MLB: As Pitch Counts Fall and Dollars Rise, Are Current Pitchers Babied?
"Throw 'til you blow" used to be many major league teams' motto. Now, they are teaching the complete opposite. Pitch counts are used in every single game, for every single pitcher. The days of the four-man rotation are over. Some teams go to a six-man rotation as the long season progresses.
Complete games have fallen by the wayside, and an "innings-eater" is now the exception, not the rule.
Teams were not always this careful with their starters. Nolan Ryan, arguably the greatest pitcher of the modern era, threw 259 pitches in a 12-inning complete game in 1974, the most ever recorded in baseball history.
259 pitches would be 2 1/2 games for a current major league pitcher. We rarely see a pitcher throw more than 120 pitches unless special circumstances present themselves (for example, the pitcher has an opportunity to throw a no-hitter or perfect game).
One of the biggest reasons current pitchers are having their pitches and innings counted is that pitchers are getting paid more than ever before. For example, the average player salary in 1972 was $34,092 . Thirty years later, in 2002, the average player salary jumped by more than $2 million to $2,385,903.07
Normal human beings are going to be much more careful with a million-dollar investment than a person would be with an investment of thousands of dollars.
Pitching has also become more specialized than ever. Relief pitchers' roles were not as specialized as today. And when relief pitchers came in, it was usually for more than one inning.
Today, we have lefty specialists who come in to get left-handed batters out. We have your closer, only used in save opportunities, and never used for more than one inning. We have your mop-up man, the only pitcher in the bullpen that specializes in pitching multiple innings. The problem is, the mop-up man only sees action in 15-inning marathons or blowout debacles such as the Pittsburgh Pirates' recent 20-0 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers.
Training has also led to a number of injuries amongst baseball pitchers. Every time you pitch a baseball, one of the most unnatural motions to the human body, you create tiny micro-tears in your throwing arm. Every time you lift weights, micro-tears develop in the muscles stressed.
Pitchers before the 1980s did not train with weights all that much, they simply threw. And pitchers threw a lot. Milwaukee Braves great Johnny Sain tried to throw as much as he could. Leo Mazzone, one of the best pitching coaches known today, recommended the four-man rotation and throwing a bunch. Exercising the arm is the best way to keep the arm healthy, and more pitchers are exercising unnecessary parts of their body, leaving them fatigued, and possibly injured.
Biomechanical study and kinesiology have led us to the discovery that arm injuries can be easily caused, and they are preventable by, in essence, babying pitchers.
Doctors recommend pitch counts. Doctors recommend high scrutiny of pitching mechanics. Doctors recommend specializing pitchers. Doctors recommend low amounts of innings.
A number of reasons have caused the "babying" of pitchers. And it doesn't seem to be stopping anytime soon.
So "throw 'til you blow", time for you to go.
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