Monday, September 7, 2009

Pitch Counts

GW was never a big fan of limiting innings pitched, but we do think that a pitcher should be shut down at somewhere around 3,000 pitches for the season, unless he's CC Sabathia. After all, it's pitches that stress an arm, not innings, and they don't necessarily go hand-in-hand.

The rule of thumb is that everyday starters should top out at 3,000-3,200 pitches during the season, and ideally average 16 or fewer pitches per inning.

So we thought we'd take a look at the pitch counts run up by the Bucco staff, and see if the six-man rotation theory for September holds water. And hey, it does make sense.

For the workhorses of Paul Maholm and Zach Duke, they're just replicating last year's pitch load. Maholm has thrown 2,654 pitches this year, 15.8/inning, compared to 3,041 last year, with 14.7 tosses/frame. He's been a little less efficient, but still will be right around last year's count.

Zach Duke's embrace of pitching to the mitt is keeping him on track, too. He's thrown just 14.2 pitches/inning, 3rd best in the majors, compared to 15.8 in 2008. In fact, although Duke is three innings away from matching 2008 (182-185), he's thrown over 300 pitches less (2,590-2,928) than last year.

Both have 4 or 5 starts remaining, depending on how the rotation gets juggled over the final 27 games, and should be the only guys on the staff to touch the 3,000 pitch mark.

Charlie Morton likewise will match 2008's pace. His minor league work was about the same over the past two seasons, and he's gone 68 MLB innings this year compared to 74-2/3 last season. His pitch count is 1,181 (17.4/inning) versus 1,356 (18.2) in 2008. Hard to believe, but he's cut down a bit on his pitches/inning this year.

But three guys are pushing the limit. Ross Ohlendorf has pitched over 100 more MLB innings this year than last, and thrown 2,510 pitches compared to 1,068 in 2008. He's been efficient this year, using just 15.4 pitches/inning as opposed to last year's 17, but it's time for him to cruise.

Kevin Hart isn't nearly as bad. His minor league innings are about equal over 2008-09, though he's more than doubled his MLB innings, from 27-2/3 to 61-2/3, and his pitches have gone from 576 to 1,076. Hart's a slow worker, but his pitches for inning have improved, from 20.8 (ouch!) to 17.4 this year. If they baby him, it's just a matter of caution more than overwork.

A name that's not tossed about much is Jeff Karstens. He had a couple of rough outings before ending up on the DL, and dead arm could be the reason. He went from 51-1/3 innings of work in 2008 to 93 this season, and his pitch count rose from 830 to 1,481. He throws about 16 pitches per inning. They'll keep an eye on his pitch count when he's back.

For all three of these guys, there's also the added onus of being yanked from the bullpen to starting during the year (and in Karstens' case, back again), not only adding stress to the arm but altering their preparation, too. So if the Pirates are leery of over extending them, it's a logical precaution.

No one in the pen is in danger of overwork; JR has used them efficiently, if not entirely effectively, during the season and protected them when he had to. But there are two pitchers in particular that illustrate the effect of command on performance.

Matt Capps is Case A. He's worked seven inning less so far than he did last year, but thrown more pitches (815-727). His pitch count has jumped from a sparkling 13.5 pitches/inning to an unsightly 17.6, and so has his ERA, from 3.02 to 6.02.

Jesse Chavez shows the other side of the coin. In limited work last year, he threw 19 pitches/frame, and had an ERA of 6.60, in an admittedly small sample of 15 innings. But this year, he's cut his pitch count down to 15 per game, and his ERA dropped to 4.13.

The Kerrigan effect? Tough to tell. Dumping Ian Snell and Gorzo helped; Morton and Hart are both marginally more efficient, but they haven't been here long enough for Dave Kerwin...errr, Joe Kerrigan, to have much influence on them. The bullpen hasn't shown much change in pitch counts overall. Until the Bucs settle in with a staff that's not in transition, no one knows how well they've been coached up.

But this much is certain - the fewer pitches thrown, the more effective the pitcher.

-- The countdown to 17 is almost at liftoff. Joe Rutter of the Tribune Review has a recap of all the losing teams, from 1993-2008.

Jen Langosch of recalls the events of the first year of the streak, 1993, to put it all in perspective.

John Perrotto of Pirates Report recalls some of the players that made the streak possible.

-- Dejan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette continues his series on the Pirates minor league affiliates. Today he posts on the State College season.

Jim Rosati at North Side Notch blog has a more detailed look of the Spikes' year.

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