One of the knocks on Max Scherzer entering last year was that he threw a lot of pitches. That happens if you strikeout a lot of people (which Max does), throw a lot of innings (which Max does), and aren't particularly known for precise control (which Max wasn't until last year).
That last point is important because there was some hope during last season that Max wouldn't end up throwing a lot pitches because he was giving up a lot fewer free passes. While he did successfully lower his P/PA to a career low (3.73 after usually being over 4.00) there were enough innings, HRs and various other things to keep his pitches up near the top of the majors. That marks his 6th season in a row of being such.
Last season I tried to analyze the issue by looking at those pitchers who threw a lot of pitches in multiple seasons (10000 in 3 years). You can check out what I did here. The end result was both grim overall and grim specifically.
It was grim overall because pitchers just break down. Up until age 31 it seemed, pitchers were ok. Don't kid yourself, they weren't paragons of health at any age. Pitching was still a wasteland of broken arms and broken dreams, but at least with the group I was looking at (guys who pitched a lot from 26-29 and pitched well) ages 30 and 31 were coin flips. Didn't really matter if you had a lot of work or not, you had a decent chance of putting up a full good season*. After that though the chances crashed and burned. Age 33 was particularly chilling with only 2 pitchers out of like 25 having a full good year.
It was grim specifically because when I compared those that threw a lot of pitches 26-29 vs those that didn't (but still pitched the equivalent of full seasons during those years) the ones that threw a lot of pitches did fare worse**. Not a lot worse but given that things were so grim you are looking for any hope you can find. With those that did not throw a lot of pitches, there were the occasional bright points. Arms that seemed to last through 35. Buerhle, Hudson, Lee. There were none of these for the group Scherzer was part of.
But this was admittedly with a very limited sample. Not only do few pitchers stay healthy enough to be part of this comparison but the comparison can only go back to 2002 because we only have pitch count data from 2000 on. So I was looking forward to seeing what another year of data would tell us. What did it?
Out of the guys who threw a lot in age 26-29 the bad outweighed the good. Verlander (ages 26-31 falling under "3rd season, 10000 pitches in 3"; 32 this year) couldn't throw a full season. Lincecum (26-29; 31) was bad and not full. Sabathia (27-31; 34) was full but not good. Shields** (29-33; 33) was the same. Weaver (27-29; 32) broke down. The exceptions were Scherzer (28-30; 30) of course, Jon Lester (29-31; 31) and Dan Haren (26-31, 34), who after flirting with above average years finally put one up
It was pretty much the same in the other group. Ubaldo Jimenez*** (26-27; 31). Greinke (26; 31) and Cole Hamels all had good years and Matt Cain (23-27; 30)**, Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez, Gavin Floyd and Scott Baker all remained injured with various effectiveness.
Twist my arm and I might give a slight edge to the "didn't pitch alot group" because the bad pitching was from people that were injured staying injured as opposed to getting bad (like Weaver did) and frankly a caliber of pitcher a step lower than in Scherzer's group, but that's only if you twist. It's not really that big of a difference between the two groups, honestly. And its pretty apparent that we just don't have enough data points, especially in the Scherzer group. In this day and age using a guy like Max is used is an anomaly. Add that to walks going down and I'm not sure we'll get another data point any time soon. The other group added 7 pitchers this year (Price, Felix, Gallardo, ZNN, Gio, Cueto and Wei-Yin Chen) that we can use in comparison next year. Max's group added nobody.****
The takeaway from the analysis previously was "it seems like if you don't pitch a lot you have a chance to be good into and maybe past mid 30s. If you do pitch a lot it seems like you don't". Nothing here really changes anything. To do so we'd need a pitcher throwing a lot then be doing well right through his mid 30s. Dan Haren's good year was after 3 years of mediocre pitching, not to mention a reduced number of pitches (and now he's promptly retired so we really can say nothing). Shields could have been notable but right now looks like another log on the fire. Scherzer and Lester are still too young.
What this limited data has suggests is that Scherzer and Lester will breakdown, probably in the next 2 seasons, while one or maaaaybe two of Jimenez, Greinke, Hamels might do well for the next 4+ years. That's about as strong as I can go. It'll take at least 2 more years (for Lester) to really begin to refute this assumption.
*"full, good season" defined as 28+ starts, 100+ ERA+
** I was very interested in Sheilds because he was an outlier. Most
guys throw a ton of pitches while younger, like starting at 24/25.
Shields didn't really get going until 27 and was doing something no one
else had been doing - throwing a bunch of pitches at an advanced age and
doing well. 2015 though ended that. I'll again be interested this year
to see if he bounces back though.
***some of this group pitched a lot either before that full 26-29 range or too limited time to fit into the "alot in 26-29"). The years they did pitch a lot are reflected here.
**** and no one will be added next year. The one guy with an outside chance was Lance Lynn and... well there you go.