Baseball: The 100 Pitch Count

Baseball pitchers have been a fragile bunch. Over the last 10 years there have been an average of 16 Tommy John surgeries a year on Major League pitchers. Even though the success rate of this surgery is extremely high the rehab period is usually long and hard taking 12 to 18 months. Some pitchers have had to go through this twice. Because of this, organizations do everything they can to protect young pitchers and work them gradually up the ladder into the Major Leagues. When they get in the majors, the magic number seems to be 100 pitches per game. When a pitcher approaches this pitch count, no matter how he is doing, this becomes the time to take him out. There are some exceptions, and we will see these later in the blog, but 90% of the time this is the unwritten rule. Pitchers are taken out even when they are throwing a no hitter. Because of this, many fans and sportscasters wish for the good old days, when pitchers almost routinely pitched complete games, and would never be taken out if they were pitching well, let alone pitching a no hitter. This leads to the question of why do so many pitchers have arm problems today, even though they are monitored much more closely than they were 40 to 50 years ago. My answer to that is who cares, this is just the way things are at the moment. The quest should go on to find out what can be done to help avoid all of these arm problems. Until that happens, major league teams should accept the fact that this is the way it is now and do even more to protect their pitchers. Before we go into that, lets go back 35 seasons to 1988, the first year that pitch counts were on the stats in baseball reference.

Let us look at 5 pitchers from the 1988 season, Orel Hershiser, Frank Viola, the 2 Cy Young award winners, Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, and Dave Stewart, 3 of the best pitchers from that era. We will look at games started, complete games, and average number of pitches per game. Hershiser started 35 games, completed 15 games, and averaged 101 pitches per game. One game he threw 153 pitches for his season high. Frank Viola started 35 games, completed 7, and averaged 106 pitches per game. Three times he threw 122 pitches and once 121. Roger Clemens was the big workhorse that year. He started 35 games completed 14 and averaged 119 pitches per game. He had one game where he threw 162 pitches and had 12 games of over 130 pitches. No wonder he took steroids at the end of his career. Greg Maddux started 34 games but there were 2 games where no pitch counts were recorded. For the 32 games they did he averaged 105 pitches per game and completed 9 of them. He had an 11 inning 167 pitch game and 6 others that were over 130. Dave Stewart pitched 37 games, completed 14 and averaged 114 pitches per game. Now we head to 2022 and start with Sandy Alcantara the current Cy Young award winner. Alcantara started 32 games, completed 6, averaging 102 pitches per game. His highest pitch count was 117. Gerrit Cole started 33 games, completing 0, and averaged 99 pitches per game. His highest count was 118. Corbin Burnes started 33 games, completing 0, and averaged 99 pitches per game. The most pitches he threw in a game was 115. The stats are about the same for every well know starter in baseball last year. Even though they rarely completed a game their pitch counts did not average that much less than the pitchers in 1988, even though the complete game was much more common. The pitchers of 2022 were really never allowed to get their pitch count to a very high level as they did in 1988. One of the highest in 2022 was Miles Mikolas who threw 129 pitches trying to no hit the Pirates. This pales in comparison to the over 160 pitches that Clemons and Maddox threw that year. There is no question that it takes a lot more pitches today to accomplish the same thing that pitchers did in the 80’s. This is due to more batters being selective or to put it another way, begging for walks. This is the way it is in baseball at the present, and teams should change the way they think about how pitchers should pitch and on how much.

