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 Pitcher Pitches 25-50 Pitches 51-75 Pitches 76-100 Pitches 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 Pitcher Pitches 25-50 Pitches 51-75 Pitches 76-100 Brandon Webb .210/.564 .272/.688 .242/.672 Josh Beckett .224/.564 .270/.714 .292/.864 Cliff Lee 200/.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.