Note: This is not a post to debate the merits of pitch counts. Don’t do that. We’ve all heard the arguments for and against PC’s ad nauseum. This isn’t a post endorsing, or opposing them, just information for you to look at. I personally believe that pitch counts are only a proxy to work from because there are many other factors that should go into knowing when to pull a pitcher. They are one piece of the puzzle.
The blue line indicates 100 pitches, yellow 110 pitches, orange 120 pitches, and red 130 pitches. Is 100 an arbitrary number? Sure it is. But I wanted to divide the plots into sections in order to be able to quickly and easily look at them and say: “Oh, Matt Cain has thrown 120+ pitches two times”.
~ Tim Lincecum has averaged 107 pitches per start this year. Matt Cain has averaged 106 pitchers per start. The two lefties, Zito and Sanchez, have averaged 98 and 99 pitchers per start this year.
~ The large dip you see near the end of Lincecum’s plot is the Houston game in which he left early after taking a linedrive off of his knee from the Evil One.
~ In more than half of Lincecum’s games started (55.5%) he’s thrown 110 pitches or more. Compare that to 48.2% for Cain, 19.2% for Zito and 12.5% for Sanchez. Before you freak out too much, understand that pitch count can be the byproduct of staying late in the game. Lincecum has pitched 7 innings or more 15 times this year. Cain has throw 7 innings or more 14 times. Zito has thrown 7 innings or more just 4 times and Sanchez has throw 7 innings or more 7 times. Once again, when Zito is pitching, so is the bullpen.
~ The highest pitch count in any game this year is Lincecum’s 132 last night against the Rockies. Once again, even though it might be blurry as to where the number begins or ends for adding wear-and-tear to a pitcher’s arm, why is Lincecum throwing 130+ pitches in a game in late August against the Rockies? By the end of the 7th the Giants had taken the lead on back-to-back bombs from Molina and Sandoval. At that point Lincecum was already at 118 pitches before the 8th inning. Why send him back out? What’s the benefit? Lincecum threw an additional 14 pitches before being pulled for the lefty-lefty match up of Taschner vs. Hawpe.
~ It appears that in both Lincecum’s and Cain’s plots, as the season nears it’s end, they’ve experienced an increase in pitches per game. For most of the season Cain has worked between around 110 pitches, but not until recently has he broken the 120 mark. Lincecum has had a couple of 120 games already in this season but his last three starts of 119, 115, and 132 are a slight trend upward.
~ The higher the pitch count usually means that you’re pitching later in games. From Sanchez’s plot, you can really see where his troubles began after the 2nd half. A sharp decline in his pitch count is related to his struggles. After working mostly between 100-110 pitches for the season, Sanchez hasn’t broken the century mark since July 19th, although his very last start against the Astros on August 11th before his shoulder problems was a good start. He went 7 innings and only gave up 2 runs while throwing 91 pitches.
~ Zito has the lowest pitch count of any starter in a single game with 57 pitches in his disastrous June 18th start against Detroit in which he went 2 innings and gave up 5 runs. Once again, if you can’t stay in games, your pitch count is going to be pretty low.
Now that you’re thoroughly freaked out…
After I posted this, I checked out Bagg’s Blog and he hit on the same theme, basically stating that he’s not-so-crazy about 132 pitches either. He sums it up as:
In the absence of that knowledge, then yes, you have to acknowledge that it was, in some respect or another, a risk sending Lincecum to the mound to start the eighth inning. That said, while I don’t think the decision was as egregious as the final number made it appear, I do have to take issue with it. All the drama and Cy Young awards aside, this is a late-August game for a fourth-place team. Winning or losing Wednesday night meant nothing in the long run. And I think Lincecum will have something to do with this team’s future success, don’t you?
That’s a great way to put it and the way I tend to think about pitchcounts and the Giants place in the season right now. The theme, goal, or objective for this season is to keep the young pitching healthy and apply it to ’09. Not only is Lincecum the best player on the Giants right now, he’s the best VALUE in the majors. For what he contributes in relation to what the Giants are paying him is astronomical. There is no sense in sending Lincecum back out for the 8th inning when the Giants are as bad as they are and he already had the lead. I’m seeing more cost than benefit. The Giants need to understand that and they need to understand how valuable — in both terms of perfomance and cost — Lincecum is. His next start will be telling and the Giants should ease up on the gas pedal some.