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Thread: Pitch Count

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    Pitch Count

    While I am aware that pitch count was not kept until relatively recently, it seems that its influence has perhaps been exaggerated. My question is this: From whatever sources might be available, what was likely to be an average pitch count for a starting pitcher in the "old" days - i.e., when starters threw many complete games, when there were no closers or set-up men, when Cadore and Oeschger pitched all 26 innings of the longest game, when starting pitchers were not lifted in the 7th after giving up one run because they had thrown 100 pitches, etc. You get the idea. Okay, then...on average, how many pitches for a "typical" starter (who was probably also the finisher)?
    pb::

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    Or you could go to this page: http://www.tangotiger.net/pitchCounts.html

    where Tom has done estimates for Feller, Spahn, Carlton, and others. Note that he has actual data for Koufax.
    Patrick

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    Pitch Count

    While I am aware that pitch count was not kept until relatively recently, it seems that its influence has perhaps been exaggerated. My question is this: From whatever sources might be available, what was likely to be an average pitch count for a starting pitcher in the "old" days - i.e., when starters threw many complete games, when there were no closers or set-up men, when Cadore and Oeschger pitched all 26 innings of the longest game, when starting pitchers were not lifted in the 7th after giving up one run because they had thrown 100 pitches, etc. You get the idea. Okay, then...on average, how many pitches for a "typical" starter (who was probably also the finisher)?
    pb::

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    Thanks so much for the excellent references.
    Actually, what I was trying to get at was whether there is some real justification for lifting a starter after about 100 pitches, regardless of how effective he has been up to that point. I don't doubt that the arm is not as "fresh" as it was after 30, 40, etc. pitches, but neither was it in the old days - yet so many of those oldtimers went on to pitch complete games with (to the best of my knowledge) no appreciable falling off in effectiveness during the last few innings. On yesterday's Mets telecast the broadcasters cited statistics stating that in the game as it is played/managed today, only 30% of starters are in the game by the seventh inning. For several seasons now I have been more than a little disturbed by an effective starter being lifted because his pitch count was around 100 - especially when his reliever blows the lead. It was bad enough when a starter came out because he had pitched _____ (fill in your number) innings. But where is it written that today's starters are done, one way or another, after about 100 pitches?

    Once again, many thanks for the valued information.
    pb::

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by jaykay View Post
    Thanks so much for the excellent references.
    Actually, what I was trying to get at was whether there is some real justification for lifting a starter after about 100 pitches, regardless of how effective he has been up to that point. I don't doubt that the arm is not as "fresh" as it was after 30, 40, etc. pitches, but neither was it in the old days - yet so many of those oldtimers went on to pitch complete games with (to the best of my knowledge) no appreciable falling off in effectiveness during the last few innings. On yesterday's Mets telecast the broadcasters cited statistics stating that in the game as it is played/managed today, only 30% of starters are in the game by the seventh inning. For several seasons now I have been more than a little disturbed by an effective starter being lifted because his pitch count was around 100 - especially when his reliever blows the lead. It was bad enough when a starter came out because he had pitched _____ (fill in your number) innings. But where is it written that today's starters are done, one way or another, after about 100 pitches?

    Once again, many thanks for the valued information.
    I've been asking these questions for years. Especially when we talk about modern 215 IP/year pitchers like Pedro Martinez juxtaposed with pitchers from earlier eras (which takes place quite a bit here).

    Your best bet would be to post these queries in the stat forum. We have some of the most informed sabermetricians and baseball statisticians on the internet here.

    And a belated welcome to the site!

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by jaykay View Post
    But where is it written that today's starters are done, one way or another, after about 100 pitches?
    Moreover...

    Pedro has pitched only 187 of his 2645 IP with over 106 pitches thrown. His ERA, though, is 2.60 at that number of pitches....so no depreciation in quality, from what I can see.

    Maddux's career ERA beyond 105 pitches is 2.26 (again, small sample size, though). His ERA from pitches 91-105 is an outstanding 1.93, though.

    Clemens has thrown almost 500 innings beyond 105 pitches since 1987. His ERA is 1.83. His career ERA is 3.10.

