Will Tim Lincecum's Arm Survive Legendary 148-Pitch No-Hitter?
The first is zero, which is how many hits Lincecum gave up in leading the Giants to a 9-0 victory. We call that a "no-hitter" in the industry, and they're always fun.
But then there's the other number: 148.
That's how many pitches Lincecum needed to throw his no-no, in part because he walked four and struck out 13. This would be the less-than-awesome aspect of his performance, as that's a lot of pitches in this day and age.
So much so, in fact, that one can't help but wonder...is this no-hitter going to come back to bite Lincecum? Will his arm survive the extra work?
Frankly, it would be foolhardy not to be a little worried about Lincecum right now. But if you're thinking he's doomed to get hurt as a result of those extra pitches, you can settle down. There's a fair chance Lincecum is going to be all right.
Of all the times Lincecum could have picked to run his pitch count up to 148, he absolutely could not have picked a better one. The All-Star break begins on Monday, and that means Lincecum is due for a little extra rest before he makes his next start.
He may even get more than "a little" extra rest depending on how Giants manager Bruce Bochy chooses to line up his rotation for the second half of the season. Lincecum would be pitching on five days' rest instead of his typical four if Bochy decides to start him right out of the gate on Friday, but he could easily give Lincecum six or seven full days of rest if he so chooses.
Don't be surprised if that's the route that Bochy and the Giants choose to take. It's the "better safe than sorry" route, and the Giants have incentive to take it because A) they don't want to ruin an arm they're spending a lot of money on and B) they don't want to ruin an arm that they could be looking to deal at the trade deadline.
In the meantime, what we know about Lincecum's arm is that it's generally been handled with care this season, and it's been healthy throughout his entire career.
Before Lincecum took the mound on Saturday night, he hadn't even thrown as many as 110 pitches since way back on May 12 in a seven-inning effort against the Atlanta Braves. That was the second of two straight 110-pitch efforts, but Lincecum had only been averaging 99 pitches per start heading into Saturday. The only other time his average pitch count was under 100 was in 2007, when he was a rookie.
Now think back to Sept. 13, 2008. That was the date Lincecum set his previous career high with 138 pitches against the Padres. He had thrown 127 pitches the start before, and 132 pitches two starts before that one. He had topped 110 pitches in seven of eight starts before that one.
Through it all, Lincecum's arm was just fine, which of course has been the story of his career to this point. We tend to look at him as a pitcher who might be undone by the slightest breeze at any moment, but he's never been on the disabled list with an injury of any kind, and the only thing he's ever really been plagued by are blisters. His injury database over at Baseball Prospectus can tell you all about it.
This is worth bringing up because of all the Johan Santana remarks people have been making on Twitter and other places where people make remarks. They need to stop.
Like Lincecum against the Padres, Santana needed a lot of pitches to finish off the St. Louis Cardinals in the no-hitter he threw last June. It took him 134 pitches, and that looks ominous in retrospect because he had to be shut down in August with a bad back and is now looking like he may be done pitching forever after going in for a second shoulder surgery in 31 months back in April.
Lincecum, however, is not like Santana. He's never had any surgery of any kind, and he's also several years younger. Last year was Santana's 33-year-old season. This is Lincecum's 29-year-old season.
Think of Edwin Jackson instead. He threw a whopping 149 pitches when he no-hit the Tampa Bay Rays in June of 2010, and his arm was just fine for the rest of the season. In fact, the only injury Baseball Prospectus has listed for Jackson since then is a hamstring issue that cost him exactly zero games in 2011.
So Jackson's maximum effort didn't cause him any harm, and you'd be surprised how not alone he is in that department.
I went to Baseball-Reference and drew up a list of all the 145-pitch games on record. It showed 21 since 1998, and those were the ones I wanted to take a closer look at, with the idea in mind to go see if any of the pitchers who threw them developed arm injuries within two months.
Here's what I found:
|1998||5/20||Ken Hill||32||148||Elbow bone chips||78|
Here we have a collection of 21 games by 14 different pitchers, and only one of them developed an arm injury within two months: Ken Hill in 1998. Everyone else lived to tell the tale.
Did all of them stay healthy forever? Well, they're pitchers, so of course the answer is no. Scott Erickson eventually needed Tommy John surgery. Pedro Astacio eventually needed labrum and rotator cuff surgery. Even Randy Johnson broke down long after winning a fourth straight Cy Young in 2002.
But since these injuries happened a few clicks down the road, it's obviously unfair to chalk them up to a single max-effort performance. The same will be true if Lincecum ends up dealing with some ouchies several months or several years from now.
I'm not going to pretend like all of this signifies beyond a shadow of a doubt that Lincecum is in the clear. Injuries are hard enough to predict to begin with, and the fact is that Lincecum's arm crossed into previously uncharted territory on Saturday night.
But we know that he's due for some extra rest. We know that his arm wasn't being overworked before it was tasked with throwing 148 pitches. We know that he's been healthy throughout his entire career. And we know that a 149-pitch effort isn't guaranteed to invite an injury to come knocking.
You're going to want to keep those fingers crossed just in case, Giants fans, but Lincecum is going to be OK.
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