Pitch Count Porn

Last year the San Francisco Chronicle’s Bruce Jenkins ran a two-part piece in which he argued that teams should put more thought into their pitch counts, developing evaluation systems and protocols to determine when a pitcher is truly getting tired rather than simply impose a hard number of pitches on everyone. That’s actually a pretty good idea, I think, though the fact that Jenkins couched it all in terms of the alleged problem of the vanishing complete game had me wondering whether he was simply substituting one arbitrary standard (CGs) for another (pitch counts).

Be that as it may, today Jenkins runs a series of pitch count factoids that couldn’t fit in his original article, and boy howdy are they fun:

In a 16-inning, complete-game win against Baltimore in 1962, Washington’s Tom Cheney threw 228 pitches.

[Nolan] Ryan, known as much for his walks as his strikeouts, routinely approached 200 pitches in a career that spanned 27 years, 222 complete games and 5,386 innings pitched. In 1974, according to beat writers in attendance, Ryan threw 259 pitches in a 12-inning win over Kansas City.

Lots more there. The kind of stuff that would make Rany Jazayerli cringe and Dusty Baker say “damn!”

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Comments

  1. Jim said...

    Seems to me that the next big evolution from a straight pitch count will be the use of Pitch FX data to help assess how tired a pitcher is. As a pitcher tires, I would imagine his release point becomes more inconsistent as his mechanics start to break down (and potentially put him at risk of injury). By keeping an eye on live Pitch FX readings vs. the player’s normal release points for the particular pitches he throws, you should be able to tell if someone’s going strong or tiring at 120 pitches, regardless of ball/strike ratio or velocity.

  2. themarksmith said...

    I wonder if it would be better to let guys go 120 pitches on nights they’re loose and letting it go and rein them in to 80-90 on nights they are laboring. Ultimately, it works out evenly pitch count wise over the season, but it reduces stress on nights that they “just don’t have it”. I guess, though, when you have CC (and really any competitive player), it might be hard to tell when those bad nights are.

  3. ericinboston said...

    doesnt an argument lose credibility when you begin a phrase “so and so reckons…” ??

    and his thought that it would take “2-3 years to take hold” is dumb, too. it’s taken longer than that for teams to embrace OBP and that seems less radical than allowing tim lincecum to throw 200 pitches.

    this is just so dumb. what’s the point even? so old timers can read the paper and get all misty-eyed thinking of their boyhood heroes?

    how can a person argue against a team wanting to protect their investments?

    contrary to the article, i dont think its “pretty much the same game.” the massive amounts of money involved now suggest otherwise. i also think the DH and patient approaches at the plate have changed the game not to mention steroids and hitters parks and the altitude at Coors.

  4. GBS said...

    I’m tempted to dissect Jenkins’ column in detail, but for now I’ll mention three things:

    1. His list of pitchers under “The Workload” is mainly HOFers or similarly-quality pitchers – the exceptions, not the norm – and many are from the 60s and 70s, the heyday of pitching.

    2. He mentions Joe Oeschger and Leon Cadore throwing well over 300 pitches each in a 1920 game.  Check b-ref and see how fast their careers fell apart afterward.  It might have happened anyway, but…

    3. When “Vin Scully…reckons,” “Tom Seaver…figured,” and “Lolich knew from the start he’d go nine,” I can’t help thinking this is another case of guys defending their era as the greatest time ever.

    Are pitchers babied too much now?  Probably, but the other extreme didn’t work out too well for those that didn’t survive the shredder.

  5. Dan Greer said...

    I’m sure someone’s made this observation before, but there’s a couple additional factors that might have contributed to higher pitch counts from decades ago:

    1) The higher mound angle, which may benefit certain types of pitchers in using their entire bodies, leading to better mechanics;

    2) Larger vertical strike zone, which favors fastballs and 12-6 curveballs; the former is the easiest pitch on the arm, and the latter is much easier on the arm than sliders or splitters – which are more common now.

    I have no trouble believing that a horse like Ryan could throw 200 effective pitches in a game, if 150 of them were heaters.

    I do not necessarily think these are the primary factors, as those have been discussed already (tougher hitters, more money, less record-keeping).

    Just in my experience from pitching as a youth, certain types of pitches took a lot more out of me than others; I didn’t have the fine mechanics to throw a good curveball, and switching to a slider put a lot more strain on my arm (but it was more effective). Any thoughts on this?

  6. RobRob said...

    Gotta love anecdotes like this that are so easily debunked.  Ryan pitched several complete games against the Royals in 1974, but only one was an extra-inning game and it was only 10 innings.  Even then, he only faced 38 batters, which was not dramatically higher than what he faced in his other complete games.

