Pitch Count

The pitch count in Major League Baseball has come to be a big deal since the late 1980’s. In fact, an group called “Stats LLC” began tracking pitch counts in 1988.

Now a days it’s fashionable to remove a pitcher from a game after 100 pitches regardless of how he is pitching. Last week I was watching a game between the New York Mets and the Philadelphia Phillies. Jonathan Niese was on the mound for the Mets.

After seven innings, he had given up just one earned run on four hits and struck out seven Phillies. Then after seven innings, with the score Mets 2, Phillies 1, for no apparent reason other than the fact that he had thrown over 100 pitches, Mets manager Jerry Manuel removed Niese from the game.

You could almost hear the sigh of relief coming out of the Phillies dugout.

Manuel brought in right hander Bobby Parnell from the pen to pitch right handed batter Mike Sweeney. Now, Niese had already retired Sweeney twice, but for some reason, we can’t have a lefty pitching to a righty in the eighth inning.

Parnell proceeded to give up a hit to Sweeney and four Phillies runs on four hits. When that obviously was working out, Manuel brought in Jose Feliciano who , just for good measure, gave up another two runs including another hit by Sweeney!

I just don’t get it. Managers all over baseball do this though. You would think that if your pitcher was throwing well and in command of the game, you would let him in. I could maybe understand if the guy gets in trouble in the eighth. But many times the starter is replaced even if he’s having a good game.

This was the topper, though. In another game last week, Kevin Slowey of the Minnesota Twins, had a no hitter going after seven innings when Twins manager Ron Gardenhire took him out. The fans booed him as he returned to the dugout. Gardenhire explained after the game that Slowey had just returned from the disabled list and he had thrown 106 pitches. Yes, but Ron. A no hitter! Slowey said after the game that he was “a little disappointed“. A little?

Since 1996, the pitch count has really become a factor in Major League baseball. Here’ a list of times that a pitcher has thrown 125 pitches or more over the last few seasons:

2007 14 Times

2006 26 Times

2005 31 Times

2004 46 Times

2003 70 Times

2002 69 Times

2001 74 Times

2000 160 Times

1999 179 Times

1998 212 Times

1997 141 Times

1996 195 Times

I guess you can see the trend.

In a game in 1974, Nolan Ryan threw 259 pitches against the Kansas City Royals in 12 innings. In 1989 he threw 164 pitches in a game at the age of 42.

The complete game is almost a thing of the past. It’s a big deal now when a pitcher finishes a game.

In 1879, Cincinnati's Will White pitched 75 complete games. Ok, that was the 1800's and the game has changed. But even through the 1930's, 1940's and 1950's, it was nothing for a pitcher to throw 30 complete games. And they were usually doing it on three days rest. Unlike today when a pitcher gets at least four days of rest between starts.

During the 1953 season, Phillies pitcher Robin Roberts threw 33 complete games. And the amazing thing is that he won 23 games. That means he finished 10 games that he lost!

Even as late as the 1970's pitchers like Ferguson Jenkins who pitched 30 complete games in 1971, Steve Carlton who finished 30 games in 1972 and catfish Hunter who was the last to complete 30 games in 1975 were still fairly common.

Cy Young holds the record for most complete games with 749. But that's Cy Young. Ok, Steve Carlton finished his career with 254 complete games. Today, the active leader is Roy Halladay who is in his 12th full season with 57.

I remember as a teenager way back in 1971, watching game seven of the World Series between the Baltimore Orioles and the Pittsburgh Pirates. Pirates' ace Steve Blass started for the Bucs. The Pirates were winning 2 to 0 thanks to a Roberto Clemente home run. Blass was in control but in the bottom of the ninth, the Orioles put runners on base and scored a run to make the score 2 to 1 Pirates.

Not only didn't Pirates' manager Danny Murtaugh take Blass out, he didn't even have anyone warming up. The Pirates ended up winning the game and the series. Today, I doubt Blass would have even started the eighth inning.

It drives me crazy when a manger takes a guy out who is in complete control just because of pitch count. It's doing the opposing club a favor if you ask me.

Nolan Ryan who is now president and part owner of the Texas Rangers has done away with the pitch count. He's "old school".

Even with pitch counts and pitching every fourth day, it seems like one pitcher after another is on the disabled list. I think it's time to stop "babying" these guys and let them pitch.

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