Starting Pitching Workloads: Part 2
Org. B Starting Pitcher
Looking at the workload of a starting pitcher in Organization B, we see a pretty significant difference. First, this player does not throw Plyo Ball ® on a daily basis, and was also instructed to stay away from the mound entirely during this break.
If the season were to begin on that day, this athlete would have accrued a chronic workload of 11.5 workload units—only 61.5% the chronic workload of their counterpart in Organization A. After traveling for two days, their chronic workload is 10.3 if they do not throw at all. Just as we did with the pitcher from Organization A, we can also make a fair assumption about this athlete’s pregame throwing workloads using the program they followed during the break.
Using these pregame workloads, we can calculate the resulting in-game workload and ultimately the number of innings the prescribed workload corresponds to. The number of TotalPitches assumes that one inning is equal to 16.87 pitches, and is rounded to the nearest whole number. In this instance, I did not remove warmup pitches between innings from these workloads; therefore, the total estimated innings may be marginally higher. That said, all of the workloads were compared in the same manner so in comparing them to one another it is not a hindrance. Ideally, the actual workload associated with these warmup pitches would be accounted for based upon the individual athlete.
If this pitcher were to make a start that day while maintaining a similar workload to what they have been following (ACR = 1.0), they would be able to handle a 1DWL of 36 workload units (~4.8 innings). If they tried to maintain this same workload on a typical five man rotation, by their third start we see an elevated ACR (1.47). While it appears that this pitcher may be able to sustain a lesser in-game workload than typical, this does not take into account the fact that they have not thrown on the mound, faced batters, or had to sit down and get back up periodically throughout their throwing sessions as they would in the game. These are all factors that could be controlled for in training; however, we’ll operate under the assumption none of them were used in this case.
If the season were to start on Day 1, it would likely be unfeasible for this athlete to make an Opening Day start—even an abbreviated appearance. For that reason, we’ll focus on how we can build this athlete’s chronic workload back up before the season begins. Let’s set the minimum in this case to the pitcher’s ability to throw more than 7 estimated innings in a start without incurring an ACR greater than 1.3. In this case, that means they will need to handle a start day 1DWL of 48 workload units or greater.
Organization B gave their pitchers instructions to not throw on the mound during this period and await further instruction, so we will operate under the assumption that these athletes have not touched the mound yet at all.
The key objectives before the season begins will be:
- Increase capacity to handle higher 1DWL
- Prepare athlete for throwing on the mound specifically
- Prepare to face hitters
A hypothetical buildup for this pitcher could look something like this:
Over the course of 32 days, this pitcher would begin throwing on the mound regularly, this includes bullpens and throwing live to hitters, as well as progressively increase the total workload and frequency of such throwing. This is not a one-size fits all model to follow, but rather an example of how one could reverse engineer a throwing program using workload to reach a desired outcome.
During week one, this athlete would throw two bullpens with a one day workload of 26 workload units (~35 pitches) and one bullpen with a one day workload of 20 workload units (~20 pitches). In between each of the bullpen days, the athlete would have a workout similar to their 60-90 foot throwing day during the break. The first week would be capped by two off days to allow the athlete time to recover from the increased workload during the first week.
During week two, the athlete would throw ~35 pitches Live to hitters preceded by a 20 pitch pregame bullpen (1DWL = 30 workload units). This workout would be followed by a 60-90 foot throwing workout, 20 pitch bullpen, and another 60-90 foot throwing workout. The week would conclude with another Live outing; this time with a one day workload of 26 workload units (20 pitches to hitters and 20 pitches in the bullpen). Again, the week would conclude with two off days to allow the athlete time to recover from the increased workload during the week.
Week three would begin with a Live outing with a one day workload of 38 workload units (~60 pitches to hitters). Again, the first outing would be followed by two 60-90 foot throwing workouts and a 20 pitch bullpen. To finish the week, the pitcher would throw another ~35 pitches Live (1DWL = 30 workload units) and again take the next two days off from throwing.
Week four would be extremely similar to week three. The first Live outing would now be ~62 pitches, or a one day workload of 40 workload units. The next three days would again consist of two 60-90 foot throwing days and a 20 pitch bullpen. The second Live outing of the week would again be ~35 pitches (1DWL = 30 workload units). Following the second Live outing of the week, the athlete would only have one off day rather than two.
The last week of the pitcher’s buildup would again consist of two Live outings and a bullpen. The first Live outing would again be ~62 pitches (1DWL = 40 workload units) and be followed by two 60-90 feet throwing days and a 20 pitch bullpen. The week would conclude with a Live outing with a one day workload of 48 workload units (~80 pitches). Following an off day from throwing, this week’s throwing could be repeated minus the first Live outing. The result would be the pitcher making a start with a one day workload of 48 workload units every sixth day.
This entire process would take 32 days to accumulate enough throwing workload to handle a 1DWL of 48 workload units every sixth day without causing a spike in ACR greater than 1.3. Over that buildup, the chronic workload of this pitcher would go from 10.3 following the break to 17.7 workload units by Day 32. More importantly, we would be able to increase chronic workload by 72.23% without having a resulting ACR greater than 1.3 throughout the buildup.