    I've never understood (and always loathed) the obsession with 100 pitches which has spurned a generation of 6 inning starters. And I don't see that using 4 pitchers a game is anywhere remotely close to necessary. Or that it leads to more winning, either, for that matter.

    And I'd love to see information one way or the other on this matter.

  9. #9
    Can a moderator please move this thread to the stat forum? With people like Sean Forman (and other stat gurus) over there, I would think the content and queries raised by the thread starter would be more appropriate and likely to spurn interesting discussion.

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    Quote Originally Posted by csh19792001 View Post
    Moreover...

    Pedro has pitched only 187 of his 2645 IP with over 106 pitches thrown. His ERA, though, is 2.60 at that number of pitches....so no depreciation in quality, from what I can see.

    Maddux's career ERA beyond 105 pitches is 2.26 (again, small sample size, though). His ERA from pitches 91-105 is an outstanding 1.93, though.

    Clemens has thrown almost 500 innings beyond 105 pitches since 1987. His ERA is 1.83. His career ERA is 3.10.

    I've never understood (and always loathed) the obsession with 100 pitches which has spurned a generation of 6 inning starters. And I don't see that using 4 pitchers a game is anywhere remotely close to necessary. Or that it leads to more winning, either, for that matter.

    And I'd love to see information one way or the other on this matter.
    There's also the obvious skew of pitchers not getting to that count unless they are pitching well - especially economical pitchers like Pedro and, especially Maddux.

    From a simple standpoint, you change pitchers when you reach the point where your bullpen guy is likely to be more effective than the guy on the mound at the time (with some tangential concern for overall, long-term durability issues). I think a lot of these guys get lifted for specific situational match-ups, too.

    I mean, how many pitches does Pedro Martinez have to throw before Mike Timlin is a better option? I'm thinking, like a couple of thousand...

    But, maybe in one situational match-up, with a big lefty coming up, maybe you could make the case that Alan Embree is a better choice than Pedro with 90 pitches under his belt. Then we get the knee bone to the shin bone dynamic and as soon as a right comes up, Timlin becomes a better option than Embree.

    Any sort of long term durability issues notwithstanding (for the moment), I'll take a tired Pedro over some subpar reliever any day.

    That's why I long raised the question, if the Sox had the Yankees pen throughout the late 90s, would Pedro's fragility become so much of an issue (in its own time)? Having a seven inning pitcher is a lot less of a liability if you are handing 3-1 games over to Stanton, Nelson, Mendoza, Rivera and so forth.
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    In "A Lefty's Legacy," it is stated that Koufax no-hit the Phillies after throwing 104 pitches in warm-ups!
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    Quote Originally Posted by csh19792001 View Post
    Can a moderator please move this thread to the stat forum? With people like Sean Forman (and other stat gurus) over there, I would think the content and queries raised by the thread starter would be more appropriate and likely to spurn interesting discussion.

    Not to make an issue of this, but I did post my thread on the stat forum first (May 7). Only two replies (neither of which precisely addressed the point I raised), so I thought I might do better here.

    And I did.
    pb::

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    On interesting thing about pulling the starters and diversity in the bullpen over the last 20+ years is that the % of teams winning (and hence losing) after leading in the late innings has not appreciably changed dating all the way back to the 1940s/50s. In this respect closers and setup men have not changed the game at all - except for the large % of payroll now dedicated to the bullpen.
    Last edited by Brian McKenna; 05-16-2007 at 10:10 AM.

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    I looked through my Neft & Cohen 1901-1920 pitching staffs. Some leaned toward only using 7 pitchers per season with 340 innings pitched for their #1 and #2 hurlers. Some teams let their aces pitch well over 400 innings. Many starters also filled in as relievers when necessary.

    The good ones usually went the full 9 innings and some even further in extra innings. There were many people keeping score at the ballparks so discussions about pitch counts or batters faced had to be routine. 200 pitches thrown may not have been uncommon. Back then an over-used pitcher would let his Mgr know when he was ready to pitch again. Other starters would move ahead of him if necessary.

    bmckenna: The threads are great and thanks!

