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August 15, 2014

Raising Aces

Have Pitch Counts Gone Too Far?

by Doug Thorburn


Pitcher workloads have been decreasing on a linear path for the past thirty years, yet injuries are at an all-time high. What gives?

The situation has become particularly glaring in the past few seasons, a period in which workloads are at an all-time low yet arm injuries are skyrocketing. Consider:

Prior to the turn of the millennium, the 120-pitch start was a relatively common occurrence, taking place approximately 10 percent of the time. This rate actually marked a downturn from previous decades, but the trend line of high-volume outings has fallen off a cliff in the past 15 years, with the percentage of 120-pitch starts cutting in half between 2000 and 2001 and continuing to slide ever since, culminating in this season's paltry 1.4 percent frequency.

Interestingly, the average pitch counts per game throughout the league have held relatively stable over the past 25 to 30 years: In 1988, starters averaged 96 pitches per game, which is the same mean value as we have seen thus far in 2014. The average count of innings pitched per start has also held: 1987 starters averaged 6.2 frames per start, while today's pitchers are at 6.0.

The stark differences lie on the extremes, as teams have streamlined starting pitcher workloads to avoid the heavy-use outings that received such derision around the turn of the century. The variance in innings-per-start has been muted, particularly on the high end, as teams have essentially standardized their collective approach to pitcher workloads and eliminated the outliers. Starting pitchers have been aggressively capped in their per-game pitch counts, such that the 120-pitch game has nearly become extinct, and the 130-pitch game has become so rare as to invite automatic scrutiny whenever a hurler surpasses the threshold. Meanwhile, relief pitchers have been relegated to shorter stints as teams have expanded their bullpens and ushered in the era of specialty relievers.

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<< Previous Article
Premium Article Fantasy Starting Pitch... (08/15)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Raising Aces: The Road... (08/08)
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Premium Article Raising Aces: Police a... (08/22)
Next Article >>
Premium Article What Scouts Are Saying... (08/15)

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