Over the past 10+ years, I've been fascinated by pitcher overuse and injuries. Last year, after the Dbacks season was over, one of my concerns as a fan were how Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson would perform this year due to a career high usage last year. Obviously we've seen what happened with Kennedy, even though a lot of that can probably be contributed to regression. However, regarding Hudson, it wasn't just his overuse last year that I was concerned about, but the accelerated rate of his annual innings increase that was my concern.
Here's Daniel Hudson's total innings from college to last year (age in parenthesis):
2006 (19): 94 - college
2007 (20): 107 - college
2008 (21): 162 - college PLUS rookie ball after being drafted
2009 (22): 166 - mostly minors PLUS a little in MLB
2010 (23): 189 - about half minors, half MLB
2011 (24): 228 - MLB and 1 start in playoffs
I know Tom Verducci is famous for his "Verducci Effect" that states that pitchers that show an increase in innings of more than 30 from one year to another may have a decrease in performance. He also believes that minor league innings are less stressful than major league innings, which is understandable. My concern, though, is more about long-term effects related to injury and ability to stay healthy, and this is where I believe college, minor, and major league innings are all related. I believe that pitchers should have a gradual increase in workload, but it should start from the college ranks on up.
When you look at Hudson's history, what jumps out at me is from his 2nd to 3rd year in college. He pitched 107 innings in 2007, and pitched 92 innings in 2008 in college. After the White Sox drafted in, they had him throw an additional 70 innings in the same year in rookie ball. It was a while back, but I remember another writer suggested that young pitcher innings should not increase by more than 10-15% from year to year. That means Hudson's increase should have looked like this:
2008: 123 (92 college/41 minors)
This may seem really extreme, and who knows if Hudson wouldn't have gotten hurt either way, but this is something I found interesting, and of course it could be a coincidence, but anyway:
1st 31 starts: 210 innings, 3.39 ERA
last 3 starts: 17 innings, 6.23 ERA
And of course, before Hudson's season ended this year: 45 innings, 7.35 ERA
Again, I KNOW Hudson could still ended up getting Tommy John surgery, but to me, it's about minimizing risk. I think the White Sox should not have run Hudson out there for 70 innings after a full season of college ball.
I also do not think the Dbacks needed to run Hudson out there every 5th day after 9/4 last year. After Hudson's start on 9/4, Hudson had a total of 194 innings and the Dbacks had a 7 game lead with 21 games left. They could have easily just had him pitch every 7 games and limit him to 5-6 innings each. That would have had him at 209-212 innings. I know, 10-13 innings may not seem like a lot, but like I mentioned before, it's about minimizing risk.