The Pitch Count: Does it Hurt or Help Young Pitchers in the Long Run?
One of the most talked about things in the game of baseball in this day and age is the pitch count that pitchers now adhere to. What makes this such a topic for debate is that 10, 20, 50 years ago, the number of pitches a pitcher threw in a particular game wasn't a huge factor of concern.
Back in the day, if a pitcher got to the seventh inning and just gave up the lead, he would likely be removed from the game for that reason, not because he had reached or was close to a certain amount of pitches.
I'm sure there are a lot of statistics that would show that once a pitcher gets close to 100 pitches, he's going to be less effective, and that's when it's time to bring on the relievers.
Does it make sense to lift a pitcher from a game when he has the lead and has been throwing well the entire game just because he's at the magic number?
If the pitcher is throwing the ball well into the seventh inning, and then gives up a couple of hits to either relinquish the lead or put the other team within striking distance, there are many that would say the manager waited too long to pull him.
The same is true that if the manager took out his pitcher when he was going good because of the pitch count and the bullpen blew the game, everyone would wonder why the manager didn't let the pitcher go on a batter-by-batter basis.
Years ago, pitchers weren't coddled the way they are now. There was no five-man rotation, they didn't have an innings limit, they weren't limited by a pitch count, and if they had to pitch on short rest, that's what they did.
The theory seems to be that a lot of guys end up blowing out their arms early on in their careers because they weren't stretched out properly, and as a result things like pitch count and innings limits come into play.
If an organization drafts a young pitcher, the last thing they want to do is see that pitcher being sidelined because they aren't used to pitching that much. That's a shot to their investment, and no one wants to deal with that.
Pitchers like Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes have been on an innings limit since they joined the big league club. The organization doesn't want them to be pushed too soon. However, that somewhat limits the team.
If they aren't supposed to throw more than 85 pitches in any given start, for example, they may reach that total by the fourth or fifth inning. Is it really helping the rotation if two of their starting pitchers can only go four or five innings every time out?
Or a manager will pull them earlier than other guys in the rotation because their innings have to be monitored. If the starting pitcher is throwing a good game, and his pitch count is under 100, why should he be taken out? That is how so many bullpens get blown out.
The pitch count also distracts from the game. The pitching coach, the manager, the media, and the fans have become so aware of the pitch count and often use that as a measurement for when a pitcher is nearing their breaking point.
I'm not a pitching coach, but I am willing to bet that the number really doesn't tell as much as people would like to think. On some nights a pitcher can throw 110 pitches and not labor through their pitches, and other nights they can throw 85 pitches and battled through every at-bat.
Maybe the real problem is that there are far too many things to consider when it comes to how to handle young pitchers. All of that takes away from what's really important—letting the guys just pitch.
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