The evils of pitch counts

  • Wednesday, June 5, 2013

 I’m on my soapbox.
I see too many pitchers out there nursing sore arms. It’s become a pandemic.
Today’s arm troubles are caused by pitchers throwing too much and too little. Yes, that’s a contradiction.
There’s a difference between building arm strength and being overworked. You can’t throw a pitcher three innings on Monday to save him to throw seven innings on Wednesday. A pitcher throwing three innings does as much damage to the arm as one who throws seven innings. So if you’re going to warm him up use him. Today, we don’t do that.
If you track games you might notice the pitcher struggles in that second game and isn’t as sharp. That’s being overworked.
As far as his arm is concerned he threw two seven inning games in a three-day span. That’s where arm problems start.
You want my take on the culprit? Pitch counts.
Pitch counts are relatively new. Nolan Ryan, Bob Gibson and Steve Carlton were never on pitch counts. If Nolan Ryan had been on a pitch count he’d have never get out of the fourth inning. How do you strike out everybody on the planet and limit yourself to 100 pitches a game?
You can’t.
And you try telling Gibson he has to come out of the game because his pitch count was over 100 pitches.
My senior year I averaged more than 12.5 strikeouts a game. I struck out 19 batters once, K’d 15 three times and my lowest was 10 K’s in a game shortened by the 10-run rule to five innings.
But, in addition to holding the career strikeout record for more than 30 years at my high school I also hold the career record for walks, still do in fact.
So let’s count pitches.
Let’s average four pitches per strikeout and five pitches per walk. In the game in which I struck out 19 hitters I also walked six. That means I threw 106 pitches just to those 25 hitters.
The scorebook says I faced 29 batters in the game. I gave up very few first pitch hits because I had a 90 mph fastball that I didn’t know (or care) where it was going half the time. So it’s easy to figure I threw close to 150 pitches in that game.
I counted strikeouts, not pitches.
Until about 20 minutes ago, I never gave how many pitches I threw in a game much thought. I just knew the coach gave me the ball at the start of the game and I gave it back at the end.
I had arm strength. I knew how to throw a seven-inning ball game. I knew my problem inning was the fifth inning and if I could get through that unscathed I’d cruise in innings six and seven.
I had to buckle down on three hitters: the leadoff guy, the number three hitter, and the cleanup hitter. The rest I struck out.
Today’s pitchers don’t know how to pitch out of trouble because they never get the chance. They get yanked the minute a runner reaches second base. If you’re going to throw him, throw him. Let him see what it feels like to finish a game he starts.
And throw away the pitch counters.
Your arm will thank you.

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