Talkin' pitch counts and Nolan Ryan's crusade, with Bill James
The topic this week is pitch counts, and it's mostly fair to say that we don't like them. That's oversimplifying, of course. We both like the idea of team officials doing what they can to protect their young starting pitchers ... nobody wants to go back to those days when a 21-year-old
But the current 100-pitch limit that has overtaken baseball doesn't make much sense, either. Why 100 pitches? Is it because it's a nice round number? Does it have any basis at all? Has it proven to prevent pitcher injuries -- does anyone believe pitchers are getting hurt less often these days? With teams spending more money now than ever on starting pitchers, doesn't it make sense to get MORE for the money rather than less?
Questions. Down in Texas, Rangers president and Hall of Famer
More to the point, we hope it does work. We both would love to get back to the days when starting pitchers had a bigger impact on games. As Bill says: "Baseball is a better game for the fans when you have two starting pitchers engaged in a duel, rather than each pitching five innings and turning it over to a long series of interchangeable relievers.
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And the point? Teams spend all this money on starting pitchers, and then they decide that the round number, 100 pitches, is ideal. Exactly 100 pitches. Not 110. Not 123. Not 97. No, 100 pitches, ideal, no matter how old the pitcher, no matter what kind of stuff he throws, no matter if he's left-handed or right-handed, no matter what. One hundred pitches.
And make no mistake: 100 pitches is the magic number. This year, going into Sunday, there were 1,543 starters who went at least five innings in a game. Their average pitch count: 99.2. Can you believe that? Teams are spending all this money on pitching, and they sure seem to be trying to protect their investment based on a decision my 7-year-old daughter could make ("Um, let them throw, uh, 100 pitches. Is 100 a lot?").
In the 1970s there was a lot of criticism directed at managers who allowed pitchers to burn out. There was criticism of
Anyway, Anderson took a terrible beating. The Reds were running away with the division, but Anderson would get booed at home when he went to the mound. His pitchers -- well, some of them still despise him for it. It was a whole other mindset in 1975 -- by managers, fans, pitchers, everyone.
Fidrych the next year threw 24 complete games at the age of 21. He was never good again.
These incidents generated a great deal of chatter among those of us who talk about managers -- and I don't doubt, even now, that they should have done so. Twenty-four complete games for a 21-year-old? It's crazy.
And he loved it. That, undoubtedly, is what drives him now. Ryan believed that the game belonged to the starting pitcher. It was his. Ryan HATED 1987 -- that was the year when Houston manager
Around 1984 ... wish I knew for sure the exact year...
When you introduce hard facts into a discussion, it changes the discussion. The pitch counts introduced by
It is my view that, once conventional wisdom about leaving pitchers in the game stampeded into a full-fledged retreat, it ran right past the point of reason, without any real effort to balance the discussion by taking account of the costs of pulling pitchers out of the game too early and too often.
But in 2001 the 120-plus pitch games were cut in half. By 2006 they were cut in half again. Last season there were only 71 games where a pitcher threw 120-plus pitches ... these games have become almost extinct. I do think it's fear-driven ... most of the managers I talk to around the game privately DESPISE the pitch count. Or, more to the point, they despise the oppressive nature of pitch counts -- "Sure, we have to be careful with pitchers," one big-league manager told me. "But we're to the point now where we're babying them. You'll see pitchers now throw five or six good innings, and they feel like they've done their job. That's our fault."
I always admire people who have the courage to confront the conventional wisdom ... I mean, people within the system. Those of us on the outside ... it's easy for us to say whatever we think, because there are no consequences to it. It's much harder to say, "I think the conventional wisdom is full of beans, and I'm not going to go along with it," when you're inside the system and exposed to the possibility of actual failure. I think the people who do this drive the world to get better, whereas the people who snipe at anybody who dares suggest that the conventional wisdom is malarkey are, in my view, gutless conspirators in the mediocrity of the universe. To me, what Ryan is doing is the clearest and boldest example of challenging the conventional wisdom from within the system that I've seen in years, and I'm applauding.