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July 30, 2013

Baseball Therapy

Leave Me In, Coach!

by Russell A. Carleton


Last week, we talked about Tim Lincecum's 148 pitch no-hitter and found that while there might be some consequence for a pitcher's next start due to such a long outing, it was relatively small and generally gone by the second start. So there's not much penalty in the short term for leaving a pitcher in to throw a lot of pitches; what about the penalty for taking him out?

It's an odd quirk of managerial strategy. Tim Lincecum would not have been in that game in the ninth (or eighth) inning if one of the walks that he had issued earlier in the game had been a hit. The score was 9-0. He would have gotten a pat on the back for seven strong innings and a trip to the showers. But Tim Lincecum was working on a shot at baseball immortality: the no-hitter. They don't make Sporcles for "guys who pitched seven innings and gave up one hit."

Had Bochy pulled Lincecum, even if every logical part of his brain said it was the right call, he never would have heard the end of it. Often, the explanation is that the pitcher would resent being deprived of his chance to finish off the feat. How often does any pitcher, even a good one, have a chance to approach that sort of moment? Maybe Lincecum would have sulked or for some reason taken it out on Bochy, and it would have affected his performance.

We don't know what would have happened if Bochy had given Lincecum the hook, and if he had, we might not have found out what happened in the clubhouse after. But in theory, we could design a study to look at whether pitchers pulled in the middle of a no-hit attempt show some dip in their performance afterward. The problem is that no-hitters that last even into the middle innings don't happen very often, and it's hard to get a decent enough sample size. So I decided to go for the closest thing that I could, the complete game shutout.

It's not a perfect analogy. You couldn't name everyone who's thrown a shutout this year. You could certainly list the no-hitters. There might be something special about a no-hitter (we'll talk about that in a bit) that a shutout doesn't have. But there are enough potential shutouts that happen each year that we can cobble together enough of a sample to take a look.

Warning! Gory Mathematical Details Ahead!
I found all cases from 2003-2012 in which a pitcher had made it to the end of the seventh inning and given up no runs, but had a pitch count over 95. (In this case, sending him out for another inning or two might give him a chance at a shutout, but it would also put him over the 100-pitch "limit" if he isn’t there already.) I did the same for the eighth inning. I coded whether the manager sent the pitcher back out for the eighth inning (or ninth, as the case might be). I wasn't concerned with whether the pitcher completed the shutout, merely whether his manager showed a willingness to break the rules a little for a guy who was approaching his own mini-milestone. If he loses the shutout, a pitcher might think, "That's on me." But if he loses it to the manager's hook, he might blame the manager for not trusting him.

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Related Content:  Pitching,  Tim Lincecum,  Bruce Bochy,  Managing,  No-hitters

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<< Previous Article
Premium Article The Prospectus Hit Lis... (07/30)
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Premium Article Baseball Therapy: The ... (07/22)
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Premium Article Baseball Therapy: Prio... (08/06)
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