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Wisdom from Professor Rick

Mike SteffanosSaturday, January 17, 2009
By Mike Steffanos

I always liked Rick Peterson. It probably was time for him to go this year, but I thought he did a real nice job in his time here, particularly with some marginal pitchers and guys like Roberto Hernandez.

Apparently Professor Rick will sharing some of his philosophies on pitching with Gary Armida on the web site FullCountPitch.com. Here's an excerpt on the infamous pitch count:

The Pitch Count

The pitch count is quite a controversial topic considering it really didn't exist 25 years ago. Fans will hearken back to the days of Nolan Ryan, Bob Gibson, and Don Drysdale when "pitchers finished what they started" despite a high pitch count. Some teams seem religious about keeping a pitch count and removing a pitcher at the magical 100 pitch limit. Fans and talk radio personalities usually lament (putting it mildly) about a pitcher being dominant and that the ignorant manager pulled the pitcher too early. Usually the question is "what's another 10 or 20 pitches?" Perhaps the thought process may be moving away from pitch counts with the Texas Rangers reportedly thinking about doing away with keeping pitch counts (although they have not stated so officially).

Rick Peterson believes in the pitch count as he likens it to a long distance runner. "Think about it as a runner. Let's say he runs three or four miles a day which would average about 27 miles a week. He's conditioned to that routine. Then, the runner decides to do away with consistent training and will run however long he feels like it - like Forrest Gump. So, one day he runs seven miles, the next 8, and the next 4 and so on. So, one week he runs about 40 miles and then the next he runs 50, followed by 60 miles. What happens to his legs? He burns out and gets hurt." Proper conditioning to achieve optimal performance is necessary. If pitchers aren't put on a regular routine which allows them to condition their arm, more frequent injuries will occur (which is scary considering the already high rate of pitching injuries).

But, a more practical reason for the pitch count is performance. "The data tells us that once a pitcher reaches 90 pitches, the performance rate is drastically impacted. In fact, the batting average against (BAA) almost doubles. The data is there to support this." Surely, there must be exceptions to this rule. "Sure, elite guys like Roy Halladay and CC Sabathia do not have such a variance. But, by and large, the majority of pitchers do." For this very reason, a pitch count needs to be kept. Let's look at a sampling of pitchers and their performances with elevated pitch counts.

Batting Average and OPS Against with Increasing Pitch Counts
PitcherPitches 25-50Pitches 51-75Pitches 76-100Pitches 101+
Roy Halladay.221/.576.198/.498.268/.714.257/.729
CC Sabathia.214/.535.246/.622.224/.621.179/.446
Johan Santana.200/.579.208/.634.236/.660.284/.780
Tim Lincecum.241/.609.228/.654.200/.575.250/.654
Roy Oswalt.216/.613.239/.678.240/.604 .297/.674

With the exception of Sabathia, each of the above elite pitchers performed worse after 100 pitches. Now, this only represents a portion of Baseball's elite over 100 pitches. This does not even include the pitchers like Josh Beckett, Brandon Webb, Cliff Lee, and AJ Burnett who had a small sample size of games over 100 pitches, but saw performance decreases in the 76-100 pitch range.

Batting Average and OPS Against with Increasing Pitch Counts
PitcherPitches 25-50Pitches 51-75Pitches 76-100
Brandon Webb.210/.564.272/.688.242/.672
Josh Beckett.224/.564.270/.714.292/.864
Cliff Lee200/.496.299/.784.281/.685
AJ Burnett.232/.681.262/.743.298/.888

With the aforementioned lack of quality pitching, the pitch count has become increasingly more important. If a team has quantifiable data that demonstrates that their starting pitcher's performance decreases after a certain number of pitches, it must remove that pitcher in an effort to win the game. It's that simple.

Read the rest of the article here (highly recommended), where Peterson also discusses evaluating pitchers, what he calls the myth of "getting ahead", and the makeup of a successful pitcher. Really good stuff.

For what it's worth, I know that as a 50-year-old baseball fan I'm supposed to be dead set against pitch counts, but I remember enough really promising young pitchers blowing their arms out to understand that this isn't a black-and-white question. I also remember Doc Gooden being left in the game one inning too long in the 1988 playoffs, a blunder that essentially cost the Mets a chance at a second title in the 80s.

About Mike: I was the original writer on this web site, actually its only writer for the first 15 months of existence. Although I am grateful for the excellent contributions of my fellow writers here, I have no plans of stepping back into strictly an editorial role. I started this thing in the first place because I love to write and I love the Mets, and blogging here keeps me somewhat sane. If you haven't had enough already, more bio info can be found here.

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Comments (3)

Rick makes good points but misses the major point. Pitchers these days are trained to only go 100 innings. That is why their performance drops. Am I the only person that thinks we have MORE pitching injuries after pitch counts than before?

If I were Omar or any GM I would start a program in the minors to have pitchers gradually increase their innings. That way you are training long distance runners rather than relay runners who hand off baton in 7th, 6th or even 5th innings.

I understand the point made by "the jacket" and I agree in theory with the point made by Ralph. It is the analogy of the long distance runner I take issue with.Pitching is an explosive movement. Endurance running is not. The deceleration phase of pithching is perhaps one of the most stressful movements in sport.The shoulder must brake a moving extremity traveling approximately 7000 degrees per second. Distance running is more about economy of movement and increasing endurance. A pitcher is more of a sprinter who has to run 3 yd. dash with some rest in between. There is time for recovery between pitches,with foul balls, watching Ryan Howard trot around bases etc. etc. Pitcher's also rest between innings. I believe there is more danger in the course of an inning then in the course of a game. A suggestion would be to sign Ollie put him in left and have him finish innings after 25 pitches.Either that or have everyone go to the Steve Traschel style of pitching. I do believe as Ralph said we can and should train pitchers to be more durable but it would be more anerobic than aerobic in nature.

I agree with Ralph and Jim as well, although my biggest problem with "The Jacket" isn't pitch counts, it's that he likes to have his pitchers paint the strike zone in a certain manner, often to get a two strike count through foul balls.

The problem with that is that other teams figured it out after a while, and you'd get long at bats where the opposing batter would just foul off 4 or 5 straight pitches. And the next batter would do that, too. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. By the 5th inning, the Mets were looking at pitch counts in the 80's, and a bullpen that was going to get tired out really fast.

Warthen at least wants pitchers to just throw strikes, and let them fall where they may; that means to let guys play to their strengths rather than to try to massage them into a specific formula. Also, this is how Lou Pinella runs things; you throw strikes, he doesn't care if they're hit out of the ballpark. You walk someone, he gets pissed and yanks you. The only time I want to see walks is when it's Manny Ramirez or Albert Pujols.

That's why we saw alot of the Mets pitchers turn back to form under Warthen, and last longer in games, which would have worked if their bullpen wasn't already shot from Randolph/Petersen's overuse of them.

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