• Pitch Counts & Innings Limits

    Posted by on August 4th, 2009 · Comments (14)

    Excuse me while I go on a little rant…

    I am so tired – and done – with hearing people talk about pitch counts and innings limits. (And, in Yankeeland, where there’s “Joba,” there’s talk about counts and limits, etc.)

    Regarding pitch counts and innings limits, with respect to preventing abuse of pitchers, to quote the dying Comedian “It’s a joke. The whole thing is just a joke.” And, here’s why:

    1. Using an inning as a measuring unit for pitcher workload is a mistake. Not all innings are alike. Do you really think a pitcher works as hard in a 9-pitch inning as he goes in a 35-pitch inning? Of course, the answer is “no.” But, in the world of limiting innings, based on innings pitched totals alone, you are treating the 9-pitching inning the same as the 35-pitch inning and that’s just silly.

    2. Using pitch counts, to determine a pitcher’s workload, alone, is a mistake. Not all pitch count totals are the same. Do you really think that a pitcher who throws 100 pitches over 7 innings in a game has worked as hard as a pitcher who has thrown 100 pitches over 4 2/3 innings? Of course, the answer is “no.” But, in the world of watching pitch counts, based on pitch count totals alone, you are looking at the destination and ignoring the journey that it took to get there. And, the journey is where all the labor is – and it’s not at the end of trip.

    3. Heck, not all pitches are alike in terms of the stress they put on a pitcher’s arm. Do you think it’s the same on a pitcher’s arm when he throws a four-seam fastball as it is when he throw a split-fingered fastball? How about when he throws a two-seam fastball and a curve? Think that feels the same on his elbow? How about a straight-change versus a slider? While we’re at it, how about a pitch thrown from the full wind-up versus the stretch? Think they both feel the same on the arm?

    So, forget pitch counts and innings limits when worrying about protecting a pitcher’s arm. If you really want to protect a starting pitcher’s arm, do this: The day after each of his starts, do a test on his arm – the shoulder, rotator cuff, elbow, etc. – and measure the strength of it. And, if you see that his arm is not losing any strength after each start, more so than usual, then he’s fine. And, only if you start to notice a trend where his wing is starting to weaken, again, more so than usual, after his starts, then you can start to back-off on his workload.

    Anyway, that’s what I would suggest – rather than just look at pitch counts and/or innings totals. How about you?

    Comments on Pitch Counts & Innings Limits

    1. MJ
      August 4th, 2009 | 11:45 am

      So, forget pitch counts and innings limits when worrying about protecting a pitcher’s arm. If you really want to protect a starting pitcher’s arm, do this: The day after each of his starts, do a test on his arm – the shoulder, rotator cuff, elbow, etc. – and measure the strength of it. And, if you see that his arm is not losing any strength after each start, more so than usual, then he’s fine.
      ———–
      I don’t think it’s QUITE that simple but I hear what you’re saying and agree in principle.

      That being said, isn’t the current theory that marginal increase in workloads from year to year as a means to prevent overuse/injury based in some sort of scientific/empirical research? So they must have data that, in general, backs up the notion that pitch counts and innings limits do impact the overall health and strength of a pitcher’s arm.

      The Yanks will not be wrong to protect Joba’s arm, even in the middle of a penant race. I don’t have the creative solution that balances both the interests of the 2009 season and the future usefulness of a pitcher of Joba’s caliber but you can’t burn the future just for the present, just as you can’t ignore the present for the uncertain promise of tomorrow.

      All of this would’ve been mitigated if they’d been able to acquire a 5th starter like Jarrod Washburn or if Kei Igawa didn’t suck complete crap.

    2. OnceIWasAYankeeFan
      August 4th, 2009 | 11:50 am

      Very interesting.

      Number one, the Red Sox do daily or near daily tests of shoulder strength. They are also widely regarded as following the best shoulder-strengthening regime (Only one example would be Brad Penny, who is again throwing mid-90s gas, and has said that his shoulder feels better than ever and that they introduced him to exercises the Dodgers never did).

      Number two, since this issue is coming back on Joba specifically, what do you think the Yankees should do with him? Is 140 innings a completely ridiculous limit that he should be allowed to blow past without any concern? Should he be a starter until the season ends? How will you feel if he goes 160 pitches overall, then blows out his shoulder in April? And related to your list of different ways that pitches impact arms, how careful should you be with Joba when most people seem to recognize that he is an injury risk due to his violent motion + stiff front leg?