The above data shows that pitchers today get a lot less done on about the same number of pitches. Now it takes about 100 pitches to get through 6 to 7 innings. Pitchers back in the 80’s could complete a game on about the same number. Teams need to make 100 pitches the max any pitcher throws regardless of the situation. This would be the most effective way to help preserve pitching arms. This policy will also help them be more pitcher ready for the playoffs. Another thing that would help pitchers is to abandon the so called waste pitch. If you have a batter down no balls and 2 strikes, just challenge the guy and be damned about the results. In today’s environment every pitch is precious. You got two strikes on the batter get the third one and if he hits hit it out, he hits it out, who cares. The old way of thinking about an 0-2 count has got to stop. Pitchers need to think about throwing strikes on every pitch and forget about burying one in the dirt. It is the only way that pitchers have any chance of going deeper into games than they are now. Here is one last curiosity about pitch counts. How many days rest does a pitcher need if throws 50 pitches. I have often thought what if teams limit pitchers to 50 pitches a game and just start rotating them in the game. Forget about the role playing that pitchers do today. The average number of pitches thrown in a game is about 150. That would mean about 3 pitchers per game. With 12 to 13 pitchers on most teams, that means they would throw about every 4 games. They might even be able to cut that down with more aggressive pitching, by eliminating the waste pitch. Of course, starting pitchers would not like this idea, but in the long run it might be the most effective way to prevent runs. I would love to see some team put this into play. Tampa Bay are you listening? Twelve to thirteen pitchers just rotating through the games every 4 to 5 days. Even though this is unlikely to happen, teams still need to apply the 100 pitch mode as a hard and fast rule. In the long run this will save arms and may make your staff one of the best in the playoffs.

Pirates Mid-March Report

Spring Training is in full swing with opening day 17 days away. Already the Pirates have a big injury with Jarlin Garcia going down with some kind of unexplained arm injury where he cannot even grip the baseball. Who knows the outcome of this one. He would have been a big part of the bullpen. He had been a solid left hand bullpen guy with no history of arm issues in the past. His injury is not changing my mind about this team being a contender, but it is a blow, none the less. Ke’Bryan Hayes seems to be as fragile as ever, with now a thumb injury being the culprit, but until proven otherwise, I am going to remain optimistic about him and his ability to play a full season. I am not as confident, injury or no injury, that he will become an above average hitter. If he would, then that would be a great asset to add to his superb fielding. The only other thing of note, it does seem like Travis Swaggerty is making some noise this spring. This is a number 1 pick who has done nothing, up to this point, to warrant him playing in the majors. I think the Pirates missed a big opportunity last year in not bringing up for about 2 months, and showing what he could do. Even if Swaggerty continues to have a good spring, I doubt seriously he will beat out Canaan Smith-Njigba for a roster spot. If anything, because they are so thin at outfield, they may wind up keeping both of them. It will be interesting to see if he gets a legitimate shot. Even though the Pirates have given up a lot of runs this spring, the pitchers that you expect to be on the team are doing well. Most of the runs that are being given up are by pitchers that won’t be on the opening day roster. For the most part Spring Training is going well, especially for the starting pitchers.

The main purpose of Spring Training is to get ready for the regular season. It is to stay healthy and work on your game. Despite this, I still read things trying to put significance on spring training performances. They are absolutely 100% meaningless, with so many examples that I am not bothering to even write about them. What Travis Swaggerty is doing in these games I put no stock in. I will be happy to be wrong about this concerning him. The Pirates can always use a bat that is a decent fielder. I think the players are working nicely toward their goal of getting out of the gate well, with the intention of setting up a winning attitude for this team. I am making no real speculation on who is going to be on the opening day roster. We will know this soon enough and then I will give an opinion on how I feel about who is going up North. I will blog about the team a couple of days before opening day and then the Pirate Morning Report will start once again giving a synopsis of each game in a brief concise no holds barred format, sparing no punches. It will be a new year and thing, with the Pirates trying to win games for the first time in about 22 months.

Sports: Random Thoughts

Since baseball’s regular season has not started and even though I am golfing on a semi-regular basis, during this new thing called “winter”, I thought this would be a good time to just have some random thoughts on various topics. Nothing earthshattering, but these things have been rattling around in my brain for a while now. In no particular order let us begin.

Pro Football: You would think that pro football would be able to find 32 people in the world that could punt a football at least 70 yards. I think punting is the worst performed specialized job in America. Seven days a week these guys only have one thing to do. Take 2 steps and kick the crap out of a football, that’s it. Some have the added duty of holding on field goals but how long does that take out of the day. Just think about it for one moment. Two steps, boom, two steps, boom, two steps boom. There are nearly 8 billion people in the world, and you have to find 32 that can punt. You would think that there would be tall lanky guys that could really do this. If a punter could boom punts 70 to 80 yards every single time, he would never have to have contact. After he punted, he would simply run off the field. Yet, what would seem like an easy thing to find, seems to be almost impossible. Every week during the pro football season, you see one guy on the team, the punter, who does his job at best, mediocrely. Almost every game you see a punter shank one 15 yards, punt the ball on such a low trajectory that it is returned for big yardage, or simply punt the ball straight up in the air for 25 net yards. Pro football doesn’t seem to care about this, even though it is one of the most important parts of the game. All I can say is, if you are a young individual I would immediately start practicing.

