Tuesday, September 21, 2004


Pitch Counts

Mark Prior just threw 129 pitches yesterday. Didn’t he have arm problems earlier this year? Elbow tenderness perhaps? Granted the Cubs needed the win. Did they need the win so badly they couldn’t bring someone in from the bullpen to close things out? Like maybe Latroy Hawkins and his 2.13 ERA the last month? Or anyone else to save Prior’s arm? It isn’t just Prior either; its every pitcher Dusty Baker comes into contact with. They all have extremely high pitch counts, and granted the guys in Chicago seem like they deal with it better than most. But if you’ve been living under a rock then you might’ve missed the parts where Kerry Wood and Mark Prior have combined to miss most of the season, severely hurting the Cubs playoff chances. Baker is not the only one either; his opponent today was the Florida Marlins and fellow asleep at the trigger manager Jack McKeon.

McKeon is basically the reason Mark Redman is dead tired this season for the Athletics. He also pounds his young pitchers into the ground start after start. I’m pretty angry right now that I can’t find the pitch counts per start for some of these guys, but once I do I’ll post them. Burnett is having trouble again with his elbow, but that might not be McKeon’s fault. He did have Tommy John Surgery after all and it is tough to say what may have caused his new pain. Josh Beckett has been pretty consistent most of the season, except for a July where he only pitched 7 innings. He seems to be injured quite often though, and I am not sure if it is entirely his own fault (not counting last year, where his blisters were the biggest problem.)

Just to make it clear, pitching 100 pitches per start is not a big deal. You could do it a lot during the season if you wanted to with probably little or no effect on your arm. It is when you start throwing 115, 120, and 125, and in Baker’s cases 130 pitches in a start that you become injured. You pitch differently with fatigue, changing your motions, your delivery; all things that can cause injuries to appear.

Since Dusty Baker left San Francisco, someone had to carry on the job of destroying Jason Schmidt’s arm, so Felipe Alou apparently jumped on that opportunity. I am sure Schmidt will rebound nicely next year, but he did have a 146 pitch start this year that along with his 3 other complete games is probably hurting him now. The effects may not have shown immediately after that, but they are showing now. After looking like a lock for the N.L. Cy Young Award, Schmidt has struggled greatly the last month or so making the Giants job of getting in the playoffs a little harder as well. Here are Schmidt’s splits:

Pre-All Star: 11-2 / 2.51 ERA / 0.96 WHIP / .173 BAA
Post-All Star: 5-5 / 4.30 ERA / 1.25 WHIP / .240 BAA

It doesn’t look like he has pitched awfully in the second half, until you realize he has a 7.26 ERA in the past month alone. Schmidt looks like a pitcher who is tired, and if they make the playoffs he still has a month to go (if the Giants are lucky, which they won’t be if Schmidt doesn’t perform.)

Some people can pitch all year long in what looks like an abusive manner with no side effects, namely Livan Hernandez, whose arm apparently does not need feeling to work. Hernandez has pitched 1147 innings since 2000, and this season isn’t over. Some guys can do it, Randy Johnson is another, and Curt Schilling usually can do so. Prior was considered one of those guys by ESPN.com until his elbow started to feel tender. Go figure after 200+ IP in your first full pro season, followed up by 3 weeks of playoff pitching. There have been great strides in monitoring pitch counts in baseball in recent years, but some guys just seem to ignore the numbers, and they may be getting the results now, but they will be sorry when these guys can’t lift their arms anymore before they are 40. Or even next season, when guys like Prior are hurt a lot again. Can’t anyone take a cue from the ruin the Mets brought on Bill Pulsipher, Jason Isringhausen, and Paul Wilson? They took them from the minors and made them throw a boatload of innings in the majors, effectively ruining all of their careers as starters (Paul Wilson has only recently gotten back on track with any semblance of dignity as a starter, Isringhausen is an oft-injured closer, and I try my best never to mention Pulsipher ever.) I will try to get more in depth as soon as possible; retrosheet.org has the statistics I need but I don’t think they are posted until after the season is complete.

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