    3. OnceIWasAYankeeFan
      August 4th, 2009 | 11:52 am

      Obviously I meant 160 innings.

    4. August 4th, 2009 | 12:07 pm

      MJ wrote:

      That being said, isn’t the current theory that marginal increase in workloads from year to year as a means to prevent overuse/injury based in some sort of scientific/empirical research? So they must have data that, in general, backs up the notion that pitch counts and innings limits do impact the overall health and strength of a pitcher’s arm.

      I’m pretty sure that the Verducci study, which many point to in this case, looks solely at the increase in innings pitched, from the year before, and doesn’t give any consideration to the labor within the innings.

      That’s crazy, IMO. Here’s why: Say the rule is that a pitcher is not supposed to have a 30% increase in his innings pitched total. And, the year before, he threw 100 IP.

      But, what if that pitcher averaged 22 pitches thrown per inning pitched the year before and this season he’s averaging 11 pitches per innings pitched? You really going to stop him at 130 innings? Why, he’s not working as hard this year, to get to 130, as he did last year to get to 100?

    5. Raf
      August 4th, 2009 | 12:15 pm

      Someone needs to get Dr. Mike Marshall on the phone…

    6. August 4th, 2009 | 12:19 pm

      OnceIWasAYankeeFan wrote:

      since this issue is coming back on Joba specifically, what do you think the Yankees should do with him?

      If they have a baseline for his arm strength following a start, then I would test him after each start, and, if his arm is up to par, I would keep running him out there every fifth day until his arm starts to show that it’s getting tired, etc.

      Now, that said, I wouldn’t “Dallas Green” him and let him throw 160 pitches in a start. Again, you have to watch him and see how many pitches he’s using per inning, the stress of the pitches thrown, etc. and use your head…but, I see no reason why you can’t start him every five days, and keep him to 100-115 pitches per game, as long as his arm/shoulder keeps testing out to be sound….

      Now, of course, if the Yankees already know that he’s got an arm issue….well, that’s a whole new ballgame….and requires a different approach

    7. August 4th, 2009 | 12:21 pm

      Raf wrote:

      Someone needs to get Dr. Mike Marshall on the phone…

      http://www.netshrine.com/marshall.html

    8. butchie22
      August 4th, 2009 | 12:25 pm

      Steve Lombardi wrote:

      MJ wrote:
      That being said, isn’t the current theory that marginal increase in workloads from year to year as a means to prevent overuse/injury based in some sort of scientific/empirical research? So they must have data that, in general, backs up the notion that pitch counts and innings limits do impact the overall health and strength of a pitcher’s arm.
      I’m pretty sure that the Verducci study, which many point to in this case, looks solely at the increase in innings pitched, from the year before, and doesn’t give any consideration to the labor within the innings.
      That’s crazy, IMO. Here’s why: Say the rule is that a pitcher is not supposed to have a 30% increase in his innings pitched total. And, the year before, he threw 100 IP.
      But, what if that pitcher averaged 22 pitches thrown per inning pitched the year before and this season he’s averaging 11 pitches per innings pitched? You really going to stop him at 130 innings? Why, he’s not working as hard this year, to get to 130, as he did last year to get to 100?

      Glad to see you quote Watchmen! I mean an argument for babying pitchers is the Toronto Blue Jays pitching staff. Marcum, MacGowan, Litsch and a cast of thousands up there were rushed and abused to a certain degree. They’ve had a gazillion pitching injuries the last couple of years and I think their pitching coach, Brad Arnsberg has something to do with it BUT many like Janssen on their staff were either misused OR pitched too many innings.

      Steve , I understand your point BUT look at what happened to Prior and Liriano. They weren’t babied and we can see the end result during this season I’m not a fan of the pitch count/innings limits BTW but there is some credence to it. In the case of Joba, his violent motion is seen as somewhat of a negative in terms of his long term health. Add to that he started as a starter, became a reliever now as a starter and might be a reliever again. Very precarious,if you ask me…Quite frankly, if they haven’t found a way to sort of limit his innings for the playoffs they should start now. In lieu of the fact that they want to protect Joba, they need a Harang or a Duke to fill out the rotation . By protecting their future , they are risking their present since Texas is 3 games out in the Wild Card and Tampa is 5 games out. I wonder, how many will question Joba being moved to the pen IF the Yanks don’t make it to the playoffs?

