Pitchers who never get hurt
Some hurlers are always on the DL, but a select few never are
On Tuesday night, word went around: Cincinnati Reds starter Bronson Arroyo was working on a no-hitter against the Milwaukee Brewers. Through 7 1/3 innings, Arroyo had allowed only one baserunner -- a Ryan Braun hit-by-pitch in the first. Milwaukee had managed to get only four balls out of the infield.
This was unexpected, to say the least. Seventy-three pitchers have pitched at least 250 innings in the past two seasons. Only four of them have given up hits at a higher rate than Arroyo. The 35-year-old right-hander hasn't thrown a pitch at 90 miles per hour all season, and his career ERA is basically league average.
Even if he did throw a no-hitter, no one would say Arroyo has "no-hit stuff," which is why it wasn't shocking when the no-hitter and the Reds' 3-0 eventually vanished in the eighth. But there's one crucial thing Arroyo does almost as good as anyone: He's very, very good at showing up for work.
Baseball Prospectus keeps complete records of major-league disabled list stints starting in 2002. Since then, 10 pitchers have thrown at least 1,000 innings without once appearing on the disabled list. Arroyo ranks fourth on that list, with a little more than 1,800 innings (see table).
Arroyo is similar to Livan Hernandez, who's in his 17th big league season and has yet to spend a day on the DL. In his prime seasons of 2000-2005, Hernandez' 4.01 ERA was just 5 percent below league average. Forty pitchers averaged at least 100 innings per season during the same span with better ERAs. But Hernandez was the 10th-most-valuable pitcher during that period, racking up more than 19 wins above replacement purely by his ability to take the ball. He averaged 237 innings per season, and the teams he played for -- Giants, Expos and Nationals -- weren't looking for flair. They were buying outs in bulk.
This durability sets guys like Hernandez apart from most pitchers. In each of the six seasons mentioned above, Hernandez finished in the top five in pitcher abuse points, a pitch-count-based metric designed by Baseball Prospectus to assess stress. Others on the list -- Jason Schmidt, Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, Victor Zambrano -- broke down in the near future.
After looking at the data, sometimes it seems surprising when any pitcher stays healthy for an extended period of time. A study by Jeff Zimmerman in 2010 determined that during the previous decade, any starter who had pitched at least 120 innings in one season had a 41 percent chance of hitting the DL the following year. From 2005-2011, an average of just less than 11 Tommy John surgeries were performed through June, according to data collected by BP injury authority Corey Dawkins. This year, the count is already up to 23, with pitchers like Jose Contreras, Felipe Paulino and Daniel Hudson likely to add to the total in the coming weeks.
With seemingly every day bringing news of new injuries, how is it that certain pitchers have managed to stay healthy year after year? And how might teams be able to find or develop more of them?
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