    In the old days, the best athletes played baseball and the best of them were often the pitchers. Walter Johnson couldn't understand why more pitchers didn't use his side-wheeling delivery as it was easier on his body. I might be wrong but I think more pitchers back then threw either sidearm or with their arm parallel to the ground.

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    I don't know if anyone has actual pitch count data for oldtime pitchers (pre-WW2). I know that we can use Tangotiger's formula to make estimates, but I'm not so sure that formula would be accurate for the deadball era or the decade or two after. The game was just so different before Babe Ruth came along, and even after the HR became a large factor the deadball strategies didn't go away. Today there are some pitchers for whom the formula doesn't work particularly well. For example, Greg Maddux always throws fewer pitches than predicted. The decision to challenge hitters or work around the edge of the strike zone rests with the pitcher, and some have a clear preferences. Maddux can throw a strike anytime he desires, and doesn't like to go deep in the count very often. I strongly suspect that most deadball era pitchers were much like Maddux. The longball wasn't much of a threat, so pitchers had little to fear by throwing fat pitches. With pitchers unafraid to put the ball over the plate batters couldn't afford to take lots of pitches. "Working the count", as it exists today, probably was a more difficult strategy back then. Taking the first 2 pitches would likely put the batter behind in the count.

    Since starters then were expected to pitch the entire game they needed to pace themselves, so they didn't put maximum effort into every pitch. This would allow battters to put the ball in play more often. And when somebody reached base the offense was likely to use a "strategic" play, like the sacrifice or hit & run, both of which tend to put the ball in play early in the count.

    If you look at the game times from that era it is clear that the game was played much more swiftly. Sub-2:00 games were not uncommon, and a pitcher's duel might result in a game time of 1:30 or less. Even if we assume there was less dawdling it still takes time for the players to take the field or return to the dugout each half-inning. Much of the savings in time probably came from fewer pitches being thrown.

    So how many pitches were thrown back then? My guess is before 1920 the average per 9 innings was around the 110-120 pitch level. The best pitchers would be lower than that. The estimator gives a higher figure, around 130 pitches. But Maddux in his prime was about 10% under his estimate, and I think deadball strategies kept pitch counts lower.

  16. #16
    Pitch counts really annoy me. Especially when the pitcher is 25 years old & pitching great or a veteran pitcher who is pitching great. I don't think managers should be babying young pitchers. I think they can handle throwing more than 120 pitches in a good game. He'll have enough bad games so he won't always get to 120 pitches. But when he's pitching well, let him pitch.

    So many pitchers wear down after six innings or 100 pitches because it's in the back of their minds that they've pitched long enough & it's time to be taken out.

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    stevebogus: I lean towards the estimator's figure of 130 pitches per game back in pre-1920. I looked at a few 1919 pitching staffs and it looked to me like the average was around 40 batters faced per game. That's maybe 1 or 2 less than they face today.

    I have a pitch count of 31 just for K's, W's and E's in 1919 before even looking at the 24 more batters outs and the 8 hits made. I recall reading about guys skilled in fouling off pitches in the early 1900's during 8 to 10 pitch at bats.

    Batters outs are the same (27), hits are both close to around 8 per game, and the modern game may have one additional batter who walks per game. Today's teams strike out about 3 more times per game.

    Doesn't the Baseball Hall of Fame have most of the Official NL & AL scorebooks?

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    Quote Originally Posted by TonyK View Post
    stevebogus: I lean towards the estimator's figure of 130 pitches per game back in pre-1920. I looked at a few 1919 pitching staffs and it looked to me like the average was around 40 batters faced per game. That's maybe 1 or 2 less than they face today.

    Doesn't the Baseball Hall of Fame have most of the Official NL & AL scorebooks?
    The real issue is whether or not the average number of pitches per batter has changed through history. I think it has, for the following reasons:

    -Deadball pitchers allowed lots of ball in play. This suggests two things to me. First, the pitchers were not always trying to blow the ball past the batters. If the HR is not a threat then pitchers could get away with this. Second, batters were trying very hard to avoid strikeouts. Contact hitting was the battting strategy. Combine these two and you end up with balls being put in play earlier in the count. Most batters who have low strikeout rates also have low walk rates for this very reason. If they are very good at making contact they don't go as deep in the count as batters who swing and miss a lot.