    9. Corey
      August 4th, 2009 | 12:36 pm

      1. Using an inning as a measuring unit for pitcher workload is a mistake. Not all innings are alike. Do you really think a pitcher works as hard in a 9-pitch inning as he goes in a 35-pitch inning? Of course, the answer is “no.” But, in the world of limiting innings, based on innings pitched totals alone, you are treating the 9-pitching inning the same as the 35-pitch inning and that’s just silly.
      =========
      in small sample size, your right it’s a terrible way to judge work load. However, if you go by big sample sizes, some innings will be quick and others long and they will approach the mean of the two which is then a good measure of workload.

      In any case, with Edinson Volquez recently going down with tommy john due to over-work, I think the yanks should definitly exercise caution with Joba.

      What would i do? At this point I would send Hughes down to the minors, stretch him out, bring him up and put joba back in the pen for the rest of the year. Then you have a playoff rotation of CC, AJ, Andy/Hughes, Andy/Hughes. Obviously this is contingent on Hughes not sucking as a starter, and Mitre not imploding (any more then he has).

    10. OnceIWasAYankeeFan
      August 4th, 2009 | 12:37 pm

      Steve Lombardi wrote:

      OnceIWasAYankeeFan wrote:
      since this issue is coming back on Joba specifically, what do you think the Yankees should do with him?
      If they have a baseline for his arm strength following a start, then I would test him after each start, and, if his arm is up to par, I would keep running him out there every fifth day until his arm starts to show that it’s getting tired, etc.

      If the Verducci Effect is true (and I believe the injury guy at BP is the one who first noticed it), there’s nothing that says you’ll see weakening shoulder strength as a leading indicator that you are pushing someone too far. In fact, the theory says that its in the year after a large (more than 30) bump in innings, for a young starter, that there is an added injury risk.

      @ Butchie
      The question boils down to how Hughes does if he is Joba’s replacement. If the transition is seamless, just two guys doing each other’s jobs equally well, but they miss the playoffs because of Mitre or some scrub they pick up on a waiver deal, no one should blame a decision made on Joba.

      I asked the question before, but no one wanted to engage it: How much farther do you go with Joba? Even if it is a flawed measure, how many innings should he be allowed to throw? If he is in the rotation to the end of the season, and throws 6 IP per game, even if they skip him a few times, that’s going to be 40+ innings, leaving him over the stated limit before the playoffs start.

    11. MJ
      August 4th, 2009 | 12:38 pm

      They are also widely regarded as following the best shoulder-strengthening regime (Only one example would be Brad Penny, who is again throwing mid-90s gas, and has said that his shoulder feels better than ever and that they introduced him to exercises the Dodgers never did).
      ———
      Only since you brought it up, this is a good example of why velocity isn’t the be-all/end-all to pitching. Brad Penny may feel better than he’s ever felt before and throwing “90s gas” but his performance in 2009 has been pretty lousy.

      110 IP, 5.07 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, .291 BAA, .819 OPSA

      I’m sure it looks Iike I’m picking on the Red Sox but I don’t mean it that way. I’m just running on a tangent to illustrate that velocity isn’t a good substitute for changing speeds/location.

      Incidentally, according to FanGraphs’ Pitch FX information, it doesn’t look like his fastball is any faster in 2009 than it was over the past two seasons…

      http://www.fangraphs.com/pitchfx.aspx?playerid=535&position=P

    12. OnceIWasAYankeeFan
      August 4th, 2009 | 12:51 pm

      I won’t argue his results are something special – hard to separate out any effect of switching leagues, for one thing, and up until a few starts ago, most thought Penny was doing quite well as a fifth starter – but when I look at that page, I see bounce-back numbers in every category – that is, 2009 consistently looks more like 2007 than it does 2008 (I only looked at fastball numbers).

      I do think its widely considered that the Red Sox are state-of-the-art when it comes to shoulder conditioning. The problems keeping Pedro on the mound had a lot to do with them being “early adapters” of best shoulder practices.

    13. August 4th, 2009 | 5:19 pm

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