in the future.

You can get a lot now for Samardzija. You can get plenty at this year's deadline. You'd get plenty in the coming off-season. And you could still do just fine at next year's deadline.

Letting him continue to throw does risk injury or devaluation. But it also extends the time for evaluation and negotiation. Maybe he takes a step backward, and gets more realistic about his value.

There's no rush.

• Matt Spiegel co-hosts "The McNeil & Spiegel Show" 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday-Friday on WSCR 670-AM. Follow him on Twitter @mattspiegel670.

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