If you listen to New York sports radio, you'll probably agree there's been an annoyingly high rate of Mets talk lately, much of it focusing on 26-year old ace Matt Harvey, his innings limit, and whether or not he'll pitch for Terry Collins' club in the playoffs. If you haven't followed the story, aren't in New York or immediately switch to smooth jazz whenever the subject comes up, here's a quick rundown: Early this month, when the Mets seemed poised to blow past the 180 innings that Dr. James Andrews supposedly recommended for Harvey, a year removed from Tommy John surgery, his agent, Scott Boras went public with his concerns. Harvey hemmed and hawed a bit but basically stood by what Boras said. He's since backtracked and has said he'll pitch in the postseason, but under what conditions is unclear with the Mets now saying he'll make regular but abbreviated starts for the rest of September. Naturally, the hot takes have been scalding.
Before we talk about what this has to do with the Yankees, let's address the prevailing "wisdom" being put out there by some former players, media members and fans that Harvey is somehow "less of a man" and "a bad teammate" for being concerned about the impact a big innings jump this year will have on his surgically rejiggered elbow. It's nonsense. Matt Harvey may be a person, but Matt Harvey, elite young pitcher is a business. The Mets' business has lots of assets - a regional TV network, a state-of-the-art new ballpark, hundreds of players and prospects under team control. Matt Harvey's business has only one asset - his right arm. It's an asset he risks every single time he takes the mound. For all the hype that surrounds him, he'll have earned only $1.1 million as a Major League baseball player by the end of this year. If his career keeps going the way it has so far he has a chance to multiply that 300 times or more. Their tactics may have been questionable, but Harvey and Boras are right to do everything in their power to protect that.
In Luis Severino, the Yankees have their own Matt Harvey. Outside of Friday's flop, Severino's been great in pinstripes since making his debut on August 5th. Through seven starts he has a 3.35 ERA, a 9.08 strikeout rate and an outstanding 28.6 percent soft contact rate. He's not returning from arm surgery, but because of his age and his quick ascent through the minors, he'll also need to have his workload closely monitored this year and next. His previous career high in innings was 113.1 in 2014, and he's already at 137 in 2015, meaning if the Yankees intend to avoid the infamous Verducci Effect (the theory invented by Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci stating that pitchers under 25 who increase their innings by more than 30 percent from one year to the next are doomed to injury and ineffectiveness) he's only good for another ten or so. That's despite being set for three more starts in the regular season and possibly several more in the playoffs.
Obviously that doesn't jive. With Nathan Eovaldi's injury and CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova's general ineptness, Severino's become a hugely important part of the Yankees' staff. You can argue he'd be their second best bet in a wildcard playoff game, and he's without a doubt deserving of a game one, two or three start in the Division Series. The Yankees were proactive in preparing for this scenario early on, limiting Severino's innings at Trenton and Scranton, where he averaged only 5.23 innings per start. Even with that restraint, though, a longish postseason run is going to mean going significantly beyond his Verducci zone. If he pitches three games between now and the end of the season and four in the postseason en route to the World Series, averaging slightly over six innings per outing, he'd end up at 180, which would be a 59.9 percent jump from last year. That's a massive best case scenario, and Brian Cashman has said Severino's innings aren't an issue, but there has to be a ceiling somewhere.
The good news is that the Yankees seem to have a better handle on the whole innings count thing than the Mets do. It's certainly better than what we saw several years ago when they tried to manage Joba Chamberlain's usage in all sorts of absurd ways. Hopefully there are no trips to the bullpen in Severino's future and we won't have to hear Mike Francesa claim "he's got a relievah's mentality." Hopefully there are no low pitch count nights where he's forced to worry more about conserving than out-getting.
The Verducci Effect is theory, not fact. In February, Verducci identified five young pitchers as "in the danger zone" for this season. Of them, only Jesse Hahn has had a serious arm problem. Yordano Ventura missed some time in June, but has rebounded with a good second half and Rubby de la Rosa has remained healthy, if mediocre. Marcus Stroman can't really be judged since he missed most of the year with a lower half injury and though Daniel Norris has struggled, that's more easily attributable to the fact that he's pitched at Triple-A, and in the majors, two levels where he's yet to find much success. Verducci's predictors seem to have been more on the money in 2014, with guys like Jose Fernandez and Michael Wacha going down, but his "injured" players list also includes Gerrit Cole who had a generally successful season, while Sonny Gray and Ventura (yeah, he was there last year, too) had no ill effects at all. Common sense says that increasing workload too fast is going to cause trouble, but forcing in hard zones and limits as the Verducci Effect does reeks of a correlation-causation fallacy.
Innings counts suck. They're an excessively rigid way to judge workload, since not all innings require the same effort, and when they defy the simple credo of "win at all costs" it's frustrating to say the least. But with so much at stake for teams and pitchers, they're not going away. The Yankees and Severino's interest in preserving him is more mutual than the Mets and Harvey, who's counting down the days until his 2018 Boras-led free agency. Severino is worth his weight in Californium 252 as a standout who won't even be arbitration eligible until 2019. Balancing that with seeing how far he can help the Yankees go this year will be a tough balance to find.