In this other diary, http://www.mccoveychronicles.com/story/2006/8/28/4321/77804, a number of posters got into a discussion of how a young prospect pitcher's arm might be abused. I am hoping to continue that discussion here, particularly since few of the regular prospect commenters, like, for example, Steve, DrB, Irwin, and ProspectHound (among many others who follow prospects; those are the names that came most quickly to mind) did not opine on what they thought. I would love to hear what others think, given the importance of Lincecum to the near future of the organization.
The debate was over how delicate any young pitcher's arm. One side posited that we should not put so much stress on Lincecum's arm by putting him in the majors next season and ideally only add about 20 IP per season to stretch his arm out. The prospect needs time to mature and prepare his arm and mind for the long MLB season. It was argued that this type of abuse is what harmed Mark Prior's arm.
Others felt otherwise. Lincecum will be at around 170-180 IP for this season after the Cal League playoffs. That will be a big jump from what he threw last season, mainly because he is now pitching as a pro. But it is not far away from a full-season of MLB starting pitching.
If one believes this 20 IP incremental growth as the optimum, then one should come to the conclusion that the Giants should have shut down Lincecum for the rest of the season immediately after signing him, as he threw 104.1 innings in college in 2005 and 125.1 inning in college in 2006. Plus whatever he might have thrown in the summer Cape Cod league, though if I recall right, he didn't throw too many innings (but I could be wrong) and probably he threw about the same amount of IP both years. And thus come to the conclusion that the Giants are irreparably harming Lincecum's arm by not shutting him down for the season after signing him.
Plus, based on what Lincecum threw in 2005, he should ideally be ready to reach the majors in 2010, based on the 20 IP increments and not knowing how many innings he threw in the summer league. That seems to be a long time off from today, most teams would not wait that long if the pitcher appears to be handling batters well enough. But if you accept this theory, 20 IP is all you can push your prospect to do. Thus any pitcher under the age of 25 is probably putting his arm and general health at risk by starting in the majors.
Furthermore, if one believes strongly that such large jumps in IP is very damaging to young pitcher's arms - that preparation is needed, both mentally and physically - then one would also feel that Cain is ripe to go "Prior" on us. Cain went from 19.1 IP plus whatever he did in high school at age 17, jumped to 74.0 IP in 2003 when he was 18, jumped to 158.2 IP in 2004 when he was 19, and then jumped to 192.0 IP in 2005 when he was 20. Based on this theory, Cain's arm should go bad on us at some point in the near future.
In addition, based on the supposition of an incremental 20 IP per season, Cain was not due to throw 200 IP until he is 23-24 years old, based on the IP he did at age 18. And that leads me, based on this logic, to the subsequent conclusion that pitchers should not be starting full-time in the majors until around age 23-25, because of the limitation of an incremental 20 IP per season and the low IP most high school pitchers do, about 60 IP or so (don't know if compete in summer leagues).
Obviously both sides are currently opinions without hard facts or stats to back it up other than an example or three. So what is the evidence out there, either way, on arm abuse?
The main thing I am aware of is Leo Mazzone's practice of making pitchers throw a lot constantly to build up their arm strength. And it does not appear to have affected Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, or John Schmoltz much and Kevin Millwood is still kicking around. However, Steve Avery and Damian Moss (guy we got in Russ Ortiz trade) had very short shelf lives. In addition, Atlanta likes to draft high school players so they are building up their arms from a relative young age, if they weren't already doing it. But this is anecdotal again, not a study, plus how about all the other Braves pitching prospects, what happened to them? (Don't follow them that closely)
What evidence have other people found? And, if no evidence, what are your opinions on arm abuse? Real and immediate? Or overblown and babying? What are your thoughts about how Cain was brought along and, now, Lincecum?
The future of the Giants lay in your hands! :^)