    -Deadball era strategies. If the hit & run is on the batter doesn't have the option to take a pitch, he must swing. This also tends to put the ball in play early in the count. And the bunt is the ultimate contact play.

    - The swiftness of the game times. I know there is a lot of wasted time in the typical modern game. But even if you could eliminate all the standing around and half of the warmup tosses I don't think you could match the game times of long ago unless batters were getting the ball in play quickly too.

    I am suggesting that the pitch count estimator, designed using modern data, is not a good fit for 90 years ago. I think a 10%-15% reduction in pitches per batter was likely, and the difference may have been even greater.

    As for the scorebooks, I don't know if those are available. And I doubt they would provide a pitch-by-pitch account of the game. That is not the official scorer's job. The scorer just records the outcome of the play.

  19. #19
    I'm not sure how familiar people who are posting about my pitch count estimator are. Here's the article:

    http://www.tangotiger.net/pitchCountEstimator.html

    The theory is that if a pitcher allows only 15% of his PA to go to a BB+K (i.e., 85% of PA are with a BIP), then it doesn't matter if that was the case in 2000 or 1900.

    Kirk Rueter, let's say, is an example in 2000, while Cy Young would be one in 1900. Rueter is obviously a "soft" pitcher, while Cy would have been considered a "power" pitcher back then.

    But, the presumption is that since they had similar BB+K per PA, then the following is assumed:
    - pitches per BB are the same for both
    - pitches per K are the same for both
    - pitcher per BIP are the same for both

    On the other hand, if this was Randy Johnson or Armando Benitez, then they'd have pitch per PA that would be higher, simply because they'd go deeper in the count.

    I haven't proven any of this of course. But, this does hold all the way back into the 50s/60s, as I have the pitch count logs of the Dodgers. The pitch count estimator nails it for Sandy Koufax, along with virtually all the other Dodger pitchers of that era.

  20. #20
    I think part of the answer is that there is an effort to extend the careers of outstanding pitchers. Although, with the frequency at which players change teams, it is doubtful that you will necessarily be extending a particular pitcher's career for YOUR team. For all you know, you may be extending his career to defeat YOUR TEAM at a future date.

    The other part of the answer is that there is a very high quality pitcher in the bullpen (the closer) that did not exist in the past.

    Also, for the National League, it is a means of getting a weak bat out of the lineup at critical junctures.

    I guess the better question to ask is this: Is there any evidence that starters are pitching longer/later into their career than previous decades? It's probably too soon to answer a question like this, however.

    David Emerling
    Memphis, TN

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    Quote Originally Posted by stevebogus View Post
    The real issue is whether or not the average number of pitches per batter has changed through history. I think it has, for the following reasons:

    -Deadball pitchers allowed lots of ball in play. This suggests two things to me. First, the pitchers were not always trying to blow the ball past the batters. If the HR is not a threat then pitchers could get away with this. Second, batters were trying very hard to avoid strikeouts. Contact hitting was the battting strategy. Combine these two and you end up with balls being put in play earlier in the count. Most batters who have low strikeout rates also have low walk rates for this very reason. If they are very good at making contact they don't go as deep in the count as batters who swing and miss a lot.

    -Deadball era strategies. If the hit & run is on the batter doesn't have the option to take a pitch, he must swing. This also tends to put the ball in play early in the count. And the bunt is the ultimate contact play.

    - The swiftness of the game times. I know there is a lot of wasted time in the typical modern game. But even if you could eliminate all the standing around and half of the warmup tosses I don't think you could match the game times of long ago unless batters were getting the ball in play quickly too.

    I am suggesting that the pitch count estimator, designed using modern data, is not a good fit for 90 years ago. I think a 10%-15% reduction in pitches per batter was likely, and the difference may have been even greater.

