…. Pitch count

The boys backtalking over at El Lefty Malo were discussing Lincecum’s 121-pitch effort the other night. Instead of backtalking, I thought I’d use our friend OGC’s comments to start my own discussion:

Last year was Lincecum’s first year in the majors. Not only was it a learning experience for the major league staff on how to use him, but it was his first full professional season. So they cut his season a little short, both to save him and to try out others as starters. In addition, the season was lost at that point, nothing to be gained from starting him.

This is a new year. The arm strength to throw more innings was enabled by him pitching more last season, it should have prepared him to pitch a full season this year. They also have a season of handling him and now have a feel for what they can and cannot do with him. Plus, a year’s experience dealing with Tim, knowing when to believe him and when not to, seeing when they should take him out, and so forth on his behavior.

If you say that they are harming him, then list some studies where this has been shown. BP has done some work in this, but I wouldn’t say that their work is definitive yet. And most of the stuff you read on this is derived from BP’s theories.

And at what point do you stop babying him? Would you continue to shut him down every year to protect him? Would you really do that if the team was competing for the division title?

Well, that’s a bit of a stretch. Most of the work done on pitch count concerns hasn’t been done by the guys at BP. Some of it has, but certainly you wouldn’t say “most.” 100-pitch limits, pitch counts, and other methods designed to reduce the workload of young pitchers isn’t a brand-new trend, or some pie-in-the-sky sabermetrician’s made up bullshit. Teams have been limiting the amount of work done by their young –and old– pitchers for quite a while now. As for the “evidence” or studies that “prove” that pitch load limits work, well, why would that you need to “prove” anything like that?

Injuries to young pitchers are one of the most expensive mistakes/problems facing a team, and all of the value on the Giants can be found in it’s young pitchers. Limiting a young pitcher’s pitch load is a real, tangible, and important part of caring for the player, and the team investment.

My concern is that Sabean and Bochy have no idea about any of this stuff, that they don’t worry that pitch limits haven’t been “proven” to work, because they don’t think about it at all. Are there people out there who have all already forgotten about the destruction of the Giants pitching staff wrought by Felipe Alou?

…. (The Giants) signed Felipe Alou after they decided that Dusty Baker was too good, and taking away too much credit from them. At the time, I thought he was the best of the known choices, but in hindsight; it’s clear that Alou cost the Giants dearly. He destroyed the careers of Kirk Reuter, Jesse Foppert, Kurt Ainsworth, Jerome Williams, and Jason Schmidt. Schmidt was probably the most costly. Schmidt’s never been the same after that 143-pitch, 17-strikeout, 1-hitter in May of 2004. That month, Schmidt started 5 games, went 47 innings, allowed 23 hits, had 54 strikeouts, and a 1.53 ERA. Since then, he’s had a monthly ERA below 3.00 just one single time, and he’s been on and off the DL constantly.

What Alou did to Reuter beggars belief. Everyone in baseball knew that Woody was a 100-pitch pitcher. Everyone. Everyone on the Giants did, too. Krukow talked about it all the time. Alou let him go 110-plus four times in the first half of ‘04, including his second start of the season. During that stretch, Sabean was putting the final touches on Woody’s $18 million dollar extension –one that he wasn’t even up for, by the way– and when the dust settled, we had another player being paid millions of dollars to watch TV.

So, how much “proving” do we need ? Tim Lincecum is the single most valuable commodity on the team. You could argue that he is one of the most valuable players in the entire game of baseball, and in the first 25 games of the year, Bonehead has allowed him to go back into a game to pitch after an hour-long rain delay –something normal teams don’t even do with established veteran pitchers– and then two nights ago, throw an additional 10 pitches in the 8th inning when he was leading, and had already thrown 114 pitches.

Baseball Prospectus pitcher abuse points system, which measures all of the stress on a pitcher, not just innings or pitches thrown, has Lincecum ranked second in the NL. That is fucking unbelievable. The most valuable young player in the entire Giants organization is being run out there and put under the most stress of all but one pitcher in the whole National League. Under what circumstances should this be allowed? None.

There is no reason this team should be abusing Lincecum. I’ll say it again, Bochy’s only job is to make sure Cain and Lincecum and the rest of these young pitchers don’t get injured. Anything he and Righetti do that jeopardizes the health of their young pitchers should be a fire-able offense.

Allowing Lincecum to go past 100-110 pitches is criminally stupid and careless. Why wouldn’t you want to err on the side of caution?

And let’s not forget that the team still won’t force Lincecum to ice his shoulder after his starts. How can you let him make that call? Ice is put on the shoulder as an anti-inflammatory exercise. We’re talking about a universally accepted practice that has been proven to work. How is Lincecum able to make the decision that he, out of every athlete that’s ever lived, isn’t susceptible to having his muscles swell up and become inflamed after strenuous physical work?

Again, given that this team is years away from contention, nothing but protecting these players should matter. If that means “baby” them, then yes, “baby” them. What do you have to gain allowing Lincecum to throw 120-plus pitches? Nothing. You have nothing to gain, and everything to lose.

Only idiots would treat this young player this way. Uninformed, thoughtless, idiots.

UPDATE: OK, so you do have some “proof” that icing arms isn’t quite as efficacious as one might assume, although it seems clear that the views by Dick Mills represent the work of someone who is operating outside of baseball.

Nonetheless, it appears that it is I that has been “proven” wrong, and as such, I stand corrected. Thanks to Giants Rain Man for his efforts to keep me, and my readers informed.

In my defense, I will reduce my argument to the following:

Lincecum, as our most important player, needs to be treated like such. It appears to me that the boys in the dugout are not being as careful with him as they could, or should.

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All commentary is the opinion of John J Perricone unless otherwise noted.
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