Yes, technological advancements are transforming the pitch counter, but that same technology can’t do much for the pitchers themselves. Today’s starting pitchers are not nearly as durable as the older models, who routinely finished what they started before rigid pitch counts helped the complete game to become an endangered species. But even though it is utilized, referenced and debated more than ever, keeping a pitch count isn’t anything new. But let’s just say it wasn’t quite as important in baseball’s past, as an anecdote from Hall of Famer Jim Palmer will demonstrate.
“The first time I ever kept a chart,” the former Oriole great recalled recently, “[Mike] Cuellar gave up a leadoff hit with a 5-2 lead with [Rod] Carew, [Tony] Oliva and [Harmon] Killebrew coming up, and I said, ‘Mr. Weaver, that’s his 135th pitch.’ “
And legendary manager Earl Weaver responded, “Get your rear end to the other end of the dugout. I’ll let you know if he’s tired.”
Palmer said, “So I got the idea right then that pitch counts didn’t mean much to Earl.”
If anyone wants to listen to an interesting discussion on this topic, this week's Baseball HQ podcast has a discussion with baseball injury analyst Rick Wilton.
Without getting into the nuiances here, he concludes that the the rise in pitcher injuries are not due to pitch count but rather 1) the post-1980s empahsis on weight training which builds up pitcher muscles in a way that is not entirely condusive to throwing long/hard. 2) related to point one, weight training is seen as a substitute (or at least a supplement) to just throwing and long-tossing, which builds the muscle (and muscle memory) in a way that supports bigger worloads. He notes that in Japan and other regions where weightlifting is not emphasized but throwing regulalry is, the injury rates are significantly lower.
He also notes that Mazzone demphasized weights with his Braves pitchers -- Smotlz, Glavine annd Maddux all going strong at an advanced age.
This is entirely anecdotal, but I remember seeing pitcures of Satchel Paige soaking his pitching arm and there was absolutely no/fat or muscle on the thing. It was a twig. This guy threw 3+ games a week for many years.
Using the same rigid pitch count for all pitchers is the problem, in my opinion. We can all agree that not all pitchers are the same, so why do analysts/reporters/managers/etc. arbitrarily use 100 pitches as some magical limit?
I think it's the pitching coach's responsibility to watch his pitchers' mechanics. When pitchers tire, mechanics break down and performance suffers (also, injuries are more likely to occur when mechanics are poor). Some pitchers are going to tire at 85 pitches, but some can maintain their mechanics well into the 120-pitch range. This, I believe, is really the crux of the "I'll let you know when he's tired" point of view.
Yeah. The idea that pitch counts must be applied to every pitcher. I think they are quite needed for young pitchers or known to be fragile pitchers but some guys are just horses. Dontrelle Willis, Carlos Zambrano, Roy Oswalt, Brandon Webb. Some guys like that come to mind where a pitch count just seems silly. Let them do their thing.
Do we really know pitchers today aren't as durable as pitchers from before? The 100 pitch limit is so ingrained into how managers handle pitchers these days, I don't think we could really tell. The recent high profile injuries to top young arms (Prior, Wood, Harden, et. al) have more to do with their own personal pitch mechanics rather than throwing too much IMO.
Personally, I like the pitch count limit, especially at the youth levels of the game like little league and H.S. The idea that no one completes half their starts anymore is somehow a sad deterioration in the game is nonsense. People seem to ignore the fact that for every mule like Steve Carlton, there were dozens of shortened careers like Randy Jones, Mel Stottlemyre, and Denny McLain. They were great pitchers in their own right (All-Stars and Cy Young winners, even) but the age of 30 was like a brick wall to them. Can anyone honestly say these guys wouldn't have benefited from one less season of 20+ complete games?
One thing about the japanese method, is that their "casualties" are somewhat hidden. Yes, they don't have pitchers break down in the normal course ot their career, but the ones that can't stand up to their routine get washed out early, and not nearly as common as here in the states are the 30+ pitchers - tend to burn out around 30.
Think that's the general case when pitch counts are ignored. In the majors back in the "old days", the same trends were going on, lot of early burnouts, 30+ burnouts, and the survivors were the ones who were genetically suited for pitching, very good pitchers to begin with so that their "burning down" stats were still pretty good, plus good driving mechanics with the torso, lessoning the load on the arm...like Seaver for instance.
I think it depends on the pitcher. For some guys, they need to be closer monitered than others. While weights may work for some, it is true that just throwing more is often a better approach for others. It is not set in stone as to whether or not they are good or not.