Friday, July 06, 2007

Downfall of Pitching

On XM today they were discussing how pitchers don't pitch as many innings anymore and don't have control of the inside corner and whatever, same stuff that's always discussed. Then one of the "pitching experts" said "we'll never see lots of complete games again and here's why", and I'm thinking yes! someone's finally going to talk some sense into the hosts but instead he went on this long diatribe about how kids today have lower standards so they will only perform up to the standards set for them. His example to prove this arbitrary and curmudgeonly statement was that you can go through high school now getting 63s and 65s on tests and get a free ride to Harvard.

What??? It's never been more competitive academically to get into schools than it is now, for one thing. For another thing, WHAT??? again.

All baseball players are better now. I don't care what grandpa says, players have much more muscle, throw harder, field better, have better mechanics, take atbats more seriously, pitch more strategically, practice infinitely more, etc. etc. Players are much more talented as well, as the baseball playing population has increased at a higher rate than the rate of expansion of teams. The best teams from the 90s and 00s would destroy the best teams from other decades PERIOD.

Now hitters have been able to take advantage of improvements in training much more than pitchers. Since the human shoulder was not designed to throw overhand, there is a limit as to how much you can practice pitching. There is also no way of reproducing having an allstar hitter standing in the box against you in practice, but for hitters than can hit against pitching machines that make better pitches than real humans.

Thankfully knowledge of pitch counts has been assimilated quickly so now all pitching coaches keep track of them to make sure pitchers don't get overworked. It's been shown empirically that around pitch 110 every further pitch puts you at increasingly high risk for an injury or reduced performance. Sure, we could let everyone throw 200 every night, but most pitchers would quickly need surgery. The ones that remained would be the physical freaks. This is how "natural" selection of pitchers used to work, only the guys who could throw a lot remained through the process. Not necessarily the best, just the ones that could throw the most. I'm glad I didn't watch baseball back then, when so many talented pitchers were burnt out for no reason other than ignorance.

Further, pitchers do not get injured more now. They just report injuries more, because if they didn't the injury would be reported in terms of reduced K/9, more hits allowed, etc anyway. With the talent of hitters and the quality of their equipment, it's impossible to get away with diminished stuff now, any muscle pull compromises your team and costs people millions of dollars.

I hate hearing people talk about how pitchers today need to "man up" and "finish what they started." Pitching quality has never been better, not even close, and everyone with half a brain is doing all they can to keep the best quality on the field. For the first time in baseball history the quality over quantity is being preferred, and in response general opinion is that pitchers are being "babied", or that pitching is "diluted." This couldn't be farther from the truth.

That said, hitters have more of an advantage now than they've had for a long time, so the mound should probably be raised again to tone down offense somewhat. It would speed up games and also would help pitchers stay on the mound longer, which seems to be what everyone whats.



Blogger ben said...

actually, I saw an interesting article (either Hardball Times or Baseball Prospectus) that suggested something about pitcher abuse that Bill James also contended. That it's not about a magic number of pitches/start where injuries start happening, but rather it's when a pitcher is required to throw a good deal more (or even less) pitches than what they normally throw, when that happens the risk for injury mounts.

I also think that the inning numbers from past times can be misleading, based on a comment I read somewhere. The only people who appear in the stat books are the "genetic freaks," guys like Gibson, who could throw 4 million pitches a start and be ok. What we don't have the numbers on are the countless guys who got burned out in the minors before they even saw an inning due to arm abuse.

4:30 PM  
Blogger ben said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

4:32 PM  
Blogger ben said...

as an extra bit, I imagine that for many starters anything over 110 starts to exceed their "normal pitch limits," which is also why those pitching abuse numbers project out to 110 or wherever the line is. I suspect both schools of thought are right, just reaching the same number from different directions.

(previous comment deleted to fix typos)

4:33 PM  

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