- Tristan H. Cockcroft, Fantasy
In this day of pitch counts, 12-man pitching staffs and relief specialists, a pitcher's health is more closely managed than perhaps at any other time in baseball history.
The 2006 season, in fact, might have been the "year of the pitch count"; only seven times all season did a pitcher throw 130 or more pitches, and no one topped 138. Plus, in only 39.9 percent of all big league starts did a pitcher throw more than 100 pitches; that's down from 42.1 percent the season before. Teams today are more cautious with their best arms, wanting to protect their multimillion-dollar investments, and for fantasy, that's good news for us because it means the annual list of breakdown candidates only gets slimmer.
In the past, my list of abused pitchers -- arms that easily could be due for a steep decline in performance or a stint on the disabled list -- always ran much longer than this year's. But that doesn't mean baseball is entirely free of such risk candidates. A handful of pitchers either saw enough of an increase in workload, or were overused enough, in 2006 that they're at greater risk than the average pitcher of suffering some sort of setback in 2007.