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Death by Pitch Count; From a Fav

Discussion in 'Sports and News' started by qtlaw, Aug 26, 2008.

  1. qtlaw

    qtlaw Well-Known Member

    From my fav local writer:

    Sadly, the art of the complete game has been lost


    Tuesday, August 26, 2008

    These are the dark ages of pitching. It is a time of cowardice and fear, oblivious to the lessons of history. If there's a bond among starting pitchers of the pitch-count era, it's that they were born too late.
    The Giants' Tim Lincecum is loathe to give up the ball wh... View Larger Images
    Bruce Jenkins

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    More Bruce Jenkins »

    One of life's great truisms is to finish what you start. It's what you tell your kids, your surgeon, your contractor. This once applied to baseball, with precision, but now there's a new law: Just quit. Let somebody else finish the job. You did your part, now go be a cheerleader.

    Pitch counts have destroyed not only the elements of pride and accomplishment among starting pitchers, but the art of winning. If one thing characterized the great pitchers of the past, from Bob Feller to Warren Spahn to Tom Seaver, it's that they learned how to win. You don't get that from a "quality start" and a nice, early shower. It's when you understand the difference between a breezy sixth inning and a stressful ninth, when you brought that victory home, and can't wait to do it again.

    Tim Lincecum would love to close the deal. So would Matt Cain, Dan Haren, Scott Kazmir and Carlos Zambrano. They're all prisoners of the pitch-count era, trapped inside a philosophy that characterizes every organization.

    There's a way out of this, a subject we'll address later, but first consider the virtual extinction of the complete game:
    Complete eradication

    In 1904, a 30-year-old Yankees pitcher named Jack Chesbro led the American League with 48 complete games. Last year, Arizona's Brandon Webb topped the National League with four. The complete game has become as obsolete as five-man pepper, the two-hour game, guys swinging three bats in the on-deck circle, and coaches hitting practice pop-ups with a fungo bat.

    The sins of pitch-count madness are evident nightly, but there was no more glaring example than Lincecum's July 26 start against Arizona. Lincecum, a freakish phenomenon who has not had a hint of arm trouble, was demonstrating why some sharp observers consider him the best pitcher in the National League. He had 13 strikeouts, no walks, radar readings of 98 mph and a 3-2 lead, striking out the side in the seventh inning and finishing it with his glorious, unhittable changeup.

    Time out! That's it for Lincecum. He'd thrown 121 pitches in his last outing, and now he was at 111, and ... well, can't you see? It's right here on this piece of paper. Manager Bruce Bochy turned to setup man Tyler Walker, and thus was bestowed an outright gift to the opposition. Walker is a fine fellow and an earnest competitor, but he has about one-tenth of Lincecum's ability.

    As that one-run lead became a two-run loss, the fans couldn't believe it. They came for De Niro and got SpongeBob. KNBR's Ralph Barbieri, who had watched from the stands, spoke for a lot of fans when he angrily called the station, got on the air and said, "If I'd known that was going to happen, I wouldn't have gone to the ballpark!"

    It would be misguided to blame Bochy, pitching coach Dave Righetti or general manager Brian Sabean. They only reflect a cautious stance taken throughout baseball, and if they have decided to protect Lincecum's arm - the better for him to dominate when the team becomes relevant - who's to argue? They've been consistent with their rules, involving all of the starters, so it would look silly for Lincecum to suddenly have a 150-pitch game.
    More than a numbers game

    The problem isn't so much the pitch count, an honest endeavor, but the dismissal of all other factors. Fatigue can't be measured by a counter that suddenly reaches "100." For a laboring pitcher, 90 pitches could be a solid two hours of hell. For someone on cruise control, 120 pitches is about as stressful as a Caribbean vacation.

    There are so many more reliable signs of trouble: if a pitcher can't throw a strike on 2-and-0, if his curveball loses snap, if he constantly lifts or shakes his arm (indicating discomfort), if he takes more than his customary time between pitches, if he starts shaking off the catcher when the two have been in sync all night, if he walks the leadoff man with a five-run lead, if he can't throw his money pitch when he had it two innings earlier, if he's fussing with needless pickoff throws, if his body language betrays frustration.

