11 July 2003

Pitch Count Issues...

My old pal (and most frequent reader-referrer) John Perricone has been writing and ranting over there at Only Baseball Matters about the pitch counts of some of his favorite Giants pitchers for the last few days, and I was composing an email response, but thought that this might be a better way to respond to him, to his readers, and to solicit comments from mine (who are admittedly, largely his readers as well).

John has been looking at the declining performances and recent injuries of Jesse Foppert and Kirk Reuter, relative to their seemingly needless pitch counts of 123 and 122 pitches in a given start, respectively. He has noted that the two pitchers suffered apparently significant declines in effectiveness over their following starts and are now in the minors (Foppert) or injured (Reuter). And more specifically, he's worried that Williams will suffer a similar fate, given his recent complete-game start of 127 pitches on July 7th.

One of the things I love John for, besides his Pink Cadillac,

is that he can write something like "There can be little argument that..." and what he really means is "Please, someone, argue with me!!!"

So here I am.

John had a reader answer his contention that

"There is no doubt that pitchers years ago threw many more pitches in their starts."

with a response outlining how pitchers had generally easier lineups to face at that time, requiring less effort (and often fewer pitches) for certain batters, as discussed in an unknown Baseball Prospectus article. The article, which I also recalled, was written by Joe Sheehan in mid-June and is here.

ASIDE: The only thing I kinda disagree with Sheehan about is the contention that A-Rod or other "big" shortstops would have been made into outfielders in the 1950's, thereby weakening the lineup.

As I understand it, the reason that people like Mantle and DiMaggio were playing that position in the first place is that they were the best athletes in their neighborhood/team, and that's where you put such people: the toughest defensive position. But these guys were moved to the outfield when they reached the big leagues because their arms were too erratic to leave them at SS (at least according to Richard Ben Cramer). It wouldn't take a rocket scientist of a manager to realize that if you come across a SS who can play the field reasonably well (i.e. without knoblauching the ball into the mayor's head on a routine DP) and hit like Mantle/Aaron/DiMaggio, you leave him there. In case you're wondering, this has almost nothing to do diectly with Jerome Williams' pitch counts. END OF ASIDE

Anywho, with that said, I think John's overreacting a little with the pitch counts issue, at least in these few cases. I happen to agree with Perricone (and with Baseball Prospectus) that the evidence exists to indicate that repeated high pitch counts decrease short-term effectiveness and increase long term injury risk, but to say that Foppert or Reuter or Williams or anyone's specific injury is due to throwing too many pitches in a particular start is more than a bit of a stretch. Even the guys who actually did the research were referring to for BP will tell you not to go out and buy a sniper rifle if your favorite manager leaves your favorite young pitcher in for 140 pitches, much less 128 or 122.

Their numbers indicate trends, and in terms of the injury, the guys to whom you refer actually don't fit the trend. Here's why:

1) The ineffectiveness correlation doesn't really even begin until 120 pitches. The starts to which you refer for Reuter, Foppert and Williams, respectively, (122, 123 and 127) just barely get in under the wire anyway.

B) The injury correlation is not between pitches in an individual start and propensity for injury, but between above average career PAP and injury. (PAP, as you know, is Pitcher Abuse Points, a metric derived by Baseball Prospectus and described by here and here.

None of these three pitchers, having averaged roughly 100 pitchers per start, as John was so kind to point out in his own posting, would be likely to fall into the "above average PAP/career pitches" category.

It seems to me that, in terms of inneffectiveness, both Foppert and Reuter have been teetering on the edge of awful for some time now. Reuter's one of the rare examples of a guy who hardly ever strikes anybody out, but gets away with it because he has pretty good defense behind him most of the time, and he doesn't walk too many. But when the hits start to regress to the mean, he's in trouble. Reuter was kinda over his head last year, and seems generally to be just coming back to what we expect from him anyway, minus the "strikeouts".

Foppert seems the same, in some ways: both before and after that start, he has walked more than 6 batters per nine innings, and consequently it takes him nearly 4.5 pitches per batter. He does strike out a few more than Reuter does (and I'm taller than a Smurf...), but it looks like he essentially stopped inducing popoup outs after that start (41/64 GB/FB before, 26/21 after) and that those extra grounders & line drives became hits (8.8 hits/9IP before that start, 12.8 after). Sounds like luck to me.

He's just a kid, and kids get lit up, often for a year or two, before finding a niche. It's not always because the manager abused him...sometimes it's just because he has a lot to learn about how to pitch to the best batters in the world, and his once-apparent effectiveness was a mirage created by luck.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

No comments: