A few days ago San Francisco Giants SP Matt Cain was forced from his first spring training start due to what was called elbow inflammation. Cain proceeded to throw off flat ground for ten minutes today and the plan is to slowly get him on the mound soon so on the surface it looks like a bullet was dodged here. But one must look at the bigger picture here and in reality I am very leery of all San Francisco Giants starting pitchers this season (at least the ones who matter…sorry Barry Zito) due to the massive amount of innings they threw last season in winning the World Series. The fact the usually durable Cain is already feeling a malady could be a coincidence for sure but also could very well be the effects of all those extra innings on the arm last season and further problems could be on the horizon. First lets look at the totals from Cain, Tim Lincecum, Jonathan Sanchez, and Madison Bumgarner including the playoffs last season.
Matt Cain: 244 innings
Tim Lincecum: 249 innings
Jonathan Sanchez: 213 innings
Madison Bumgarner: 131 innings in majors plus what he threw in minors.
These were all serious innings totals, especially in the case of Cain and Lincecum. And Bumgarner flew past the Verducci Rules last season as he pitched many more innings last season than the 30 innings increase that’s recommended from year to year for such young starters. So the threat of injury is very real with all of these guys and that’s unfortunately the price you pay for having success.
Now looking at this issue a bit more specifically, Cain has been on a few worry lists even before last season due to the very high amount of innings he has already thrown at such a young age. Many don’t realize that Cain and Lincecum are in fact the same age due to Cain being in the majors longer. And coming into this season, Cain has thrown for over 1,000 innings by the age of 27 which is a whopping number for someone so young. Burnout is a real threat and an injury is looking very likely as well. There is only so much wear and tear an arm can take. So the inflammation in his elbow already? Coincidence or something more? Makes you wonder. Also a major jump in innings one season can impact a player’s performance the next season beyond injuries. A tired arm takes bite off pitches and leads to diminished stuff. Think back to Cole Hamels in 2009 after he logged an insane amount of innings the year before when his team won the World Series. Hamels had major struggles all season in 2009 and he cited the fatigue he felt and the loss of crispness in his pitches as a result.
As far as Lincecum is concerned, there was a noticeable drop in his velocity last season which was cited as a big reason for his numbers shooting up. Now throw in all the extra innings he has tossed on such a slight frame and you have cause to worry. Much has already been made about the fact he doesn’t choose to ice his arm after starts and his violent delivery on such a small frame is always a big concern. Again these are all valid issues to worry about.
I already talked about how Sanchez is due for a decent regression in his stats due to the lucky strand rate and BABIP from last season and now the innings boost is a problem as well. And Bumgarner has sailed past the Verducci Rules which I noted earlier.
I can flat out tell you that neither Cain nor Lincecum will be on any of my teams this season. The threat of injury or a dead arm is too big a concern for me. I also will avoid Sanchez due to the regression that’s on the way. Bumgarner is going late enough that I might take a shot but he is a injury risk like the others. Basically any San Francisco Giants starter is filled with risk and so I would suggest looking elsewhere if you can. Let Cain’s inflammation be a warning.