Bobby Valentine will let them throw

In his time in Boston Terry Francona was known to be quite a stickler for pitch counts. In 2011 his pitchers averaged 97.1 pitches per game started, which was only slightly lower than his average in Boston of 98.5. While Bobby Valentine has had to count on his starters to avoid using his bullpen right now, he’s had no fear in topping 100 pitches for his starters.

In April the Red Sox starters have averaged 102.4 pitches per start. Only Clay Buchholz is below 100 pitches.

Pitcher	Pitches/GS
Jon Lester	107
Josh Beckett	102.4
Clay Buchholz	98
Felix Doubront	101.5
Daniel Bard	101

It’s especially interesting to see that the two starters who spent all or much of 2011 as relievers have also been allowed to go to more than 100 pitches consistently.

It wasn’t like Valentine didn’t warn us this spring. In an Nolan Ryan and Charlie Hough. It looked like he was throwing pitchers quite a bit, but in New York with more pressure to control pitch counts and no longer the horses he had in Texas, his pitch counts seemed more in line with league averages.

Valentine then spent some time in Japan—with a completely different environment regarding pitch counts—and he seems to have brought that experience back to his position in Boston. Japanese pitchers have much different approaches, including throwing 200-pitch sessions between starts and plenty of pitches even before the season starts. It’s difficult to say who’s system is “right,” but Valentine seems ready to lay his money on the eastern system.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that the manager with a short, two-year contract and at the age of 61 is best able to challenge the system, but should the Red Sox front office be concerned? There really hasn’t been much conclusive data that proves or denies any of the pitch count rules. Year after year we see Tom Verducci write that young pitchers with big jumps in innings break down, and teams stick to their pitch rules, but year after year we see young pitchers fall to elbow and shoulder troubles. As Valentine points out, the Nationals counted and watched every pitch by Stephen Strasburg very closely, but he still fell victim to Tommy John surgery.

The issue I see is trying to set general rules based on averaged data to deal with health and injury. No two pitchers are perfectly the same and then you add in mechanics that may be good or bad. None of that is accounted for when you set a pitch limit of a general value like 100. Whether you limit pitchers to 100 or you don’t, there will still be injuries and someone will claim the other system is better.

We need more intensive research with general physical stature and pitch counts. Once this is all tied to injury data you might be able to set some general rules, but even then you’re dealing with something that might be too unpredictable.

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  1. bucdaddy said...

    I hope this year’s epic collapse in the last two weeks of the season is as entertaining as last year’s.

  2. MikeS said...

    While I have no doubt that Valentine doesn’t care what naybody else thinks and this is certainly an example of putting his money where his mouth is, might the high workload for starters have something to do with the manager knowing what he has (or doesn’t have) in the bullpen?  They have already used 10 different relievers.  11 if you count Bard’s one relief appearance.

  3. Matt Sullivan said...

    Thus far, he has not only let his starters throw, but he has failed to recognize obvious signs of tiring, particularly in two of Bard’s starts, but also at least once with Lester and once with Buchholz. Whether he wants to stretch these guys or he is afraid to go to the bullpen, he has routinely pulled his starters one or two batter’s too late (by effectiveness not pitch count)

  4. RDG said...

    The rule used to be that the pitchers will let you know when they are tired.  Pitch counts don’t matter and are pointless.  Way to go Bobby V!  Just learn to see the signs when your pitchers are tired.

  5. Bruce Markusen said...

    Pitch counts matter; it’s just that they have become the be-all and end-all for managers and coaches in determining when to take a pitcher out.

    Jim Kaat said it best. On a good day, when a pitcher is feeling good and his mechanics are sound, he can throw 140-plus pitches. On a bad day, he might be gassed at 70.

    Teams need to get past this idea of a hard pitch count. Pitch counts should be a guide, not a red light or a stop sign.

  6. Marc Schneider said...

    Most managers seems to like bright-line rules for decision making, probably because it eliminates their need to think and, to some extent, insulates them from criticism.  (“Oh, we couldn’t send Joe Schmoe out there next inning; he had already thrown 100 pitches.)  If you are expecting baseball managers to be in the forefront of nuanced tactical decision-making, I suspect you will be waiting a long time.

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