Handle With Care: White Sox Lopez Could Face Injury Soon


With the Chicago White Sox fan base frothing for more prospect debuts, Rick Hahn announced that heralded pitching prospect Reynaldo Lopez will take the mound on Friday against the Kansas City Royals. Lopez pitched in the big leagues last season with Washington but this will be his introduction to the new guard in Chicago.

Hahn addressed the media on Tuesday to explain the rationale — besides dominating Triple-A batters – behind Lopez ascension.

            “More consistency with the fastball, he threw quality strikes, trusting his off-speed pitches, being able to throw any pitch in any count,” Hahn said from the dugout on Tuesday. “Again, taking the ball every fifth day and being prepared for that specific outing. The work that’s done in between starts, some of the stuff that’s not publicly seen. He’s done everything we’ve asked of him and now’s the time for him to take that next step.”

Besides the obvious supremacy in the minors, it is nice to see Hahn address, what seems to be, a comprehensive approach to developing players for the major leagues. Sanding away the rough edges of character concerns, egos and other off-field issues of prospects before they reach the big leagues is a firm reminder of the scrutiny major league players endure.

But there are other concerns about promoting Lopez as well. Hahn mentioned that the right-hander will be expected to take the ball every fifth day and that there is no plan to manage his innings at the moment. Still, in an article for Sports Illustrated by Tom Verducci, the venerable journalist underscored the grim reality for young pitchers that increase their innings more than 30 percent in one year. He finds that young pitchers, 25 years old and younger, have an increased risk of injury when they boost their innings by 30 or more in one year.

Included on the list of victims are Marcus Stroman, Yordano Ventura, Daniel Norris, Lance McCullers, Luis Severino and Noah Syndergaard.

McCullers suffered an elbow strain that shortened his 2016 season while Stroman blew out his knee after an arduous season. Verducci hypothesized that Syndergaard would be immune from injury given his brawny and imposing frame, but even Thor has been sidelined with a strained lat muscle – albeit, not immediately following the 30 percent prescribed innings boost, but the injury is edifying.

Severino’s innings skyrocketed in 2015, almost doubling from the previous season, and the Yankees right-hander suffered a blow the following season with a triceps strain. Martinez endured a right should injury following a lengthy 2015 campaign, but his smarting gave Cardinals fans plenty of sleepless nights.

There are scores of other pitchers that became victims of the 30-percent rule as well. Verducci’s quest to peel back the layers of the innings-load question has spanned 10 years and soldiers on. His findings could spell disaster for Lopez if the White Sox don’t manage his work over the rest of the season.

Lopez threw a total of 153 1/3 innings last season – a roughly 57 percent increase from 2015 — and has racked up 121 innings in 2017. If White Sox officials believe in the science behind Verducci’s observations they will prune Lopez’s season at approximately 200 innings. And, in fact, this is a sturdy benchmark for the right-hander in 2017 with little reason to eclipse this threshold in a forgotten season.

Even more concerning is that if White Sox brass allows Lopez to bear the full load he will have compounded the effects of Verducci’s 30-percent rule in two consecutive years.

Lopez has 10 scheduled starts remaining and if he averages six innings per start he will increase his innings by just over 39 percent. Given the wake of injuries and mounting evidence supporting Verducci’s observations on innings load, the White Sox would be wise to trim Lopez’s season just shy of 200 innings. Lopez is sure to be amped to start in the big leagues and there’s no telling how escalated exertion added to increased innings will impact the health of his shoulder.