The Twins have a reputation now days of bringing their young players, particularly their young pitchers along very slowly but that has not always been the case. In today’s game pitches are counted and innings are watched from year to year to make sure that pitchers do not have a huge jump in innings pitched from one year to the next. We fans sometimes complain about how long it takes a player to reach the majors but think what its like for the team itself. They draft the guy and then they have to pay him as he develops his skills, they get no return on their investment unless the player reaches the major leagues and becomes a successful player. The temptation must be huge to push the guy along to get a quick return on the money spent, but if you push him too quickly all kinds of bad things can happen.
Let’s take a look at the case of RHP Roger Erickson who the Twins drafted in round 3 of the 1977 June amateur draft. Erickson signed and was sent to “AA” Orlando where he pitched 109 innings in 16 games (14 starts) with 10 complete games. This is all after he pitched in college that spring. I was not able to locate any of Erickson’s college stats. The next year Erickson gets a spring training invite and makes the 1978 Twins starting rotation. The 21-year-old rookie makes his major league debut when he starts the second game of the season for the Twins and beats the Seattle Mariners 5-4 at the Kingdome. Erickson goes on to start a club leading 37 games for the Twins with 14 complete games and an amazing 265.2 innings pitched. Erickson finished the 1878 season with a 14-13 record with a 3.96 ERA , a WHIP of 1.306 and 121 strikeouts. Erickson was not a strikeout pitcher but more in the mold of a Brad Radke type of pitcher. In 1979 Erickson went 3-10 with a 5.63 ERA in 21 starts (zero complete games) and 123 innings, in 1980 his record was 7-13 with a 3.25 ERA in 191.1 innings and in 1981 Erickson went 3-8 with a 3.84 ERA in 91.1 innings. In May of 1982 after a 4-3 start the Twins had seen enough and traded Erickson and catcher Butch Wynegar to the New York Yankees for pitchers Pete Filson and John Pacella and infielder Larry Milbourne and a suitcase full of cash. Roger Erickson pitched in a total of 21 games for the Yankees in 1982 and 1983 and at the age of 27 his big league playing days were behind him. Erickson tried to come back in 1984, again in 1987 and still again in 1989 in the minors with the Tigers and the Cardinals but he never again put on a big league uniform.
This is one of baseball classic cases of pitcher abuse, a situation where Twins manager Gene Mauch and pitching coach Camilo Pascual could not see the forest for the trees and killed a promising career before it really had a chance to get started. Erickson’s career ended prematurely at the age of 27 primarily because he pitched too many innings at too young an age. When he last pitched in the big leagues he was just 27 but he had already been in the majors for 6 seasons and he had already logged almost 800 innings with 265 of those in his first season. In the end the Twins lost a promising pitcher and Roger Erickson was robbed of his career. A loss-loss for both sides. Just a sad story all around.
Almost every day you hear about another big league pitcher having forearm or elbow tightness and the next thing you know they are off to see Dr. Andrews or someone like him to get a second opinion before undergoing “Tommy John” surgery. Are there more problems of this type now even with all the attention given to limiting innings and pitch counts. What are today’s pitchers doing differently that is causing these problems? Is it all about the fact that the pitchers today seem to throw harder than the pitchers of the past did? Are pitchers just not getting enough rest between seasons end and the start of the next season? Or maybe it is just the opposite, maybe the pitchers are not throwing enough? Is specialization of the athletes at much younger ages adding to the pitching arm woes? Or have these problems always been there and we just called it elbow tendonitis or a sore arm in the past and prescribed rest and/or retirement?
Here is a list of Twins pitchers who have thrown at least 100 innings in their rookie seasons. *
|5||Nick Blackburn (RoY-8th)||193.1||33||2008||26||33||0||0||11||11||.500||0||224||39||96||4.05||.292|
|7||Brad Radke (RoY-9th)||181.0||28||1995||22||29||2||1||11||14||.440||0||195||47||75||5.32||.275|
|13||Kevin Tapani (RoY-5th)||159.1||28||1990||26||28||1||1||12||8||.600||0||164||29||101||4.07||.264|
|15||Mark Redman (RoY-6th)||151.1||24||2000||26||32||0||0||12||9||.571||0||168||45||117||4.76||.281|
* = From 1947 through 1956, each BBWAA voter used discretion as to who qualified as a rookie. In 1957, the term was first defined as someone with fewer than 75 at bats or 45 innings pitched in any previous Major League season. This guideline was later amended to 90 at bats, 45 innings pitched, or 45 days on a Major League roster before September 1 of the previous year. The current standard of 130 at bats, 50 innings pitched or 45 days on the active roster of a Major League club (excluding time in military service or on the disabled list) before September 1 was adopted in 1971.