Black Jack

Pondering the Pitchcount

   I could write a 300 page book about this subject but I thought I'd just outline the basics of why pitch counts are a complete farce and are virtually worthless.
1. A pitcher will warm up for 15 to 20 minutes prior to the game.  Pitcher "A" throws 50 pitches during his pre-game warm-up.  Pitcher "B" throws 80 pitches in his pre-game after 5 minutes of longtoss in the outfield.  Yet when they get to 100 pitches during the game...they are considered to have the same "workload" despite the 30 pitch difference. Apparently pre-game pitches don't put strain on your arm.

2. How about between innings?  Some guys throw their full 7 allowed pitches between innings (FYI-I threw 5).  Over the course of 6 innings that's 12 more pitches that aren't counted.

3.  How many times did a pitcher throw over on a pickoff attempt or throw to a base on a defensive play?

4. Here's a list of variables that are also NOT thrown into the mix:
    - previous nights sleep
    - nutrition differences
    - training regimens  (Is 100 pitches the same for David Wells vs Roy Halladay?)
    - previous starts
    - difficulty of the game ie stressful pitches
    - how you feel rhythm-wise during the game

Can we see a pattern here?  The science of pitch counts is a myth.  Managers are scolded and questioned if they leave a pitcher in past 130 pitches like that's the tell-tale number that will rip his rotator cuff from his arm! 

  Imagine if the magic number was 120 instead of 100.  The game would be much different than it is and I would argue much better.  I can't wait for the first manager who has the nerve to say, "my pitcher only warms up with 50 pitches and the Major League average for warmups is 70.  Therefore when my guy reaches 120, it's everyone else's 100.  That's a manager I'll work for!
    
   

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19 Comments

bkelly said:

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Jack, love the blog, and have generally agreed with every post you have made. I definitely love this post, and I really do wish more attention would be given to the totally arbitrary nature of 100 pitches being the borderline for arm health.

Do you expect this fad to only get worse? It seems (at least from an anecdotal perspective) that young kids (seven or eight years old) all the way through high school are put on pitch counts and inning counts, etc. If a young player is put on these restrictions, how hard is it for them to stretch their arm out to be able to handle additional pitches and innings? Do you think a lot of the pitch count madness comes from kids/coaches/parents trying to protect the kid at a young age so they can get their payday sometime in the future? And, at the professional level, how much of the pitch count crap is dictated by ownership trying to protect their investment because they have it set in their mind that a pitcher's arm will fall off when said player reaches 101 pitches and 200.1 innings?

I'm only 28 so I've never seen a 300 inning pitcher in my lifetime. Given the five man rotations, I don't ever expect to see one either. But it would certainly be nice to see a pitcher complete 20 games in a season.

Jack McDowell said:

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You're right to point to the 5 man rotation. That is a relatively new idea in the baseball world as well. 35 years or so. Little League now has pitch counts so instead of actually teaching the game of baseball, parents have to sit there with clickers and count pitches. I was a big fan of little league in the past but I think they are ruining the game with all the micro managing and rules they are adding. I started coaching High School two years ago and was floored when my #1 pitcher came up to me in a big game and told me he was done after 4 innings. Turns out his mom was in the crowd counting pitches and they thought that 75 was enough! The bottom line is that injuries have not decreased but rather increased over this time/era. We need to wake up to that fact. It's not working!

bkelly said:

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After 4 innings, what the hell is that? As a coach, how do you overcome that sort of mentality that the parents have to not "overwork" their kids? It seems like we have a generation of Mark Priors developing.

Jack McDowell said:

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Tell me about it. Anyway, that is not how it is turning out at my school! Our number one last year was in the top three in innings pitched and complete games. Hell, it's seven innings and these kids are 17 or 18 years old! I refuse to give in to the insanity!

Rick S said:

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You make a persuasive argument on this pitch count issue. However, allow me to digress and ask you what you think of Anderson asking to be traded?

First of all, if a guy wants a trade, can't he just have a private conversation with his GM to this affect? Doesn't making this public make it difficult for the GM to get something decent in return?

My immediate response when I saw this article was, "but Brian, who the hell wants you?" Then I realized there is still the National League. The thing about Anderson is, will he ever develop as a hitter? This is a guy who will swing at the first pitch after a pitcher throws three walks. He has zero situational hitting skills, strikes out a lot and his power numbers seem to be deteriorating.

