The Cubs are no strangers to having young pitching phenoms rise up through their organization. Most notably would be Kerry Wood, and Mark Prior. When dealing with those two pitchers, the Cubs were faced with many difficult decisions. What should be their in-game pitch count? How many innings per season should they throw? Those were two of the questions that the Cubs considered while dealing with Wood and Prior during their ascensions to the major leagues.
With Kerry Wood, the Cubs gradually increased his stamina during the early part of his career. In his rookie season in 1998, Wood started 26 games and pitched a total of 166.2 innings. That would be 6 to 7 innings per start. The following two seasons were not much different for Wood. In 2000, he started 23 games and pitched a total of 137 innings. And in 2001, he started 28 games and pitched a total of 174.1 innings. It was not until the 2002 season that Kerry Wood went over the 200 inning barrier for a season, as he started 33 games and pitched 213.2 innings. During the 2002 season, Wood maintained his 6 to 7 innings per start average.
The common person people like to blame for Kerry Wood’s injury habits is former Cubs manager Dusty Baker. Baker took over the Cubs in 2003, and it was after that season that criticism began over how Baker used Kerry Wood and Mark Prior. We will get to Prior in a moment, but for now, lets keep the focus on Wood. During the 2003 season, Wood made 32 starts and pitched a total of 211 innings. Still maintaining his 6 to 7 inning per start average that he has had for most of his career. But the difference in 2003 was that Wood averaged close to 111 pitches per start. That far exceeds any other season in which Kerry Wood was a starting pitcher.
It was after the 2003 season that Kerry Wood’s injuries started to become more glaring to those who followed the Cubs. It is no coincidence that the injuries started to pile up for Kerry Wood after 2003. Wood was only 26 in 2003, which is still young enough to the point where you want to be cautious with how you handle a pitcher. Which, obviously, leads to the revelation that Wood should not have averaged 111 pitches per start in 2003. As that could be the leading contributor to the injury plagued seasons that followed 2003.
On to Mark Prior. Prior made his debut for the Chicago Cubs during the 2002 season. Prior started 19 games for the Cubs that season and had a total of 116.2 innings pitched. Prior was 22 during his rookie season in 2002, and averaged an alarming 107 pitches per game that season. In 2003, Prior made 30 starts while pitching a total of 211.1 innings. Like Kerry Wood, Prior’s average of pitches per start was a career high under Dusty Baker as Prior averaged close to 113 pitches per start in 2003. Which is seemingly unheard of nowadays by a 23 year old pitcher.
Obviously the common denominator between Wood and Prior is that they were both overworked during the early years of their careers. The injuries they both faced after the 2003 season can be directly traced back to the amount of pitches they averaged during the 2003 season.
The reason I hit you all with a blast from the past is because the Cubs are once again dealing with a young pitching phenom. This time in the form of Andrew Cashner. This is Cashner’s first year as a starting pitcher, and after his first start of the season he has already been placed on the disabled list because of a shoulder related issue.
The question now comes up how will the Cubs handle the 24-year old starting pitcher. The obvious answer would be with extreme care. Before Cashner was injured, the Cubs intended to keep the young pitcher on a strict limit. You have got to believe that after the injury, the Cubs will only further exhaust their effort in trying to be cautious with Cashner. Which is signaled by the fact that Cashner has not even picked up baseball since his baseball, and probably won’t until at least another week. When Cashner returns, the Cubs figure to want to skip some of his starts. Meaning Cashner may make a start, and then skip the next one. By doing this, the Cubs would be lessening Cashner’s pitch counts for his starts and in total for the season. Thus, making it far less likely that Cashner will go down the same road as Wood and Prior.
Limiting Cashner’s pitches is the key to Cashner staying healthy, and not ending up like Kerry Wood or Mark Prior.