Yesterday Ed Wade pretty much announced that Fernando Abad was out of the running for the 5th spot in the Astros' rotation.
"In the meetings that we've had, we think the role that he's capable of playing in the bullpen as a key lefty for us probably takes precedent at this point in his career," Wade said. "That doesn't mean that at some point he isn't going to be a successful starter, but for the time being, we're going to focus on him as a reliever."
A few will grumble about this decision, Austin Swafford being one, but was starting Abad in the rotation really an option?
As much as I enjoyed reading about Abad's exploits in the Dominican Winter League I did look at his minor league numbers, specifically his innings pitched total and wonder whether his arm was ready for 150 innings pitched, or even more in 2011.
I couldn't specifically comment on the standard of the Winter League over there, but Abad's statistics, 3-0 with a 2.38 ERA in 10 games (starting six of them) is solid enough, but what jumped out at me was the 37 strikeouts in 34 innings.
Including the innings he threw for the Astros last season Abad has thrown 352 2/3 spanning five seasons (2006-10), averaging just over 70 a season.
So what is the precedent for a guy who has not topped 100 innings to go an entire major league season as a starter? For starters if you are getting a guy to throw too many innings in the minors that can be just as disastrous. Brett Myers' innings total as a minor leaguer seems very puzzling, as at 19, in his first full minor league season the Phillies let him throw 175 innings, which might account for at least some of his later struggles. Wandy Rodriguez had a pretty smooth transition after rookie ball, pitching 159 1/3, 111 and 142 2/3 innings in the next three seasons. Bud Norris pitched 102, 80 then 175 counting the major league innings he threw in 2009. J.A. Happ threw 160, 122 and 166 2/3.
In fact, if you look at all the NL Central pitchers with a start in 2010, and how many innings they averaged before they started a season as a starting pitcher (i.e. if a pitcher was called up mid-season from the minors, his major league innings for that year are counted), this picture emerges.
Abad's average of 70 IP per year is lower than every other pitcher, marginally beating out Felipe Paulino's 71.85. The other averages below 100 are Bud Norris (99.08), Manny Parra (81.97), Randy Wells (96.17), Paul Maholm (84.44), and Dana Eveland (95.6). Some of these totals are either down to injury, or not pitching in the year that they were drafted. Mike Leake is the obvious exception, having not pitched in the minors before debuting
Does this random and arbitrary sample prove anything? I learnt that Myers innings total wasn't a-typical, with Chris Carpenter's average of 155.17 being the highest on my list. Also, Bronson Arroyo pitched a ridiculous amount of minor league innings, chugging up a whopping 1105 IP before making the big-time.
The group average came to 120, signifcantly higher than Abad's 70.
The youngest of the group that I looked at to make his debut was Carlos Zambrano, who made his debut at 20 years and 81 days, so regardless of whether Lyles debut's at the start of the season he will not beat that.
Still, I do not agree with some people's gloomy assessment that it is reducing his value by being a LOOGY. Wade and MIlls have indicated that they might be looking at having two left handers in the bullpen, and Abad can do what Wilton Lopez did last year and give good cover in the 7th and 8th innings.
Who knows, perhaps in two years or so he might even be closer material?