    In a recent outing against Houston, CC Sabathia pitched his fifth complete game in the nine starts he'd made for Milwaukee. He threw 130 pitches, raising a torrent of alarmist nonsense. Fortunately, manager Ned Yost didn't join in the geeks' pencil party. What Sabathia has done for the Brewers is a story, something exceptional. It's called rising above the rest - the very essence of sports. Yost had a great answer, too, when asked if Sabathia threw too many pitches. "Never once did he labor," he said.

    In other words: Open your eyes, everybody. Follow your instincts. By all means, protect an often-injured pitcher such as Rich Harden, a star (think Pedro Martinez) near the end of his career, or a prospect who hasn't worked a 100-inning season in his life. But when you have a young, healthy starter and you're making distinctions between 110 and 120 pitches, you've driven way off the road.

    Nobody has to explain these things to Bochy, who caught major-league pitchers for nine years, or to any experienced manager. It's simply that nobody wants to be blamed: by the media, talk-show hosts, agents, the players' association or executives protecting their financial investments. When I spoke with Bochy in the aftermath of that Lincecum game, he actually mentioned Kerry Wood and Mark Prior, who gallantly took the Cubs to the brink of the World Series in 2003, then broke down with sore arms later, prompting some after-the-fact hysteria targeting then-manager Dusty Baker.
    Inevitability is to blame

    This is where fear has replaced common sense. Throwing a baseball is not a natural act; hundreds of pitchers are doomed to break down. Others are blessed with sublime longevity. Vida Blue was a high school quarterback, worked 312 innings (for the 1971 A's) at the age of 21, pitched 143 complete games over a 17-year career, and still throws a decent round of batting practice.

    The bottom line: Don't be so quick to blame then-Giants manager Felipe Alou of ruining an arm when Jason Schmidt crafted a one-hit, 144-pitch shutout at Wrigley Field ("I'd do it all over again," Schmidt recently said. "There's nothing like knowing the game is in your control.") Don't single out Yost as some type of renegade because he believes in Sabathia's durability. And don't join the lunatics blaming Baker for the downfall of Prior and Wood.

    Baker's Cubs went for it that year. They had a postseason in their reach, they had the right pitchers for the job, and those men wanted the ball - all night, if that's what it meant. People can sit around adjusting their spectacles and analyzing, but they have no idea how it feels to actually compete.

    "Nothing that happened to me was because of that man (Baker)," Wood recently told Chicago reporters. "You have guys who go through their whole careers and don't get injured. Other guys pitch two years and get injured six times. I don't think it has anything to do with a manager or a pitching coach or anything like that. It's either going to happen or it's not."

    If more people realized that, and trusted their eyes, we wouldn't have pitch counts at all.
    A game of honor

    The complete game is a badge of honor among starting pitchers, and historians will view the early 21st century as a veritable wasteland. Only Toronto's Roy Halladay and Milwaukee's CC Sabathia (eight each this season) bear any resemblance to the iron-man performers of the past. A few notes on the subject:

    Fernando Valenzuela, with the 1986 Dodgers, was the last pitcher to have at least 20 complete games in a season. This century, no pitcher in either league has reached 10.

    The Giants' Juan Marichal had 30 in 1968, a season dominated by pitching statistics, but how about Ted Lyons with the 1930 White Sox? That was a hitters' year of almost comical proportions. The Yankees hit a collective .309, the National League hit .303, and eight batters hit .370 or better, yet Lyons had 29 complete games, and the co-leaders in the National League had 22.

    For all of the gaudy records compiled by the likes of Marichal and Warren Spahn, most of the durable pitchers of the '60s had complete games in the 15-20 range each year. The real heyday of modern times came in the '70s, especially in the American League. Over a seven-year span (1971-77), there were 40 instances of an AL pitcher completing 20 or more games.

    John Smoltz, one of the toughest and most respected pitchers of modern times, has pitched 53 complete games in a career dating back to 1988. Spahn - and this is no misprint - had 382.

    Mike Krukow had 10 complete games during his 20-win season in 1986. Since then, no Giants pitcher has had more than seven, and only Rick Reuschel (1988) has matched Krukow's 245-inning total that year.

