If you’ve been reading my posts here at umpbump, you know that I am less than enamored of what I like to call “The Cult of the 100-Pitch Count.”

cyoa.jpgBut with the way things are going, I may have to rename the cult.

In recent years, managers have become increasingly reluctant to allow starting pitchers to throw much more than 100 pitches in a game, taking them out no matter how well they are doing as soon as they get a bit past 100 throws. But last season and now this season, we’ve started to see pitchers getting taken out well under 100 pitches, for no real discernable reason other than it gets to be the 7th inning!

Take tonight’s game between the Dodgers and the Rockies. After six innings, the Dodgers were leading 1-0. Rockies starter Rodrigo Lopez had only allowed a single run in the first inning and had only thrown 68 pitches. Only 68! Dodgers starter Brett Tomko had thrown 92 pitches, but was working on a one-hit shutout! And yet, when the 7th inning rolled aroun, both pitchers were removed from the game!

For what reason? Merely because it was the seventh inning of a close game, and in those situations you have your 1-2-3 relievers which you are supposed to throw in the 7t, 8th, and 9th. It seems like pitch counts aren’t even what matters anymore, only what inning it is.

If managers are going to be this risk averse and always follow the conventional wisdom for using their pitchers (ie, always throw your two setup men and closer starting in the 7th inning of a 1-run game), why even have managers at all? Let’s just have the players consult one of those Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books from the 1980s.

“Is it the 7th inning? Turn to page 43.”

“Is it a one-run game? Bring in your second best setup man and turn to page 71.”

But seriously, even R.A. Montgomery wouldn’t pull a pitcher after only 68 pitches.

6 Responses to “If this is how it’s going to be, why even have starters at all?”

  1. Sarah Green says:

    Mmmkay one problem with Maddux’s point. So a pitcher shakes off a catcher 20 times a game…in your average 100-pitch-count game, that means he *doesn’t* shake off his catcher 80 times. That still gives the catcher an 80-20 advantage. Maybe Greg Maddux has unintentionally shown us that even great pitchers have problems, as you put it, “doing the math.”

  2. Coley Ward says:

    I dunno, Sarah. I think it’s telling that, ultimately, the pitcher has the final say over which pitch gets thrown. In football, the offensive coordinator usually calls the plays, but the head coach is the guy in charge. Same thing here. The catcher calls the pitches, but the second Maddux disagrees, we see who’s the boss.

  3. I’m glad you brought this up. There seems to be these conflicting ideas around baseball: 1. Pitchers shouldn’t be allowed to go past 100 pitches. 2. Relief pitchers are a crapshoot.

    If relief pitchers are a crapshoot (i.e. they’re not very good; they’re inconsistent; they’re living proof of depleted pitching), then how does it make sense to limit your starters? And yet, I feel, both these ideas are considered viable in today’s baseball world.

    There are very few teams in baseball who are genuinely comfortable with their bullpens. And yet, starters are seemingly being asked to go fewer and fewer innings. I’m not sure these two ideas can sufficiently coexist.

  4. This early in the season, there may be a couple of other factors at work:

    a. Managers may think their starters are still rounding into full-season form, and need a bit more TLC.

    b. Managers might want to get their relievers some early-season work, partly to keep them fresh and partly to sort out the wheat from the chaff (J.C. Romero, come on down!).

    After a few weeks of play, we may see starters going deeper into games if they’re still effective. However, your broader point is quite valid: most managers are too quick to pull a starter in favor of a middle reliever who is presumably the 7th or 8th best pitcher on the staff. And since they use so many relievers, they have to carry more pitchers and fewer position players. Remember when everybody had a 3rd catcher and a 5th outfielder? It’s become standard to carry 12 pitchers and 13 position players, which has to hamstring a manager’s ability to make in-game moves.

  5. Jojo Fireball says:

    What kills me about this whole issue is that arm problems in starting pitchers has gotten so commonplace that it’s expected for your horse to have tendonitus or a strain at least sometime during the season and it’s because of LACK of use…

    Not only do pitch counts weigh heavily in this paradox but also the fact that most pithcers are throwing on 5 or even 6 days rest between starts. Bullpen sessions between starts (which are usually between 60-80 pitches) are thrown at “90” percent effort and you’re lucky if your guy is even working that hard.

    Starts, innings and good mechanics are what leads to a strong but not too strong arm that can keep you in the running in August and Sep.

  6. Sarah Green says:

    In his recent SI article about Matsuzaka, Tom Verducci noted that in Japan, pitchers are actually trained to throw *more* pitches, throwing longer during games and throwing nearly every day between starts, while in the States, we are actually training our pitchers to throw *fewer* pitches by limiting them so much, as if each hurler has only so many tosses in his arm. It was really interesting. If I weren’t lazy, I’d throw up the link.

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