    As for the scorebooks, I don't know if those are available. And I doubt they would provide a pitch-by-pitch account of the game. That is not the official scorer's job. The scorer just records the outcome of the play.
    I could be wrong but didn't scorebooks have boxes for balls and strikes long before 1970? The Official Scorer is supposed to know the count at most levels of baseball in case a dispute arises. I think press boxes knew to the exact pitch the numbers of pitches thrown. And if they didn't, then hundreds of fans in the stands were also keeping score.

    The average number of walks per game has stayed fairly constant and that builds up a lot of pitches. Batters were just as selective back then and some were known for their ability to get a lot of walks.

    I break it down into approximately 40 batters came up to the plate in a typical 1919 ML game:

    3 Walks= 4 balls + 1 strike/avg walk= 15 pitches
    3 K's= 2 balls + 3 strikes/avg K= 15 pitches (doesn't include any foul balls)
    2 Errors/Misc. Plays = 5 pitches
    8 hits= 3 pitches per hit= 24 pitches
    24 outs= 3 pitches per out= 72 pitches

    Total pitches= 131 (Rough Estimate)

    All it took was one batter in 1919 to work the pitch count to 10, and your 110 pitch count average wouldn't have happened. Another thought is many starters would be getting tired in the later innings and begin throwing more balls as they lost their control.

    Two other reasons why games took less time is the shorter time taken in between the 18 half innings, and the shorter time in between every pitch. I don't think batters stepped out of the box after every pitch in 1919 to adjust their equipment (they didn't have any) while pitchers and catchers played What Should We Throw Next? for a minute or two.

  22. #22
    Pitchers get hurt because of bad genetics. Back in the day, for every pitcher who has constant arm problems, there are other pitchers who can throw 300 innings a year for 15 years & have minimal arm problems.

    I doubt there's any proof that there is any correlation between the number of pitches thrown & the frequency of injury.

  23. #23
    Quote Originally Posted by mwb View Post
    Pitchers get hurt because of bad genetics. Back in the day, for every pitcher who has constant arm problems, there are other pitchers who can throw 300 innings a year for 15 years & have minimal arm problems.

    I doubt there's any proof that there is any correlation between the number of pitches thrown & the frequency of injury.
    I think there's a lot of truth to that.

    I was a pitcher as a kid and went on to pitch Division I baseball in college. I cannot recall a single day in my pitching career where I had to miss a start because of a "sore arm."

    I loved pitching batting practice. I always felt like I could pitch the day after I pitched. I never needed much time to warm-up. I never remember being in a game and my arm "wearing" out.

    Even into my late-40's, I could throw 400 pitches during a batting practice session for my sons' baseball team. And then I could do it the next day.

    I have twin sons who are 16-yrs-old and are also pitchers. They, too, have never complained of arm problems while all their teammates are continually struggling with arm issues.

    I think genetics DOES have a lot to do with it.

    For this modern generation of youth athletes, I think many of their arm problems come from actually not throwing enough. They don't play catch with Dad in the backyard like we used to when we were kids. The only time they practice (and throw a) baseball is when they have a scheduled team practice. Then they are expected to pitch in a game and go at 100%. Their arm is not conditioned for that and injuries result. They spend too much time indoors, in the air conditioning, playing video games.

    When was the last time you saw a neighborhood pickup game? We did it all the time.

    I seriously believe that if kids would simply play more "catch" (not pitch), that they would have less arm problems as pitchers.

    Some people simply have a "rubber arm."

    David Emerling
    Memphis, TN

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    Quote Originally Posted by mwb View Post
    Pitchers get hurt because of bad genetics. Back in the day, for every pitcher who has constant arm problems, there are other pitchers who can throw 300 innings a year for 15 years & have minimal arm problems.

    I doubt there's any proof that there is any correlation between the number of pitches thrown & the frequency of injury.
    If you are talking about adult pitchers then I'd say you could be right. But if you are including youth pitchers too (ages 8 to 14) then the evidence is clear that many kids do damage to their arms from overpitching. I have seen many kids throw 120 to 150 pitches in a game. Some could handle it and some could not.

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