There is never a clear cause and effect based on pitch counts because there are a myriad of factors that affect each performance. On May 5th, Stephen Strasburg threw 119 pitches against the Phillies and won the game even though the bullpen had to cover 3 1/3 innings for him as Strasburg was not pitch-efficient that outing as he gave up 4 walks. Unfortunately in Strasburg’s next start five days later, he was flat and had his worst outing of the season giving up 5 earned runs over 6 innings.
Was the poor May 10th start caused by the season-high pitch count on May 5th? Who knows. Conversely, Tanner Roark had a career-high pitch count of 125 pitches on May 2nd and pitched one of his better games on May 7th (2 runs, no earned runs) then Roark had his worst two back-to-back starts of his career giving up 11 earned runs over 9 2/3 innings in his last 2 starts. Roark’s start on Thursday night was a struggle from the start as he could not locate pitches. Some have theorized it is due to his heavy workload where he leads the NL in pitches thrown and others think it is due to pitching in the World Baseball Classic while there are the few that always say when Roark falters that he just is not that good (the MLB stats differ).
All of the Nationals top-four starting pitchers have now accumulated their 9th starts, and for comparison you can see the pitch-count workloads generated in this graphic where the Nats starter workload is very high.
The Nationals starting four are on a record pace of 15,232 pitches thrown in a season since pitch counts have been tabulated. There is no longer the excuse that Dusty Baker once gave when grilled about Mark Prior‘s injuries and heavy usage.
This is our transcription of a previous 106.7 radio interview of Dusty Baker’s answer on his reputation on handling young arms:
“And the people that are talking stuff about how I ruin arms, hey man, after 20 years, how many people don’t have somebody that’s had an arm operation? The last [few] years there have been more Tommy John than in the history of the game…You look at every team, it’s happening everywhere. There’s always haters, and you know something, go talk to my guys and see if I ruined them! Supposedly I ruined [Mark] Prior?!? There was no such things as pitch counts, and we had unwritten pitch counts ourselves.
Now this stuff is new with Strasburg. If we had had the Strasburg kind of scenario and situation back then, then maybe this wouldn’t have happened, but there was no such thing at that time.”
Well Dusty, you have Stephen Strasburg now. Dusty claimed there was “no such things as pitch counts” back when he had Mark Prior but that was not true. They just weren’t posted up in boxscores and put up on the big screens every stadium a decade ago but the clickers existed as it was part of the protocol of even Little League teams at the time. Don Baylor was the manager right before Baker took over the Cubs and said he was concerned about pushing the pitch counts on Mark Prior and Kerry Wood. Baker’s pitching coach, Larry Rothschild, kept pitch counts.
Sports Illustrated writer Tom Verducci observes that pitch counts are kept on many scoreboards and made this observation:
“In nearly every major league dugout a coach or the next game’s starter uses a handheld clicker to count pitches during games. More and more ballparks keep pitch counts on scoreboards. Think of a kitchen timer: click, click, click … Ding! He’s done!”
Cody Nielsen before the 2010 season in Bleacher Report wrote:
“…Mark Prior, who was the most heralded college pitching prospect ever. He was Strasburg before Strasburg was. ” and he wrote, “[Dusty]Baker rode them hard for the entire season, sometimes allowing them to throw 120-125 pitches per start, something that baseball’s medical professionals urge against for young pitchers due to the tendency for the arm to get injured through over-use.”
So here we are once again having this tired discussion and watching Max Scherzer argue with another manager in a profanity laced plea to stay in a game “I f***ing got this” just like he did with Matt Williams in June of 2015. That did not end too well if you believe over-use was the cause and effect of Scherzer’s 2nd half demise in 2015 which was steep (2.11 ERA 1st half vs. 3.72 ERA 2nd half). Scherzer begged to stay in a game that was well in-hand back in 2015, and Matt Williams allowed it just like Dusty Baker did last week.
Dusty Baker was out of baseball in 2014 and 2015 but here is his chart of pushing the pitch counts at the Tom Verducci limit set at 120! In 2015, that number was ONE game for the 2016 Washington Nationals. Tanner Roark threw 121 pitches on April 23rd of 2016. Max Scherzer never went above 119; Gio Gonzalez never went above 116; Strasburg never went above 114. All of that considered, Tanner Roark averaged 98 pitches per start last year compared to 106 so far this season.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon who won the World Series last year has said before that he never wants to push his starters too hard because you just cannot replace good starters but you can find new bullpen arms. It is a balancing act that managers will always struggle with.
“For me, it’s not a 100-pitch exercise, contrary to popular belief,” Maddon said.
Maddon said that Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester are more likely to be “heavy pitch count guys.” Jon Lester has averaged 106 pitches per start this year and is carrying the team’s heaviest load because he has shown he can handle the workload going over 200 innings 8 times in his career.
“We have trained everyone about the term ‘pitch count’,” Maddon said. “We’ve even trained the pitchers. I don’t want them to think so. Some are in progress. Guys get stretched out. They look strong late, I have no problem with more pitches. They’re just not there yet.’’
Maddon’s philosophy last year was to keep them all of his starters below 200 innings and when Jon Lester ended up at 202 innings, he got an extra days rest going into the post-season as their number 1 pitcher.
In more current news, Joe Ross is rumored to start tomorrow night for the Nationals which will require someone to be moved off the roster.