There is an old scouting rule-of-thumb for young pitchers; No pitcher under 25 should throw 30 or more innings than they did in the prior season. Actually, if you go back and track the stats, it turns out to be an pretty accurate predictor of injuries to young pitchers and if you look at Cole Hamels' stats, you'll find that - taking out seasons where he was already hurt - he threw more than 30 innings than his prior season in 2008.
And, oh yeah, in case you haven't heard, Cole Hamels is headed to Philadelphia for an examination on his stiffening left elbow.
The Phillies call it nothing to worry about and are quick to point out that they're just being cautious and that Hamels doesn't experience any pain when he throws, but that his elbow seems to tighten up between innings. Not being a doctor, I'm assuming that's good news.
After suffering numerous injuries as a prospect - a chronically bad back and the now famous broken left hand from a fight - Hamels has felt pretty good since arriving in the majors. A strict exercise regimen and the Phillies hiring of a team chiropractor has helped his back and maturity has helped avoid more broken bones. But, perhaps the Phillies are the ones that put their young phenom at risk this time.
In 2006, Hamels threw a total of 181 1/3 innings between the majors and minors and pumped that up to 183 1/3 in 2007; no problem there. Then, he jumped all the way to 227 1/3 innings - plus another 35 in the post-season - an increase of 79 innings from one season to the next and he did that at age 24. The performance helped boost his status among elite pitchers, gain him both the NLCS and World Series MVP awards and get a multi-year deal from the Phillies, but unfortunately, if this stiff elbow does turn out to be anything, might also have contributed to another return to the DL for Hamels.
Again, there truly isn't any legitimate reason to worry about Hamels other than the fact that no team ever wants to send their ace on a plane flight to their home town to have the team doctor examine his elbow. This could be some routine issues that are not going to turn out to be anything to worry about for Hamels or the Phillies.
So, with the "Rule of 30" issue at the top of the agenda, let's take a look at some other Phillies pitchers and see if there is any reason for concern there.
First, is top prospect Carlos Carrasco. Carrasco, who turns 22 on Saturday, went from 48 innings in the short-season Gulf Coast League as a 17 year old to 83 innings the next season for an increase of 35 innings. Not a huge increase above the Rule of 30 and keep in mind that he was pitching in extended camp prior to the GCL, so his increase there likely isn't anything to worry about. There are a couple areas of concern though; In 2006, Carrasco nearly doubled his 83 innings from the 2005 season and pitched 159 innings in the minors. That's the only point in his career where he truly went over the 30 inning increase rule.
J.A. Happ also had the short-season increase early in his career, but when you throw in his college innings in 2004, he was under the 30 inning inrease plateau. From there though, he went from 78 1/3 innings in 2005 to 161 innings in 2006 and followed that up with a bad campaign (4-6, 5.02) at Triple-A Ottawa in 2007. It should be noted too, that while Happ pitched all of last season as a 25 year old, he did push his innings from 122 1/3 in 2007 to 166 2/3 innings last season, going over the Rule of 30 limits as a 25 year old.
One young pitcher that the Phillies are concerned about because of his recent struggles in the minors is Andrew Carpenter. It needs to be noted that the Phillies were especially cautious after drafting Carpenter, who threw 117 2/3 innings at Long Beach State in 2006. They allowed him to pitch just 15 innings in the minors that summer for a total of 132 2/3 innings on the season. Jumping all the way from short-season ball in 2006 to High-A Clearwater in 2007, Carpenter threw an extra 30 1/3 innings for the Threshers in 2007, so he is at the top limit of the Rule of 30, but he certainly wasn't pushed. He followed that up with exactly 163 minor league innings in 2008 and one extra inning in the majors, so again, he wasn't pushed to any extremes. Maybe it's good news that the Rule of 30 can't be blamed for Carpenter's ills and that perhaps it's just a case of weakening mechanics.
One final pitcher to look at is Joe Savery. In 2007, the year he was drafted, Savery threw a total of 119 2/3 innings and followed that up with 150 1/3 innings last season, just barely over the 30 inning increase.
Generally, the Phillies have been cautious with some pitchers, but have pushed others. Of course, when a pitcher is throwing well, it's difficult to hold him back or God forbid, shut him down once he pitches the allotted extra innings. Teams, the Phillies included, want to condition pitchers to pitch deep into games and walk a fine line when it comes to young pitchers and just how much they're allowed to pitch.