Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The End of Pitch Counts?

A pitch count is an inherantly awful idea. Coming up with some arbitrary number to tell you when a pitcher should come out of a game is the offshoot of the Misinformation Age, where stats rule the land and bad impressions linger forever. No need to actually watch a pitcher, evaluate and react accordingly. We have numbers that say the best calculated move is to take him out at the 98-104 pitch mark. It's science, not baseball. And it stinks.

In my case against numbers, let me throw some out. From 1891-1999, there was at least one pitcher every season who had double-digit complete games. From 2000-2008, there was not one - NOT ONE - pitcher who recorded more than nine. For over one hundred years, pitchers pitched and managers got the hell out of the way. With the invent of the internet, stats at the whim and money and media to consider, the pressure intensified and pitchers were put on pitch counts to save their managers' careers. Greinke is on pace to throw 17 complete games this year.

Greinke is tied with Toronto's Roy Halladay with a league-leading eight wins. They also sit at top together with 75 innings pitched this year. With very few opposing views, they are the best two pitchers in the American League.

But what about wearing out their arms, you ask? Let's go back to those 2000-2008 years. Three pitchers threw nine complete games in a season a total of four times over that span. Halladay was the one who did it twice, in 2003 and 2008. He has had a 3.15 ERA since that 2003 season.

Of course, you can't just take a young pitcher and throw him out there all day long for an entire season. Unfortunately, their arms have been trained under the philosophy of less is more. That's why the end of pitch counts has to start in the minors or even earlier, so these pitchers can get used to being in those types of situations, the way Halladay has.

And this just might happen. Not only is Greinke someone all young pitchers will want to be like because of his skill, but he is a genuinely good person. He is a role model coaches and parents will want their kids to look up to. Hopefully after the 2009 season, we will be able to say that Zack Greinke not only had an incredible ERA and win total, but that he pitched as much as he wanted.

Because that's what pitching in the old millennium was all about.


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