It's not often that I get to see much baseball anymore since I don't have cable, so tonight I was treated to the FOX game of the week: Yankees - Mets. Mike Pelphrey pitched very well, and the Mets survived despite the Yankees eighth inning threat.
Joe Buck and Tim McCarver announced the game. I'm not a fan of either of them; they're both too full of themselves for my taste. McCarver did talk about something that caught my attention though. He spent some time talking about a recent SI story in which Nolan Ryan shared his view that pitchers today ought to be able to throw as many pitches in a start as pitchers in Ryan's day did. I didn't see the article, but I assume Ryan's reasoning is that pitchers are generally in better shape than they used be. McCarver seemed to suggest he agreed with Ryan, although if he came right out and said so, I missed it.
I don't know if pitchers today are able to throw as many pitches as they were allowed to throw back then, but I do strongly believe that they shouldn't throw that many pitches, for two reasons. First, the game has changed dramatically. Batters work the count much better than they used to, rarely giving an at bat away. This means pitchers have to be very precise with their pitches. They can't just throw it close and wait for the batter to hit their pitch. When a batter works his way into a good count, he's got the leverage in the at bat, forcing the pitcher to throw something meaty. When the pitcher has to throw a hitter's pitch, the stress on the pitcher is greater. Since the batters are better at getting into these counts now, I believe that pitchers are not able to throw as many pitches on a consistent basis as pitchers in Ryan's day did.
Even if pitchers are able to throw that many pitches, I don't think they should do so. My second reason is that more than ever before, baseball players are viewed as a very expensive investment for a team. Pitchers are asked to push the limits of what the human body can do. There has been a lot of work done to show that overworking pitchers leads to injury, with the Reds' own Dusty Baker being the poster child for his handling of Mark Prior and Kerry Wood in their Cubs days together. The fact is, pushing a fatigued body to attempt to perform on a regular basis for the marginal benefit that could be gained with a few extra pitches at the end of a long start just doesn't outweigh the long-term business risk posed by such a maneuver.
As I typed entry, the Reds won and regained first place from the Cardinals. Johnny Cueto was coming off two excellent outings, but threw 113 pitches in his last game. In an earlier post this week, I noted that Baker had given his pitchers an extra day off when throwing more than 110 pitches. I speculated that he wouldn't do that with Cueto this time around, and I said it would cost the team before this stretch of games was over. Dusty didn't give Cueto the extra day; however, he did the next best thing. Despite Cueto pitching another excellent game and the game being in an AL park (where there is no temptation to wait till the pitcher's spot in the lineup to hit for the pitcher), Dusty pulled Cueto after just 6 innings and 93 pitches. A few years ago (maybe even last year), Dusty doesn't make that move. The fact that he did gives us Reds fans hope that we may be able to manage our considerable talent well enough to give St. Louis a run for their money. Hopefully he keeps it up.