Counting pitches just doesn’t add up
Why is it that pitchers in this ultra-modern era of American sports are the ONLY types of athletes whose attributes are deteriorating over time rather than improving? Two words: money and fear.
It’s time to change the group-think in baseball, fueled in part by the over-analysis of numbers, that says young pitchers need to be treated with kid gloves. It’s hurting pitchers and it’s hurting the game of baseball.
If you think about athletics and the way things generally work, people are getting bigger, faster and stronger. Records involving speed, strength and stamina are being broken all the time and we’re pushing the envelope when it comes to what the human body is capable of doing on a daily basis.
Except when it comes to pitchers…
Why are pitchers the only athletes who are going backward? How does it make sense that inferior athletes with inferior training and inferior medical care could do 30-40-50 years ago what modern day pitchers cannot do? How could guys like Steve Carlton, Nolan Ryan, Cy Young and so on down the line toss 300+ innings – effective, dominant innings – often throwing God-knows-how-many pitches while pitchers today are lucky to make 200 innings and rarely make it past the 6th or 7th inning because they’re “around 100 pitches?”
Does that make any sense?
And who came up with that nice round number of 100 pitches? Why not 93 pitches? Why not 107? How in the world did 100 pitches become the gold standard? Because it’s easy to remember, that’s how, which gives you an idea about it’s validity as a measuring stick.
Of course it doesn’t, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing about it.
I love the fact that Nolan Ryan has eliminated the pitch counts in the Texas Rangers minor league system. It’s a bold move, one that will ultimately pay dividends for a franchise always starved for pitching, but it’s one that only a person with Ryan’s cache could pull off. If some mere mortal were to implement such a plan, and something were to go wrong with a prized porcelain pitching prospect, that person’s job would be in jeopardy. Thankfully Ryan seems to be above such things.
Here’s the thing – high pitch counts do not cause pitchers to get injured. Pitchers are going to have arm problems, some of them severe, and you’re just not going to avoid that. I’m not suggesting that the research done in this regard is wrong – Baseball Prospectus’ work is excellent in this area – I’m saying that the high pitch counts are not directly causing the arm problems we’re talking about.
The reason pitchers can’t handle pitch counts in the 120-140 range in the Major Leagues is because THEY ARE NEVER TRAINED TO THROW THAT MANY PITCHES WHILE THEY ARE BEING DEVELOPED.
Period. End of story.
When David Price has a ridiculous 5-inning limit in his minor league outings how could he then be expected to move up to the Majors and go 6-7-8 innings when it really counts? He can’t be expected to do that, at least not logically, and that’s what’s causing all the problems.
Teams want their starting pitchers to be workhorses but from the time they’re drafted they’re trained to be nothing more than miniature ponies, the kind you see at petting zoos.
Pitchers are athletes and it’s time Major League teams starting treating them as such and training them to do the job they’ll be required to do in the Major Leagues. Some young hurlers are going to get hurt and nothing that MLB does is going to change that, but you can better prepare your talented young starters for the rigors of the Major Leagues by gradually building up their arm strength and stamina in the minor leagues.
I’m not saying an 18-year-old pitching phenom should be allowed to throw 120 pitches on a routine basis, I’m saying he should be put on a program that will allow him to throw that many pitches on a regular basis after a 2-3 year period of strengthening and conditioning.
AreÂ you just going to go out and run a bunch of 5K “Turkey Trots” or “Fun Runs” for 2-3 years and then jump right into the Boston Marathon? No, you’d be an idiot and you wouldn’t finish the race.
If you’re sitting at home right now thinking to yourself, “Gee, I’d really like to be able to bench press 250 pounds someday” you certainly can’t accomplish that goal by working out with 150 pounds for a year and then throwing an extra 100 lbs on there one day. You’ll kill yourself.
Pitchers need to be trained to throw 120-140 pitch games and 250+ innings over the course of a season.
The reason baseball went down this path is that awful combination of money and fear.
With signing bonuses reaching 7-figures in the MLB Draft, the fear of those investments going to waste because of injury has driven teams to try and prevent the unpreventable. In other words, non-baseball people decided out of fear to protect bonus babies with a system than only makes those high-priced hotshots even more fragile.
If guys who never lifted a dumbbell, ran on a treadmill or worked with strengthÂ conditioning coaches could throw a ton of pitches – and therefore a ton of innings – then why can’t modern day pitchers who have all the advantages when it comes to health, nutrition and medical care?
Fear, my friends, fear.
The only thing we have to fear is, fear itself – and all the dopes who think with their wallets instead of with their brains.
Hopefully more teams will follow what Ryan is doing with the Rangers, but I’m certainly not going to be holdingÂ my breath…I don’t trust people who scare so easily.
Kevin Wheeler is the host of Sports Open Line (M-F 7-9 PM ET) on News Radio 1120, KMOX in St. Louis (www.kmox.com) and he is a baseball instructor with All-Star Performance (www.all-starperformance.net) and the St. Louis Gamers (www.stlgamers.net). You can reach him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org