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Article on Relevancy of Pitch Counts

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The kind of article I've been waiting for, too bad they didn't really take a stab at the cool-down/warm-up factor:


By Gary Gillette

Special to ESPN.com


Ask a scout what he thinks about pitch counts and you could get any answer under the sun. There are more than a thousand professional scouts working for big-league organizations, and you can find a "veteran scout" to say just about anything on any topic. Baseball writers know that, and they take advantage of that to enhance their articles and columns with colorful, usually anonymous, quotes.


Even though you can find just about as many opinions as there are scouts, there are certain consistent themes that run through almost all of those opinions. There is a particular way of looking at the baseball world that can reasonably be labeled as the "scouts' viewpoint." Because scouts spend so much time on their own on the road even though they are an integral part of their organization and are in constant communication with their teams' front offices they are often independent thinkers and frank speakers. At least, they are when off the record, as many veteran scouts are a lot more colorful when they know their names won't appear next to their quotes.


Scouts are all ex-ballplayers. Most played professionally, though some only played in college. As ex-players, they have a natural tendency to dismiss the opinions of people who couldn't or didn't play the game at the level they did. Taken to the extreme, this natural tendency can become an intolerance of any viewpoint that isn't player-centric.


In this way, scouts are no different than any other group of people who have similar experiences, similar viewpoints and sometimes similar prejudices. So, when you ask a scout what he thinks of any theory propounded by analysts who haven't played the game, you'll often get a dismissive answer. It's the same with pitch counts.


Pitch counts are used mostly to protect young pitchers. The general assumption around the game is that veteran pitchers know their limits and will not exceed them, though a veteran hurler returning from a serious injury or surgery can be subject to a pitch count, especially during a rehab assignment.


No one has any problem with trying to protect young pitchers from injuries, of course. The controversy over pitch counts arises because some managers, coaches, scouts and players feel that a pitch count is an arbitrary limit that doesn't accomplish anything that coaching shouldn't already be factoring in.


When you boil it all down, the view of many scouts on pitch counts is that they are really no different than solid coaching and there have been good pitching coaches in the game for a lot longer than there have been pitch counts. A good coach constantly takes a pitcher's condition into account during the game, evaluating a myriad of elements that impact a pitcher's performance and his health. That's the coach's job, and he should be reevaluating his pitcher's condition with every pitch.


So, if you're a scout, and many of your friends are coaches or managers, you know that they are carefully watching their young pitchers at all times. After all, the future of a manager depends largely on how well his pitchers perform, and a pitching coach is acutely aware that his head will be the first one on the chopping block if his staff disappoints.


During a game, a good coach will be monitoring his pitcher constantly, looking for signs of trouble. While he may not articulate it, he is always thinking about a dozen or more factors that at any time can affect his charge:



The pitcher's age


His experience


His mechanics


His conditioning


Any previous injuries


His body type


How often and how long he has pitched recently


Any current health problems


His psychological makeup


The current game situation


Weather conditions


How long he spent in the dugout between innings


How many pitches he has already thrown in the game


Because of all of these variables, setting a rigid pitch count before the game seems like an unnecessary and artificial device to scouts: It can hamper the pitcher as well as put a straitjacket on the coach and the manager when they are trying to do their jobs.


Does every pitching coach or every manager know the answer to every question about a young pitcher? Of course not. Does every coach and every manager always make the right decision? No. But the good ones balance the complexities of the modern game and make personalized decisions about when a pitcher has had enough and when he's likely to strain so much that he's incurring an excessive chance of being injured.


And, if they're doing that, they've created a de facto pitch count for every pitcher in every game even if they don't articulate it as such.


Gary Gillette is the editor of the 2005 ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia, which was published in March by Sterling. Click here to order a copy. Gary can be reached via e-mail at [email protected].





And, the stat-head's view:

By Rob Neyer

Special to ESPN.com


Reasonable men can, and often do, disagree when the subject is pitch counts. But today when somebody says, "I don't believe in pitch counts," I don't believe him.


Much has been made, this young season, about the complete games thrown by various Marlins: two for Dontrelle Willis, two for A.J. Burnett and one for Josh Beckett. "See," they say, "this is how they used to do it, back when Jack McKeon was a young manager. Now he's an old manager, and he doesn't care about those silly pitch counts."


What's easy to miss is that all three pitchers were extremely efficient in their complete games. Willis's 114 pitches in his second route job were the most among the five. Or as Admin Dierker recently observed, "You should be able to throw a complete game if you've got a good game going."


Throwing a complete game isn't the same as throwing a lot of pitches. Still, it's hard to throw a lot of innings without throwing a lot of pitches. Which is probably why pitchers rarely very rarely throw a lot of innings in a game.


The last pitcher to throw at least 10 innings in a game was Roy Halladay, in 2003. He needed only 99 pitches (in part because he was facing the Tigers, who would finish the season with 119 losses).


The last pitcher to throw at least 11 innings was Andy Hawkins. That was nearly 15 years ago. The last pitcher who threw at least 12 innings was Charlie Hough (he threw 13). That was nearly 20 years ago (and he was a knuckleballer). The last pitcher who threw at least 14 innings was Mike Norris. That was nearly 25 years ago. Norris won 22 games that season. He won 25 the rest of his career. (Not to suggest there's a connection, but I just thought somebody might be interested.)


Today, you simply won't see any pitcher throw 140 pitches in a game, no matter how well he's doing. Some managers might say they don't believe in pitch counts, but all of them do. Or, rather, all of the managers' bosses believe in pitch counts.


And it's a good thing, too.


Like it or not, old baseball guys, young baseball pitchers are fragile creatures.



At 19, Dwight Gooden totaled 218 innings, and went 17-9. At 20, Gooden threw 276 2/3 innings and was easily the best pitcher in the world. At 21, Gooden pitched 250 innings and was merely excellent. And at 22 and for the rest of his long career Gooden was merely a good pitcher, with an ERA dead-on the league average.


At 20, Fernando Valenzuela led the National League in innings pitched and won the Cy Young Award. At 21, Valenzuela ranked No. 2 in innings pitched and won 19 games. He continued to rank among the league's hardest-working pitchers, despite a decline in effectiveness until he was 27, at which point Valenzuela turned into a below-average pitcher.


From the ages of 21 through 23, Steve Avery averaged 222 innings per season. He was supposed to wind up in Cooperstown. For the ages of 24 through 33, Avery went 46-47 with an ERA significantly worse than the league average.

One might look at those stories, and conclude that exceptionally young pitchers simply shouldn't be allowed to assume significant workloads in the major leagues. And after Avery pitched 210 innings as a 21-year-old in 1991, it would be another 11 years before another 21-year-old would top 200 innings in a season. In 2003, 21-year-old C.C. Sabathia threw 210 innings.


The Indians were careful, though; Sabathia never threw more than 122 pitches in a game. Jeremy Bonderman was 21 in 2004, and pitched 184 innings. But he never threw 120 pitches in a game. Zack Greinke was 20 in 2004, and pitched 145 innings. But he never threw 110 pitches in a game.


Three precocious pitchers and three organizations, each organization with its own way of doing things. But each had learned from the past, and decided that caution was the best course. Were they right? It's hard to say. Reasonable men can disagree.


But today everybody believes in pitch counts. We're just arguing about the details.


Senior writer Rob Neyer writes for Insider two or three times per week during the season. To offer criticism, praise or anything in between, send e-mail to [email protected].


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