What can you say about Buerhle's PG? I'll leave the comments to the blowhards on ESPN and elsewhere, but how great is this for Mark and for the team to ride into Detroit.

Finally, speaking of blowhards, who is your least favorite local (meaning Chicago) sportswriter/commentator? For me, Rick Morrisey takes the cake. He continually demonstrates his lack of knowledge for whichever game he's writing about and makes this silly, couch potato arguments. I suppose newspapers have this sort of guys to connect with the average joe, who often knows very little about the game their watching.


Jack McDowell said:

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A very complex set of questions but here goes nothing. Anderson asking to be traded is just a knee jerk reaction to a guy who was a bit too comfortable underachieving and now has a wake up call. I'm sure the Sox would be more than willing to trade him if they could get something decent in return. As far as Marks game, I just posted about it. And my least favorite reporter type is Jay Marriotti. Exploitative, lying, backhanded. All the great self serving techniques of today's journalists!

Jimmymac120912 said:

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Jack,
If the pitch count is not working to avoid injuries, then what will? You keep saying the same thing over and over, but have no solution on why injuries have increased since the era of pitch counts.
As from a managers standpoint how in the hell is a manager suppost to believe a pitcher is ok to go out for the 8th or 9th inning? Assuming all these major league pitchers are competitors; they are gonna tell the manager they can pitch into the 10th if needed. A managers ass in on the line say one of these guys cant make their next start because of a tired arm or sore shoulder. I just think your looking from outside the box, which means your able to say the things your saying. Realistically, if you were a manager of a major league team you would treat the pitchers the same way. Because my thought is that the suits upstairs are telling managers to do it a certain way.

Jack McDowell said:

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You're correct. The suits are saying it. And the suits are idiots! A managers job is to be able to evaluate his players, know how the game is going etc. That is why, realistically, American League managers have a tougher job than National League ones contrary to the myth that has been shoved down our throats to the contrary. In the National League the baseball situation dictates 95% of the "moves" made. If you know "the game" at the basic level, those double switches etc. are B.S. The situation dictates when you pinch hit for a pitcher and when you use guys. Show me a manager who can evaluate whether his pitcher can throw one more inning or finish a game based on nothing other than knowledge of your player and your take on THAT particular game. That defines your stud manager. And, you are also correct that the managers ass is on the line. That is my whole point! The manager consequently will make the "pass the buck" move and go with the lefthander vs the lefthander and the closer in a save situation...period. I would fight this tooth and nail if I was a manager or coach. I guess that's why I haven't been overly excited to do that. Does that make any sense to you?

Jimmymac120912 said:

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Jack,
You still are avoiding my question. What is the solution too decreasing injuries to pitchers in todays game? You can go on and on between the difference of managers between the National and American league. However, you have not given me a solution on why these pitchers are getting hurt so often. Is it their contract, that they don't want to risk it? Is it the way pithcers were brought up? Is it the pitching coach handling them the wrong way? What is your solution to have starting pitchers go the distance? In a five man rotation pitchers should have the durability to go the distance if needed. Yet no one is telling us why they don't, other than the crutch of the "pitch count." Can you give a technique pitching wise, or a nutritional behavior that can help starting pitchers become more durable?

Jack McDowell said:

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Sorry, didn't mean to avoid! I believe in survival of the fittest. There have always been injuries in sports. I think that all pitchers are babied now which not only exposes those who would get hurt no matter what, but does not prepare the studs to be able to handle the workload. I don't have a magic formula other than if I was paying a guy $10,000,000.00 to throw for me, he would go on a four day rotation to get another 5 starts a year! My $15,000,000.00 guy would get another 7 starts a year as they did back in the four man days. Those who are going to remain healthy will be the studs as they always have. It's in preparation, mindset and training. I think they have gone the opposite way with the studs. If you're a highly paid stud, don't protect him, ride the hell out of him! That's supposed to be why they make the big money. It starts as kids. I distinctly remember the first baseball game I came out as a pitcher. It was in High school, junior year...ONE TIME. When you were the pitcher when I grew up, you were the pitcher until the game ended. Then we went home and played catch/pickle/pepper in the backyard. I couldn't tell you how many pitches I EVER threw in a big league game because nobody gave a shit! The whole culture has to change to change this dynamic.