    Even with the A's rich history, their last pitcher in double figures was Dave Stewart, 11 in 1990.

    Halladay owns 34 complete games since the start of the 2003 season, more than 21 teams have compiled.

    As recently as the 1998 season, there were 212 instances of a starter throwing at least 125 pitches. Last season, it happened 14 times.

    - Bruce Jenkins (at sfgate.com)
  2. bigpern23

    bigpern23 Well-Known Member

    Good article.

    I haven't seen any studies, and maybe they're not possible, but are pitchers getting hurt more nowadays than back when complete games were thrown more often, such as in the 1940s?

    I ask that because it seems like they do and I have to wonder if the fact that guys are pitching less has anything to do with it. Think about it. If you want to get bigger and stronger, do you rest on the couch, or go to the gym and lift weights four or five times a week?

    No doubt proper rest is needed, but I wonder if pitching more would help pitchers' arms get strong enough to ward off some of these injuries. I have no idea, but it's a thought that has occurred to me.
  3. spnited

    spnited Active Member

    The idea used to be you had to pitch to build arm strentgh. Now the theory is you have to limit the number of pitches so the poor little babies don't get hurt.
    More arm injuries now? Sure becuase they're raised to complain about every little pain they have while guys in the 30s and 40s accepted the fact that their arms hurt after they pitch.
    Not saying those old guys were right in that regard but that was the theory then.
  4. Songbird

    Songbird Well-Known Member

    Last night at Shea, Pelfrey, who had to sprint from first to home on Reyes' triple in bottom-8, had to have been a bit winded to start top-9. He got the first out but then gave up a double to Newhan. Then he gave up a single, and the pitching coach came out. Fans started to boo. We all wanted to see Pelfrey get the shutout, and, if nothing else, finish what he started. I would've left the stadium right then and there had they pulled him. To the fans' happiness, Pelfrey stayed. He gave up an RBI-grounder and lost the shutout, but he induced a game-ending grounder to Wright. Complete fucking game during a pennant race. Sweet.

    I know old-school rules have given way to new-school philosophies and VORPs, but if a guy's arm is good enough to go 9, let the dude go 9.

    For me, as much as I loved Pelfrey's electricity, what made me most happy is that Manuel let him finish what he started.
  5. spnited

    spnited Active Member

    And that's 2 complete games in a row for Pelfrey.
  6. Songbird

    Songbird Well-Known Member

    spnited, Pelfrey's mannerisms remind me of Nolan Ryan. I know he doesn't throw as hard as Nolan, but do you get that sense? His wind-up, motion, kick, etc.?
  7. spnited

    spnited Active Member

    Never really thought about it, Xan.

    I do know the evil Tom Glavine always said Pelfrey had to stop thinking so much and just believe that he could get guys out and he could be ace.
    Since the Great Zen Guru of pitching was fired, Pelfrey is 11-2 with a 3.00 ERA.
  8. Songbird

    Songbird Well-Known Member

    Watch him next time. You were what, 54, when Ryan was a rookie, right? ;)

    But next start, watch every little mannerism Pelfrey has on the mound. Maybe it's just me. But I think he's Ryanesque, and with the way he gets groundballs and strikeouts, I think he has a few no-hitters in him.

    And, many more complete games.
  9. 93Devil

    93Devil Well-Known Member

    I don't think Ryan ever won 11 of 13 decisions, so Pelfrey has him there.
  10. Herbert Anchovy

    Herbert Anchovy Active Member

    I read something the other day that the 1980 A's had 94 complete games. Ninety-fucking-four. Not even a good team. That's amazing.
  11. dixiehack

    dixiehack Well-Known Member

    I wonder how many complete game losses there have been this decade. Can't be more than 10 can there?
  12. spnited

    spnited Active Member

    Second place in the AL West in '80, Complete games:
    Rick Langford 28
    Mike Norris 24
    Matt Keough 20
    Steve McCatty 11
    Brian Kingman 10
    Bob Lacey 1
    Lacey also led team with 6 saves!

    They had 60 the next year (strike season) in 129 games.
    And Billy the Drunk was villified for burning out young arms, which is true but he was in too much of a stuppor to know.
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