Reminder: Most of what we know about innings limits are just guesses

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A lot of the conversation about Matt Harvey and the to-shutdown-or-not-to-shutdown controversy bubbling up between him, the Mets and Scott Boras is based on the assumption that Harvey needs to have some limit on his innings. And, in the grand scheme, he does. Just like any pitcher does.

But that’s a macro-thing, right? We know that someone pitching 500 innings is bad. We know that if a pitcher is not used at all, he won’t hurt himself. But despite what a lot of people will say, even people who know a lot about pitching and ballplayer health, we have nothing approaching a definitive handle on how much is too much for healthy players, recovering-from-surgery players or anyone else. There is no one who has any precise insight on a granular level about this stuff. Not even the doctors who replace the ligaments.

Against that backdrop, Jeff Passan’s column on all of this today is some good, useful reading. The money graf:

If Matt Harvey is listening to his arm but doesn’t want to share publicly what it’s saying, that’s fair and understandable. If that’s not the case, though – if his arm feels fine 166-plus innings into this fantastic season of his and the Mets’ – then he’s making a false choice, because there is no guarantee, nothing even close to the sort, that limiting his innings this season will keep him any healthier going into the future.

Passan is writing a book on Tommy John surgery and has likely talked to more people on the subject than anyone this side of Dr. James Andrews. If, after all of his research, he hasn’t found someone with good, reliable data and ideas on the topic of how many innings are too much, ain’t no one gonna.

Which goes back to what we said about this over the weekend and what Passan is saying elsewhere in this column: pain, fatigue, mechanics, command and general gut feeling is a way better judge of whether Matt Harvey is being pushed too hard than some number of innings in and of itself. Watching for that stuff, then, is way more useful than watching the “IP” column on Baseball-Reference.com.