Mike Leake is currently on pace to throw 211 innings. That sounds kinda high for a rookie, especially a rookie with no previous professional experience. Fay argues that the Reds won't let Leake get close to 211 innings. Yet I don't think the innings are really an issue. The most pitches Leake has thrown in a start is 106, he has average 98.55 pitches per start. My question is, considering that Leake doesn't even average 100 pitches per start, how relevant is limiting the number of innings he throws? Would 32 starts, throwing 98 pitches per starts, be detrimental to his arm?
Also what do the Reds do if they are still in contention come August, if they decide Leake has reached his innings cap? Welsh today suggested using Chapman, but I can't imagine Chapman would be in much better shape come August, as this is also his first professional season, and it isn't like throwing pitches in AAA is stress free. I guess Wood and Maloney are in Louisville and could be used if needed, but Leake is the superior pitcher, and in a close race Leake could be the difference.
I know there are cautionary tales about other young starting pitchers who were burned out in playoff chases. Kerry Wood and Mark Prior were different. In 1998 Wood made 14 starts where he threw at least 107 pitches (one more pitch than Leake's season high to this point), 8 starts where he threw more than 120 pitches, and he threw 133 pitches against Cincinnati in his second to last of the regular season in 1998. In 2002 Prior made 7 starts where he threw 107+ pitches, and was allowed to throw 135 pitches in a start. In 2003 Prior made 20 starts where threw at least 107 pitches, 9 starts where he threw 120+ pitches and 3 starts where he threw 130+ pitches.
If Leake continues to pitch well he should not come close to throwing that many pitches. When Leake pitches well he doesn't throw a lot of pitches, he wracks up strikeouts, but he isn't a strikeout pitcher, and he has superb command so he doesn't walk too many hitters, that lowers his pitch count. He seems quite able to get outs early in the count.
I think the Reds should watch Leake's workload closely, but I think they should be more concerned about the number of pitches he throws, rather than the number of innings. I don't think they should automatically shut him down at a pre-prescribed inning, rather look at his pitch counts, and also look at his success, if he suddenly loses a bit of velocity or command, shut him down, but if he continues to breeze through the league, he is probably fine.