7/2/09

On Pitch Counts

Yesterday, while watching Baseball Tonight - specifically, the Braves-Phillies highlight - the hosts mentioned that Jair Jurrjens had a no-hitter going through 7 and that Bobby Cox had said after the game, something to the effect of "I'm actually glad they broke up the no-hitter; I was concerned about his pitch count." The hosts then mentione that Jurrjens threw 97 pitches through 7 innings.

We - and we really can't put this strongly enough - hate pitch counts. This is not based on some old-school notion of "pitchers should be manly men who throw 400 innings a season like the good old days! Ed Walsh never would've come out of a game after 6 innings!" No, this is based on the idea that, to quote Herm Edwards, You Play To Win The Game. If your pitcher is dominating the WFC to the tune of a no-hitter through 7 innings, and he's showing no signs of tiring, don't pay attention to his pitch count. 100 is not some magic number whereby your pitcher's arm is going to fall off should he dare throw another pitch.

We know we're not breaking new ground here, which is in part why Cox's quote was so distressing. Countless pitchers, media types, and bloggers with much more of a head for research and numbers work than ourselves have gone on record saying things to the effect of: too much importance is placed on pitch counts these days. If a guy is struggling, it's hot out, he's having to nibble at corners all day, etc, then he might not be effective past even 75 or so pitches. If a guy's on cruise control, his stuff's all working, the slider's sludding, etc, then he shouldn't have a problem running it up to 120 pitches.

To wit: the idea of pitcher protection, according to the Hardball Times article linked above, came about around 15 years ago. And ever since then...well, pitchers are still getting hurt. It's a wildly violent, unnatural motion, pitching is, and no amount of pitcher protection is going to change that. You can ride a guy like CC Sabathia, and he won't get hurt. You can ride a guy like Mark Prior, and he will. Baby a guy like Ben Sheets, and he'll get hurt. Baby a guy like Roy Halladay and you're shooting yourself in the foot. It's a delicate science, to be sure, but we would argue that a basic tenet of pitching is to use your starters as much as possible. They're starters because they are more skilled at their craft than relievers; that's why they're handed more innings.

What we really want to say is this, and it's mostly directed towards the inimitable Bobby Cox, one of the greatest managers of all time: if your young stud pitcher is cruising, no-hitter or not, don't get the bullpen up just because he's nearing a hundred pitches. Stop making us question your acumen! This is twice in the last week.

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