    The beat writers are probably conflating their memories against KC with this game against the Red Sox (http://www.retrosheet.org/boxesetc/1974/B06140CAL1974.htm).  Ryan started the game, threw 13 innings allowing 3 runs on 8 hits (1 HR), 10 walks, and 19 strikeouts (facing 58!! batters), but he didn’t finish and he didn’t get the win.  In fact, his wasn’t even the heaviest workload in the game.  Luis Tiant pitched the whole 14.1 innings, facing 56 batters and allowing 4 runs on 11 hits, 4 walks, and 5 strikeouts.

  7. JasonB said...

    From the “Research is fun, and not all that difficult!” department…

    The Angels and Royals didn’t play any 12-inning games in 1974.  They did play a 10-inning affair in which Ryan threw a complete game for the Angels, but his pitch count likely wasn’t especially high, with just 4 H, 4 BB, 15 K, and 38 batters faced.  They did play two extra inning games in 1973, but Ryan didn’t start the first (Singer did), and while Ryan did start the second, he pitched only five innings of a 10-inning tilt.  Likewise, they did play four (!) extra inning games in 1975, none of which Ryan started.  So that 259-pitch game is one of those hobgoblins that sounds great but appears to never have, you know, *actually* existed.

    That said, I would love to know how many pitches Ryan threw on June 14, 1974 against the Red Sox: 13 IP, 8 H, 10 BB, 19 K, 58 BF.

  8. GBS said...

    Here we go again, letting facts get in the way of a good story.  Won’t somebody think of the children?!?!

    How disappointed will some six-year-old boy be when, after listening to his grandpappy regale him with tales from long ago of 24-inning marathons in which both hurlers went the distance, the kid goes to Retrosheet and finds out grandpa was full of it?

    We’re ruining memories and generational bonding with details like the truth.  What a bunch of dream crushers we all are.

  9. JasonB said...

    *Kicks the dirt at my feet.*  I guess…with all the hustle and bustle, in this crazy topsy-turvy world we live in, I just didn’t stop and think.

    But wait! I just discovered that they played a secret game on August 2nd for the troops, some sick kids, n’ Jesus.  Ryan threw 21 innings and 317 pitches, and saved a puppy from a tree and a kid from a well.  Or was it a puppy from a well and a kid from a tree? No matter.

    Life is good again, and worth living.

    /Fixed/

  10. Wooden U. Lykteneau said...

    *sigh*

    The old-timers have such a selective memory. Ask yourself these two questions:

    1.) When was the last time a 26-year-old retired because of a “dead arm?”

    2.) When was the last time there were this many starting pitchers aged 40 or older?

    And citing Nolan Ryan is like saying “Gee, that Yao Ming has a high FG%, why can’t everyone shoot that well?”—the man had been tested to have a freakish ratio of fast-twitch to slow-twitch muscles.

  11. RobRob said...

    @GBS – I assume you’re being facetious with the “We’re ruining memories and generational bonding with details like the truth.  What a bunch of dream crushers we all are.”

    The thing is though that it’s the bad memories of the beat writers that are ruining the great stories.  That Angels-Sox game should be legendary, and instead we get NOLAN RYAN WAS A BEAST I TELL YA!!

    (We should probably leave it unsaid that Ryan and Tiant are of different -ahem- ethnic background.)

  12. Rusty said...

    Wow, with all those high pitch counts, no wonder Nolan Ryan flamed out at a young age and was never heard from again.

    Oh wait…he pitched durably and effectively until he was 47.

    Pitch counts have some value, and throwing a lot of pitches can increase injury risk.  Throwing 130 pitches on a cold night is not a good idea.  It’s good that teams are monitoring their young pitchers’ workloads.

    But throwing a lot of pitches also builds up arm strength and improves durability.  I think momentum has swung too far and pitch counts are relied upon too much now.

  13. GBS said...

    @RobRob – yes, quite facetious.

    @Rusty – Nolan Ryan is the exception, not the norm.  As I said in an earlier comment:

    “Are pitchers babied too much now?  Probably, but the other extreme didn’t work out too well for those that didn’t survive the shredder.”

  14. RobRob said...

    Let me also point out that had that Sox-Angels game been Sox-Yankees, there probably would have been 15 books about it by now.

  15. gotowarmissagnes said...

    Rusty, Ryan pitched 205 IP as a 19 year old in the minors.  He was out almost the entire year as a 20 year old with an arm injury.  Over the next 4 years he only pitched between 89 and 152 IP.  It wasn’t until he was 25 that he pitched over 200 IP in the majors.

    IOW, he’s hardly a supporting point on the lack of a connection between high pitch counts and injuries.

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