Accepted suppositions are that all pitchers need to be a certain height, with all starters having the same pitch and inning limitations. Plus, the definitions of an accepted number of pitches per inning and a “quality start” are all metrics used throughout the Game, without confirming evidence of their validity.
Yes, today’s athletes are bigger, stronger, and faster, but the beauty of baseball is that none of that matters if a player proves by his performance on the field that he can compete with the best and be the best. Players come in all shapes, and sizes, and they prove their mettle by doing what they’re paid to do; pitchers by getting batters out. Keep in mind that the listed heights of players are about as reliable as a Birth Certificate from the Dominican Republic. Plus, the six inches between their ears is often more important than their physical stature.
Who decided that 100 pitches should be the limit, each game, for starting pitchers and total innings, each year, for young pitchers should also be limited to extend their careers? Why have these limitations been so widely accepted without empirical evidence that they actually work? Today, why is pitching a baseball perceived to be the only activity in any sport that is expected to improve by doing it less? Order the scouts to find the perfect pitcher prototypes and then restrict their ability to improve muscle memory, stamina, and learn their craft, by not pitching. Who thought that up, Mork, or E.T.?
A 100 pitch limit is not a rule, not based on fact; instead it is an absurd supposition. Plus, a limited pitch count translates into a, “fewer innings are better,” supposition. Some pitchers are well-done with 60 pitches; others are just getting warmed-up at 100. We are talking about individuals with many different levels of ability and stamina. To set an arbitrary number to cover all pitchers in all situations defies all logic. Are warm-up pitches before each inning a consideration, or pick-off throws, or pitch-outs, or intentional walks, or intensity of the game situation, or the type of pitches being thrown, fast-balls, curves, sliders, knuckleballs, etc.? How about “waste” pitches that are called by a catcher when a batter has two strikes, by standing up and putting his mitt over his head for a target? (I hate that) If the batter is expected to swing at that pitch, it tells you what the catcher thinks of his plate discipline. If he doesn’t swing, then it’s just a no purpose pitch that gets the pitcher closer to the dreaded 100. Pitch above the hands, fine – above the head, no. Why should a pitcher on a pitch count waste any pitches? Purpose pitch, yes. Waste pitch, no. What is the proper mix that should allow a pitcher to exceed the proscribed limit, or is there such a thing? No, there is no proper mix. Managers will even remove starting pitchers prior to beginning another inning if only the potential threat is there to reach 100 in that inning. A pitcher’s effectiveness, or lack thereof, should tell a manager all he needs to know about letting him continue, or removing him from a game. Being able to count to the number of 100 should not be the criterion for pitching decisions.
To fortify the 100 pitch limit, baseball has also adopted 15 as the number of pitches that is the acceptable goal for starting pitchers to reach each inning. It then follows that after six innings of 15 pitches a pitcher reaches 90 pitches and to pitch into the seventh inning 100 would possibly be reached, requiring a relief pitcher to enter the game. Since the current practice is that relief pitchers should be allowed to start each inning with no runners on base, the only practical solution is for the starting pitcher to be removed from the game and a relief pitcher inserted. This is a very neat formula that results in a “quality start” being six innings having given up three earned runs, or less. The convenient result is that if the manager relieves the starter, he’s happy, because six innings is all that is expected of him, the relief pitcher starts the next inning with nobody on base so he’s happy, and no matter what happens the manager can’t be blamed, for following the accepted script, so he’s happy. Win or lose.
There are now 74 pitchers in the Hall of Fame, six of which were inducted as relievers, leaving 68 starters. Of those starting pitchers, 42 had more Complete Games than Wins! There are many other pitchers that had more CG than Wins that are not in the Hall. Even including recent inductees and relievers, the Hall average is still 253 Wins, 259 CG, and an ERA of 2.98. Those stats will not last much longer, but they illustrate the tremendous difference in what is now expected of a starting pitcher.
Those lower expectations for pitches and innings have resulted in the definition of a “quality start” as mentioned earlier. Brutal! That definition results in an ERA of 4.50 for a nine inning game, when the average number of runs currently being scored per game is less. Any starting pitcher with an ERA of 4.50 will have a difficult time producing a winning record and staying in a team’s rotation, hardly quality. Also, aren’t Little League games six innings?
In the 1971 book, This Great Game, Orioles manager, Earl Weaver, said about his starting pitchers that, “Before the season starts, they have built up their arms and legs to a point where any one of them will be able to throw from 100 to 160 pitches a game from opening game on.” Wow, up to 160 pitches on opening day. He also said, “I try to find four men who can give the club from 250 to 300 innings a season. My pitchers like to pitch every fourth day. That’s what they’re grooved and conditioned to. They’re not happy any other way and don’t pitch as well if I try to duck around some good opposition.” Wow, again, up to 300 innings on three days’ rest.
To further illustrate the massive difference between then and now, the 1954 Cleveland Indians won the 8 team AL pennant with 111 Wins. Their starting pitchers had 77 CG in a 154 game schedule, (50%) with a MLB best team ERA of 2.78 and no DH. The league had 463 CG. Compare that to the AL in 2016, with 15 teams, and a 162 game schedule, that had a grand total of 44 CG, with the DH. The best team ERA was 3.78. Despite all protestations to the contrary, today’s pitching is not better.
The biggest question is how did all those starters, back in the day, with all those CG manage to pitch all those 9th innings, without needing a closer, after throwing all those pitches game, after game, after game, with three days’ rest, and no DH in sight? Magic?