Are Pitch Counts The Ultimate Answer?
Commentary By Lou Pavlovich
Are pitch counts the ultimate answer for fewer arm and shoulder injuries with pitchers? Not by a long shot.
While it is smart to monitor pitch counts overall in games and especially be vigilant when pitchers throw long innings which really put stress on the upper body of pitchers, common sense should be the biggest factor.
Major League Baseball hemorrhaged more than half a billion dollars for players on the disabled list last season, and the answer to elbow and shoulder injuries is still an elusive mirage on the pro level despite pitch counts being carefully monitored on this level.
On the college, high school and youth baseball levels, elbow and shoulder surgeries to pitchers are costing parents millions of dollars each year. By and large, pitch counts are carefully monitored.
For years, the medical community has recommended that college and professional pitchers throw 120 or fewer pitches a game.
In the last issue of Collegiate Baseball, we tackled the subject of pitch counts and pointed out that in the early 1960s one season, Sandy Koufax averaged 155 pitches per game which was not unusual for that era, according to the Cultural Encyclopedia Of Baseball.
Nolan Ryan was an absolute workhorse. He threw 235 pitches in a 12-inning game against the Red Sox in 1974. He also threw 241 pitches in a game for the Angels in the mid-1970s. Ryan believed he averaged between 160-180 pitches per game in 1974.
Washington Senators’ pitcher Tom Cheney threw 228 pitches in 1963 as he struck out 21 Orioles in a 16-inning game. Luis Tiant threw 163 pitches in a complete game win by the Red Sox over the Reds in Game 4 of the 1975 World Series.
In 1987, there were 106 performances where a pitcher threw at least 140 pitches in a Major League game. Eight years later in 1995, that total was only 36. The protocol by the late 1990s was 120 pitches as the limit to keep pitchers healthy.
If you think these numbers by starting professional pitchers were high years ago in pro baseball, the Japanese really push the envelope when it comes to high pitch counts.
In a story by Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports recently, he discussed Japan’s national high school baseball tournament which recently took place.
A 16-year-old young man named Tomohiro Anraku of Saibi High School threw 772 pitches over 46 innings in five days.
He started the tournament with a 94 mph fastball and threw 232 pitches over 13 innings in his first contest. Then he threw 159, 138, 134 and 109 pitches in succeeding games. In his last game, not surprisingly, he could barely muster enough arm strength to throw fastballs 80 mph as he gave up nine runs during an eventual 17-1 drubbing
Passan also pointed out that 15 years ago at the Japanese national high school tournament that Daisuke Matsuzaka threw 250 pitches over 17 innings during a quarterfinal game. Then he pitched the next day in relief. And a day later, Matsuzaka fired a no-hitter in the finals. These pitching numbers in Japan border on the insane. But it shows what the human body is capable of.
Pitch counts are a part of the complex puzzle to reduce injuries to pitchers. Another important factor is stressful high pitch innings which pitchers endure. Coaches must always have an open dialogue with their pitchers when it comes to pain and potential injuries. Monitoring mechanics and giving plenty of rest to pitchers is also essential so they bounce back for their next outing.
Above all, they must be trained well for a marathon which is the baseball season and not coddled like a fragile tea cup.