Jimmymac120912 said:

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Jack,
Basically your saying pitchers should be handled the same way C.C. Sabathia was handled in Milwaukee. Ride the best guy you have because he gives you the best chance to win. I agree. However, is Sabathia the fittest starting pitcher you have ever seen? Look at a guy like A.J. Burnett who I think has the nastiest stuff in the American League. As a manager are you not going to be careful with him because of his history? Thats why I think managing a baseball team is the hardest thing to do in sports. It is so 50/50 on what you are going to get from a stud pitcher. I am not saying I disagree with your logic, I am just saying I think you would do it differently if you were a managing a major league team.

Jack McDowell said:

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I absolutely would evaluate the situation. Burnett has always been hurt so firstly I never would have given him the money in the first place or counted on him to be a #1 or #2 guy. C.C. is an athlete. I've had a couple of comments about him recently suggesting that he is overweight etc. but behind those baggy pants is a guy who could kick most people's butts on the basketball court, could play football for anyone and can hit like a player. Don't be fooled. Managing a team is hard because the actual job is to know your players and be able to relate to them. There are many personalities that need to be dealt with. I am mostly frustrated with the generational fiction that has surfaced in baseball. I would HAVE to manage differently if I was there right now. I would have to deal with a bunch of guys who have dealt with pitch counts since little league! The thing needs to change back. That's all. When I was with the Yankees in '95, Buck Showalter got the AZ job. He had two years to get the organization up and running before they took the field. He and I had numerous discussions about him turning that organization back to a four man thing. We talked about how players and agents would respond etc. He was sold on the idea and when he parted, I was certain he would accomplish that. Needless to say, he wasn't able to pull it off. I would guess the suits denied him! Bottom line, it will be very difficult to change things back. But it is possible if we start focusing on the reality of the myth.

Jimmymac120912 said:

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I have not even mentioned agents. I am sure they have a lot influence too. As far as your Burnett comment; you would not have given him the money? I just think with the Yankees money your going to give him the money. It just all depends on who your the GM for. I mean damn they gave Carl Pavano money he didnt deserve and their still doing alright. I love your story about Buck Showalter, I wish there were more guys like him.

bkelly said:

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Jack,
That's a great comment about Showalter, I wish there were more with his mindset. I've always loved when a team drops to a four man rotation for the strech run or playoff push, etc. But a lot of that depends on pitchers who want the ball every four days and are willing to put that kind of extra work in. There don't seem to be a lot of pitchers willing to do that anymore. Of the 150-175 starting pitchers in baseball now, how many of them do you actually think have the mindset to be in a four man rotation?

Maybe I am oversimplifying things, but it seems to me that a pitcher who wants to be in a four man rotation needs to have the right mindset to put in the work. I would think this is similar to your previous posts about pitchers wanting to work on their pickoff moves or hitters wanting to work on bunting, and outfielders wanting to work on hitting the cutoff man, etc.

Jack McDowell said:

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I would think that players and agents would love to go to a four man but maybe I'm underestimating that. Let's put it this way, if you're a starter you'd get 7 or 8 more starts per year. If you win half of them, you bump from a 10 game winner to a 14 game winner or a 15 to a 19 etc. Why not kick ass in your prime. Tons of guys from the four man age had very long careers regardless of the 300 inning thing. If you're going to break down, it's gonna happen either way. It has nothing to do with workload. Otherwise why would a middle guy or a closer ever get hurt when they'll only throw 70 innings a year?

Noneck said:

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Hey Jack,

Its looks like Leyland is following your philosophy with Verlander.

Jack McDowell said:

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Ride the horses baby.

bighurt27 said:

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This post has added much fuel to my arguments (pitch counts, AL vs. NL). You've put what I've been thinking into words. Jack you've always been a favorite of mine and your blog is a breath of fresh air. Keep up the great work.

part-time pariah said:

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all you have to really do is look to historical stats, from the 70s and back. guys were throwing waaaaaaaay more innings without any 'medical technology'. it burns me up to watch nancies like harden pitch with a 'medically imposed' pitch count.

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