We have built up the chronic workload of this pitcher to a point where we feel comfortable having them throw every sixth day with a 1DWL of 48 workload units. Moving forward, we have a few options to choose from in terms of continuing to increase this pitcher’s workload:
- Five Man Rotation
- Continue to increase in-game workload within the standard starting rotation.
- Four Man Rotation
- Attempt to have starters throw more frequently.
Five Man Rotation
The typical in-season between start routine for a pitcher in Organization B we’ll assume as the following:
Day 1: Start Day Day 2: Off Day 3: 60-90 ft Day 4: 20 pitch bullpen Day 5: 60-90 ft Day 6: Start Day
The first option is to continue with the standard five day rotation and gradually increase the workload until we reach a 1DWL of 56 workload units or an estimated 9 innings of in-game workload. In this case, following the first outing with a 1DWL of 48 workload units, this pitcher would be able to make a start with a 1DWL of 58 workload units the very next start. This pitcher would also be able to maintain that same workload every sixth day without their ACR ever going above 1.3.
Maintaining this start day one day workload would result in a peak chronic workload value of 22 workload units following each start.
4 Day Rotation
Another option is to increase the frequency with which the pitcher appears in a game in order to maximize those appearances over the adjusted length of the season. The typical between start routine for a pitcher in Organization B in a four man rotation would likely be:
Day 1: Start Day Day 2: 60-90 ft Day 3: 20 pitch bullpen Day 4: 60-90 ft Day 5: Start Day
In order to throw every fifth day as opposed to every sixth, the last Live outing of the buildup for this pitcher would need to be reduced to a one day workload of 40 workload units. The first start on less rest would also be capped at a one day workload of 42 workload units. The second start would progress to 46 workload units (~6.9 estimated innings) and every start after that could withstand a one day workload of 56 workload units or ~9 innings.
While the five man rotation allows this pitcher to make their first start of 56 workload units earlier, the ability to make starts with a similar workload more frequently may be more valuable. Chronic workload in this case peaks at 23.6 workload units following each start with a 1DWL of 56 workload units every fifth day.
The five man rotation allows this pitcher to make their first start with a 1DWL of 56 workload units on day four following the last Live session of the buildup (Day 32 overall), compared to day 12 following the last Live session. Looking at the first 28 days of the season in totality, we can see the following workloads between the two rotations:
Number of Starts + Corresponding 1DWLs
- 5 Man Rotation: 6 starts (56, 56, 56, 56, 56, 56)
- 4 Man Rotation: 7 starts (42, 46, 56, 56, 56, 56, 56)
Number of Total Estimated Potential Innings
- 5 Man Rotation: 54 innings
- 4 Man Rotation: 57.9 innings
The benefits of a four-man rotation are only marginal during the first month of the season, but over the course of the first two months of the season we see this difference begin to become more significant:
Number of Starts (corresponding 1DWLs)
- 5 Man Rotation: 12 starts (56, … , 56)
- 4 Man Rotation: 15 starts (42, 46, 56, … , 56)
Number of Total Estimated Potential Innings
- 5 Man Rotation: 108 innings (6.2, 6.2, 6.2, … , 6.2)
- 4 Man Rotation: 129.9 innings (4.1, 4.6, 6.2, 6.2, 6.2, …. , 6.2)
What Does This Mean?
As you can see, there are multiple variables at play when addressing how long pitchers will need to be ready for the season following this break. A few of these include:
- Accrued Chronic Workload
- Roster Size
- Personal Routine
In the aforementioned scenarios, the workloads were very rigid and based upon averages. This is not a perfect roadmap for every pitcher’s approach to the season once it begins. Instead, this serves to show how monitoring and managing workloads could provide value to both teams and players alike – both in terms of potentially reducing risk of injury and also in increased performance.
There will be pitchers that manage to maintain their normal Spring Training routine throughout this entire period (similar to Org. A). There will also be players who haven’t been able to throw much at all due to reasons outside of their control (similar to or worse than Org. B). There is no blanket statement for the amount of time needed for these pitchers to properly build up once the season begins. In most cases, the more time the better.
In each individual athlete’s case, the best plan is to measure where you are, determine where you want to be and devise a plan accordingly. This plan should account for a given athlete’s individual throwing stress and between start routines. Pitchers are creatures of habit and quite frankly some guys may just not be comfortable deviating too far from the standard, whereas other pitchers may jump at the opportunity to make an additional handful of starts during this season. The ability to objectively measure each pitcher’s workloads will allow teams the opportunity to get more out of their arms during this time rather than less.
Given the shortened nature of the season, the question of how to best utilize your pitching staff gets a little blurry. Having your best arms throw more frequently is far and away more beneficial to the team. If you’re a player/team that wants to do that, you need to have a plan to progressively increase workload and monitor workloads throughout the season. These plans need to dynamic and combine feedback from the coaches/athletes with what the data is showing.
To think that we have perfectly figured out workload and the best way to utilize pitchers would be foolish. In many ways the current state of baseball, due to the circumstances of COVID, sucks. We all want to regain some normalcy in life and hopefully in time we will. There is a silver lining to this in regards to workload specifically. Teams and players are being forced into positions where they must begin to question the status quo – the answers to those questions is to be determined…
Written by Throwing Trainer Devin Rose