Q: Your young phenom ace has throw 109 pitches through 6 innings of dominant baseball. The opposing pitcher has matched him pitch-for-pitch but in the top of the 7th, your team gets lucky, and pops a solo home run from your struggling third baseman. You’ve got the 1-0 lead heading into the bottom of the 7th, what do you do?
Your options are:
A. Send back out your starting pitcher. Sure, he’s throw 109 pitches, but he’s a “freak” and he did it in college all the time.
B. Warm up the bullpen, despite a dominant performance, your pitcher has thrown some high stress innings and it’s best not to push things. Your team is going to be bad this year and you must protect your one strength — pitching.
C. Eat some sunflower seeds and try to look busy.
Put yourself in Bochy’s giant thunderskull last night. Which option would you take? A, B, or C? I know which one I would have taken and it’s not A or C.
Last night Tim Lincecum set a career high in his young MLB career for pitches thrown in a game with 122 total pitches thrown over 7.1 innings pitched. His previous high had been 116, I believe. I also believe this is a high for any starting pitcher on the Giants this year. As “freaky” and gifted Lincecum is, I don’t like this move for a couple of reasons that I feel like I’ve gone over-and-over about on this blog.
My goal for the year, to quote Fred Sanford, is “Keep the young pitching healthy, you big dummy!” Anytime you talk about pitch-counts people tend to get worked up over these things. It’s still something in baseball analysis that some agree with as having an effect on a pitcher, long term, while others are unsure, or just plain skeptical*.
*Links to an an online preview of The Rob Neyer and Bill James Guide to Pitchers, a fantastic read on a calvacade of pitching topics. Recommended reading.
I know I personally believe that pitch-counts can prove as a useful tool in keeping pitchers healthy, but I also realize that a large part of pitching could harder to define, or at least more nebulous but I don’t think it’s outlandish to assume that there is a point at which a pitcher starts to fatigue and as a result, lose his mechanics — release point, arm slot, tempo, etc. — which in turn can do physical harm. Is Lincecum’s point 120+? Maybe, who knows, but what do the Giants have to gain by pushing Lincecum back out in the 7th inning after he’s thrown 109 pitches? Another win for Lincecum but at what cost to the future? In an April game against the Padres, I can’t see the advantages of pushing Lincecum this far, or this hard.
These high stress innings that pitchers work through are the ones that put the most wear on them. You’ll often hear in defense of Lincecum: “He’s a freak, he threw high pitch-counts in college and even relieved between games, he’s just a freak!” but while that might be true, you’ve also got to realize that the stress level isn’t the same. Major league hitters are tougher to retire, generating more stress. The environment is also totally different, pitching in front of 30,000 people is a lot different than pitching in front of 300 people on a Tuesday night in college. This is why I have some apprehensions about comparing a college workload to a major league workload, the environments are drastically different.
Let’s glance at Lincecum’s pitch count by inning.
Inning # Pitches 1 21 2 17 3 15 4 28 5 14 6 14 7* 13
Lincecum threw 20+ pitches in the 1st and 4th inning. You could argue that the 4th was one of the more stressful innings that he threw last night. The bases were loaded with 1 out but Chris Young ended up swinging away and hitting into a double play. His quickest innings were the 5th and 6th, he threw 14 pitches in each inning. The 7th also proved to be a stressful inning for Lincecum. Heading back out to the mound after 109 pitches, he didn’t complete the inning. He started the inning by walking Khalil Greene. He then got Tadahito Iguchi to ground into a force out. Next, the Padres called Tony Clark to pinch-hit and he served a 1st pitch single to LF on Lincecum’s 122nd and final pitch of the night.
Bochy could have been motivated by the previous nights’ 13-inning game — 5 relievers were used — but Chulk should have been available to start the 7th. Chulk isn’t a great reliever, he’s good – not great, but the Padres were sending up their bottom half of the order.
Still, I think the question can be reduced to what do the Giants have to gain by trying to squeeze another inning from Lincecum? A win? Yeah, but what are the long term ramifications? That’s my only question and one that I can’t answer right now, but at least I’m pondering it. Something I wish I felt the Giants were also doing.
For PAP believers, Lincecum is currently 4th in the entire majors in pitcher abuse points. His next start is something to keep an eye on.
Bullpen Gold Star Goes To: Jack Taschner, who came in during the 7th after Lincecum left, walked one, but got out of a bases-loaded jam. He got out two very tough hitters in Scott Hairston — a certified Giants killer — and Adrian Gonzalez. Check out the leverage index from when Taschner came in, doesn’t get any higher than that.