Mike Leake (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Tom Verducci released his annual Red Flag List of young pitchers who are at higher risk for either injury or decreased performance for the upcoming season. His list is developed from the premise that inning workloads for young arms should be increased gradually from one season to the next. Pitchers whose workloads are increased by too much in a season over the previous year are more likely to suffer from injury or have a setback in their performance the following year.

The parameters for Verducci’s list are fairly simple. The pitcher must be 25 years of age or younger, have thrown over 30 more innings than the previous year, and be pitching at the major league level. Minor league and post-season innings thrown are included in a player’s total innings.

Mike Leake, 23 last year, came in 11th on Verducci’s 2012 list of 14 MLB pitchers by throwing 36 2/3 more innings in 2011 than the previous year.

Most teams have employed some sort of innings limitations on their youngest pitchers, including sometimes shutting down starters before the season ends. There is no hard-and-fast rule about what the cutoff is to avoid this “Year After Effect”, and the answer certainly varies a little from pitcher to pitcher.

Still, Verducci’s Red Flag List has been right more often than it has been wrong.

The Effect has become easy to see over the years. In just the past six years, for instance, I flagged 55 pitchers at risk for an injury or regression based on their workload in the previous season. Forty-six of them, or 84 percent, did get hurt or post a worse ERA in the Year After.

While I certainly don’t like seeing a Cincinnati Reds starter on this list, I think there are several reasons not to be too concerned about Mike Leake in 2012. Thirty innings is a “rule of thumb”, and Leake was just barely over that mark. Some of those innings were minor league innings, which Verducci acknowledges aren’t as stressful on the arm. Without his 7 minor league innings thrown, Leake is just under the 30+ inning increase benchmark. The Reds were careful with Leake’s pitch count during the 2011 season. Leake only threw more than 110 pitches in a game 4 times and never more than 114 pitches. He exceeded 100 pitches in just 8 of his 26 starts.

Bigger concerns should weigh on the pitching coaches of 2011 NL Central playoff teams. St. Louis Cardinals starter Jamie Garcia had the 3rd largest increase in inning workload last year with 57 more innings thrown. Injury prone throughout his professional career, 2010 was the first time Garcia had made more than 25 starts in a season, and it’s only second time he had made more than 20 starts. Including the post-season, Garcia made 37 starts last year, nine more starts than the previous year. Milwaukee’s Yovani Gallardo is on the list for the second time in his career, this time at 7th. The first time he made the list in 2008, he missed almost the entire season with knee injuries.