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August 21, 2000

The Daily Prospectus

Doug Davis

by Joe Sheehan

Last night, the Rangers' Doug Davis beat the Red Sox, throwing 142 pitches for his first major-league complete game, 6-2.

If you're expecting a rant against Johnny Oates in this space, you may be disappointed by what follows. No, I don't think it was a particularly good idea to let Davis finish the game. I don't buy into the notion that there is a significant developmental value to a complete game. And I do think that you can do damage to a young pitcher's arm by letting him throw too many pitches when fatugued.

But there are a couple of mitigating factors. First, Davis is 24, an age at which a pitcher's arm can handle a greater level of stress than it can at, say, 21. Second, this was an isolated instance--Davis, frankly, hasn't been effective enough to throw many pitches in a start this season. This was the first of his six starts in which he'd allowed fewer than five runs.

That factor also leads into the third: Davis isn't a pitcher with a great future ahead of him. Maybe it's not entirely fair, but I think it's worse to court danger with a Rick Ankiel or a Jaret Wright than with the Doug Davises of the world. Yes, a team has an equal responsibility to all its charges, but there's considerably less at stake when the pitcher in question is not clearly a millionaire-in-waiting.

Let's compare this start to that of Ruben Quevedo a few weeks ago. Quevedo made 133 pitches in beating the Dodgers on August 7. Quevedo, though, is just 21 and a better prospect at a younger age. Like Davis, he was in the 110s through eight innings, and like Davis, there was a point--two hits and a run in the ninth--at which it seemed prudent to take him out.

By letting Quevedo finish the game and reach 133 pitches, Cubs manager Don Baylor took a much greater risk than Oates did in letting his older pitcher with a lower upside go for 142.

I don't want to sound like I'm apologizing for Oates. I disagree with the decision to let Davis pitch past Troy O'Leary's eighth-inning single, because his pitch count was up and he'd given up consecutive hits. I certainly don't think he should have been sent out to start the ninth, having thrown 126 pitches. The Rangers had a four-run lead and it's not like they're playing for anything other than draft position.

But before we get the tar and feathers, we have to consider the context of the start. That means looking at the pitcher, his age and his prospect status. I'm proud of the role BP has played in spotlighting pitcher usage, particularly that of young pitchers. But we can't go Carl Everett every time anyone throws a certain number of pitches, whether it's Doug Davis or Rick Ankiel or Andy Ashby.

Joe Sheehan can be reached at jsheehan@baseballprospectus.com.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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