In early October 2007 when I started my blog (www.baseballreflections.com), Nathan, a reader, asked what my opinion was on the use of pitch counts in Major League Baseball. Sorry for the delay, Nathan!
This topic, like the use of modern-day bullpens, are both subjects that I definitely have an opinion on. Both of these articles show my “Old School” thinking on baseball. I guess you can say that I’m sort of a hybrid baseball thinker. So, here it goes…
It is my opinion that there is a good use for pitch counts in Major League Baseball, but only in certain circumstances. To use them across the board like teams do these days is a bit too extreme if you ask me! I think it is an intelligent practice when used for pitchers that have arm or shoulder problems, are in spring training, are older, or are in rehab assignments.
I understand that with players' salaries the way they are today, ownership wants to protect their investments by protecting their pitchers. One way of doing this is by implementing pitch counts. Still, l don’t agree with the overuse of this method.
Teams are not optimizing their talent, but instead are being overprotective of all of their pitchers, not just the stars of their pitching staffs.
For example, I have no problem using pitch counts if a player is coming off arm or shoulder surgery of any kind (rotator cuff, Tommy John, etc.). In these cases, the use of pitch count in limiting a pitcher’s duration is a wise move. Pitchers are prideful creatures that would rather have their arm fall off than be taken out of a game in the middle of an inning (for the most part). In these situations, if you don’t use pitch counts, you chance the player re-injuring the surgically repaired arm or shoulder.
Other good times to use this method are with rookies who have yet to pitch in a 162-game season, or in aging players who are struggling to stay healthy over the same 162 games. For an example of this, see Roger Clemens: This is why he hasn’t started until around May the past few years.
Although he is a shoo-in for a first ballot Hall of Fame selection, his body just hasn’t allowed him to play a full season without giving up on him in August or September when it counts the most! All other use of this method, in my opinion, is overkill!
To the best of my knowledge, and please correct me if I’m wrong, what happens when this method is adopted is that pitchers (in general) no longer throw on the side, in warm ups, or at any other times like they use to in years past. American pitchers simply do not throw enough! In order to get their arms to full strength, and possibly to even strengthen them, you have to throw. Don’t just take my word on it, he’s what some men currently in the game professionally have said concerning the use of pitch counts.
In Japan, they approach things a little differently. Here is part of an article I found last offseason where Tom Verducci, in the Sports Economist (from 8/7/07), asked former major league manager Bobby Valentine, now a manager in Japan for a number of years, about how they handle pitchers in the Japanese Baseball League.
Valentine …admits that he too coddled pitchers in the majors, though it took understanding the Japanese throwing philosophy for him to see the error of that accepted practice. “The Japanese pitchers have superior mechanics,” Valentine says. “They also have wonderful balance and core and foundation strength. They work the small muscle groups, and [Americans] work the large ones. The large ones make you look better. Valentine allows most of his starters to throw 200 bullpen pitches a day in the spring. “They have been doing it forever and have not broken down,” he says. On the day before a starter takes the mound, he’ll throw 90 pitches in the pen and, Valentine says, “have [his] best fastball in the ninth inning” the next day.
It is my hope that Daisuke Matsuzaka of the Boston Red Sox can help drill this Japanese approach into our American minds and help change the way that teams in the MLB use pitch counts. He can influence a change in approach by keeping up with his routine while being a very effective major league pitcher.
“We pay attention to pitch counts, but there are a bunch of priorities ahead of pitch counts,” says Atlanta’s Leo Mazzone, one of the best pitching coaches. “You use common sense. What if a guy’s out there, he’s got a hundred pitches and he isn’t tired? There might be a time when a guy has less than 90 pitches and is shot. A guy’s face, his mound presence, his mechanics are going to tell me much more than any pitch count.”
**For anyone who disagrees with me on this, please chime in, and if enough people do so, I’ll publish those comments outside of the comment section as a later post or as an extension of this post (at the bottom).**
You can read more from Peter Schiller at his blog, Baseball Reflections.