College football now is allowing players to be able to make money on their names and go from college to college to play the game. There are certain rules concerning the so-called transfer portal but like most things there are ways of getting around them. In the not-too-distant future I expect to see this story. Today, quarterback Joe Blackburn, who quarterbacked for LSU, TCU, SMU, Utah, BYU, UCLA, and Nebraska, announced his retirement from football today, at age 36. Blackburn, who majored in Economics, and got his masters and PhD, while playing football, said that he has invested the money he made playing college football well, and no longer needs to work and risk any further injury, especially to his brain. Not as farfetched as it sounds the way things are going.

March Madness is about to start, with the conference tournaments set to begin. College basketball is the only sport where every team has a chance to win the National Championship no matter how bad they played during the year. It would be a shocker, if some team that only won 1 or 2 conference games during the regular season, went on to win the conference tournament and continued to a NCAA Championship. No matter, it is something that is possible in college basketball. Despite all the hype and the upsets in the NCAA tournament, the highest seeded team ever to win the championship is Villanova at no. 8. A nice argument for making the field 32. It so happens that there are 32 conferences eligible for the tournament. Isn’t that nice. If I was the Czar of the NCAA tournament this is how the field would be set. In order to play in the conference tournament, you would have to finish 8th in the conference. Who ever won the conference tournament would still get an automatic bid to the tournament. Depending on how many of the conference champs were also the regular season champs, then this would open up the remaining spots. This would be the new at large berths. Now on the rare occasion, when all the conference champs were not the regular season champs, then there would be no at large births available. This would do two things. It would make the regular season more meaningful, by making only the top 8 in each conference eligible for the conference tournament. It would give the regular season champ more incentive to win the tournament on the off chance there would be no spots left. As it stands now, the regular season champ, in the major conferences, always gets in, no matter what they do in the tournament. It makes the conference tournament more of an extension of the NCAA tournament. It would make everything in college basketball more meaningful and exciting.

I haven’t said all that much about the LIV golf tour, which has taken players away from the PGA Tour, paying them much more money, to essentially play in exhibition events, where there are only 48 players, playing 3 rounds with no cuts, for a lot more money. I have never been into the economics of sports and could care less about salary caps, strikes, and player contract disputes. The players that joined the LIV did it strictly for the money. I have no problem with that, other than the fact that they tried to hide behind the statement that this is going to help the game of golf. Frankly, I am surprised that even more players have not joined. It is quite a difference in purses. The thing that is going to interest me the most, however, is how are the LIV players going to do in the majors. This will be a back to reality check for these players. Besides the pressure of the major, there will be a rather new pressure for these players of having to make a cut again. There are players on the LIV tour that have won majors, and are elite players, but to play one way for weeks at a time, then to have this new experience at a major. Will they be able to adapt? Just another reason to watch the Masters on Thursday and Friday.

Last but certainly not least is the new changes in baseball. I think the pitch clock and the larger bases are going to have a big impact on the game. The “banning” of the shift, I am not too sure. First of all, with left hand hitting pull hitters, the shortstop will still be able to play close to the second base bag and there goes the hits up the middle. Then I can see one of the more progressive teams, like Tampa Bay, deciding to move their right fielder down to where the second baseman played out in the outfield, leaving the other outfielders to cover the ground, with the centerfielder shaded well toward right field and the left fielder well toward center. I don’t know if this would happen with every line up, but if a line up is loaded with left handers, I can see it happening. Maybe this won’t happen, depending on the data that is out there. If it does happen, then baseball will have to make another decision on whether they want to limit what the outfielders can do. Banning shifts may open up a whole new can of worms, rather than solving the problem of helping incompetent left hand hitting batters.

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