Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Pitch Counts

I really enjoy any topic that allows me to combine my baseball experience and my degree in Exercise Science. One of my favorite topics is to discuss pitch counts.

Pitch counts have become more prevalent over the last ten years – for good reason. Young players are at risk of coming under the wrath of overbearing coaches who put winning ahead of a players health. We have all heard stories of the coach who pitches a young player because he is head and shoulders above any other pitcher on the roster. The overused player can become injured and the other players never get a chance to develop. 

For those reasons, especially among young players, pitch counts are needed. But are pitch counts necessary at the high school and collegiate levels? At higher levels, you are more likely to have deeper talent and more competent coaches (I said more likely - it isn’t an absolute). 

Before you start to roll your eyes – or leave this post altogether – hear me out. I also understand that most Major League organizations put per game pitch limits and season inning limits on their best prospects. But they do that most times because of the financial investment they have made in the player. 

But is that smart? Doesn’t it seem that many times the twenty-something guys that throw outrageously hard in the minor leagues never reach their full potential? Is it because of pitch counts? 

The exercise scientist in me says that throwing a lot allows you to throw harder and pitch longer. The only way to throw harder is to make your arm go faster. There are different ways to accomplish that – strength, momentum, and mechanics – but in the end, your arm speed is what matters. 

While mechanics are important and strength training is a good complement, throwing is what primarily builds arm strength. What about stamina? Conditioning is important, but there really is no substitute for building muscle stamina through throwing. 

But the best argument I have is the former Major League pitchers. These players rarely were injured and all seemed to throw harder. Let’s use the benchmark of 275 innings pitched in a season.

Bob Feller reached that mark seven times as did Bob Gibson. Don Drysdale, Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan all had five seasons. 

In comparison to some of the greatest pitchers of this and the last generation, Roger Clemens had one. Neither Randy Johnson (271.2) nor Andy Pettite (240.1) had a single season. Phillies’ stars Roy Halladay (266.0), Cliff Lee (231.2) and Roy Oswalt (241.2) have all failed to eclipse the 275 inning mark even once.

I understand that there is an argument that these players all have had long, successful careers. But I also don’t think it is fair to compare Major League players to high school and college players. 

All I ask is you keep an open mind and really think about this. If your son or player isn’t throwing as hard as you feel they should, are they throwing enough, especially off the mound?

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