View Full Version : Pitch Counts (Nolan Ryan)

05-18-2008, 07:34 AM
Did anyone get to hear the interview recently with Nolan Ryan where he talked about pitch counts and his huge distrust in them?

I know some are going to go after the guy, especially being the President of an organization (Texas) that has always had a hard time developing pitching in recent years.

But I, like maybe many others, share some of the skepticism he expresses when it comes to pitch counts as a measure of abuse. But I think he asked some valid questions, in the interview I heard, as to who made the determination, or came up with the number 120 as far as pitch counts go? What scientific procedure was utilized to come up with that number, and what objective data has been drawn from it to conclude that 120 pitches, or anything above that, is then defined as abuse?

Are they making pitchers even more fragile?

I don't think Ryan totally discounts pitch counts; but simply believes it's over used.

Isn't that a reasonable question/concern?

Ryan comes from the vantage point first off of player conditioning, that every pitcher is different and needs to evaluated as such, that if your "horse" is out there pitching a solid game, is in a groove, then why jerk him based on a pitch count?

I found this article....


Improving Rangers may be Ryan's biggest challenge

By Bob Nightengale, USA TODAY

It has been the perfect life, really, for many of his 61 years.
Nolan Ryan had a Hall of Fame pitching career. He was wildly successful in every business venture he touched. He has been married 40 years to his high-school sweetheart, raising three successful kids.

"Really, I couldn't have been happier," Ryan says. "I was very comfortable, and really enjoyed what I was doing. It's just that, well, I wanted a challenge. I love a good challenge.

"And I got one right here. It's just a little more complex than I anticipated."

Ryan, one of the greatest icons in Texas, is putting his impeccable reputation on the line.

Ryan is president of the Texas Rangers, whose club again is in last place in the American League West, with a 7-13 record. The Rangers were embarrassed in a four-game sweep at Boston's Fenway Park and tied with the Detroit Tigers for the worst record in the AL entering their series there Tuesday.

"The way Nolan put it to me," says close friend and former teammate Don Baylor, " 'I'm already up to my knees in alligators.' "

Ryan, the first Hall of Famer to become a club president since Christy Mathewson in 1925, inherits a team that has finished last or next to last in the AL West eight consecutive years. They've had one winning season this decade.
For a man who won 324 career games, with a record seven no-hitters and 5,714 strikeouts, it's striking that he's saddled with a franchise defined by pitching ineptitude. The Rangers didn't have a pitcher win more than 10 games or pitch more than 173 innings last year. They've had only two complete-game victories within their division since realignment in 1994.

Ryan had 222 complete games by himself. He threw at least 300 innings twice.

Missed the game too much

No wonder President Bush, during a White House luncheon in February, asked Ryan if he knew just what he was getting into.

"Why would you take that job?' " Bush, the former Rangers owner, asked Ryan.

Ryan, who relayed the story, told Bush he simply wanted a challenge.

"I guess I didn't realize what a grip this game had on me," Ryan says. "You look so forward to getting away from the pressure of the game, the grind, the schedule and everything else, but when you're away from it, you miss it."

Ryan, baseball's first million-dollar player, realizes the game has changed. Players are averaging nearly $3 million a year. The industry is generating nearly $7 billion. And agents are loathe to let their clients throw 300 innings.

Still, Ryan is determined to change the pitching philosophy in Texas. He would love to confiscate every pitch counter used by coaches. It drives him batty when he watches pitchers being pulled from games because their pitch count hits 110 or 120.

"We have to change this mindset," says Ryan. "Some of the guys have been on a pitch count since Little League. It should be tailored to the individual.

"These pitchers have to realize what their capabilities are, and build up their stamina. I remember it used to be that 300 innings was the benchmark for an ace. If you were a starter, you were expected to pitch at least 250 innings. Now, you may have one guy go 200 innings on your whole staff.

"That's why you see 12, 13 pitchers on every team.."

Ryan expressed these sentiments to the Rangers front office and coaching staff. He may be a softy at heart and always a gentleman, but when the boss talks, you better listen.

"He made suggestions along those lines about pitch counts," Rangers manager Ron Washington says. "So we're trying to keep them out there as long as they can. We have to be smart monitoring what they're doing, but if you got the horses, you can let them go a bit."

There was a moderate difference in the first three weeks. The Rangers' rotation averaged 96.3 pitches per game and lasted 5.93 innings per start. A year ago, they averaged 81.2 pitches and 5.44 innings.

Rangers ace Kevin Millwood became the first Ranger in nearly two years to throw a complete game. It was April 5 vs. the Los Angeles Angels, albeit an eight-inning effort in a 2-1 loss. The starters have thrown at least 100 pitches in eight games.

"I love it," Millwood says. "It seems like they've let me go a little longer than I did in the past. I'm not going to jeopardize the game just to be a tough guy, but I can tell you when I'm tired and when I'm not.

"But what (Ryan) did, I don't see anyone doing anything like that again."

Ryan, who threw the fifth-most innings in baseball history, told the Rangers' executives and coaches how critical conditioning was to his career. He would not only routinely throw batting practice to his teammates, but would do wind sprints after each 10-minute interval, lasting about 30 minutes.

"Obviously, he's got strong feelings about pitching," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels says, "and we were able to incorporate some of the things Nolan did into our farm system. We've encouraged a lot of our (minor league) managers and pitching coaches that they have the flexibility to let their pitchers go past 100 pitches. We're not going to call down there (and complain) as long as they're not putting the pitchers at risk. We're having our young pitchers throw live batting practice, too."

So they're running wind sprints between BP sessions, too? "Uh, baby steps," Daniels says. "We don't want to shock these guys too much."

[B]Letting others do their jobs

Ryan, who hasn't been to the Rangers' clubhouse this season, isn't trying to impose his beliefs on the club. He hasn't been to Washington's office after a game. He gives Daniels, 30, whose playing experience stopped at Little League, plenty of freedom.

"I wasn't 100% sure what to expect," Daniels says, "but it's better than I could have anticipated. I'm not trying to blow smoke or create a false image here, but really, from Day 1, he's been excellent."

And, just to let everyone know that Ryan had no designs on becoming the next general manager, owner Tom Hicks provided Daniels a two-year extension. His contract expires after 2011, the same as Ryan.

"I understand the realities of the game," Daniels said of his job security, "but I don't have any apprehensions or insecurities."

Ryan didn't go to the Rangers to be a hatchet man, but he's not the mascot, either. The Rangers' players are elated to have Ryan in charge. Pitcher Kameron Loe actually has a tattoo of Ryan on the back of his shoulder blade. Loe plans to touch it up, he says, before showing his new boss.
"It's pretty cool to have Nolan Ryan as your team president," center fielder Josh Hamilton says. "I mean, you're talking about Nolan Ryan."

Seeing what the fans are seeing

The Rangers, who last made the playoffs in 1999, need to persuade their fan base to believe again. Attendance has plummeted by nearly 220,000 fans in two years.

Ryan will take the same steps as when he made the Houston Astros' Class AAA team in Round Rock, Texas, a model franchise. That team wins on the field and traditionally is among the top three minor league teams in attendance.

"I guarantee you're going to see him make a difference," says Jackie Moore, Ryan's friend and hunting buddy, who managed the Round Rock team for eight years before becoming the Astros' bench coach. "He's fired up about this, and when Nolan is fired up, watch out."

Says Reid Ryan, Nolan's oldest son who is CEO of the Round Rock team: "It's great to see him so revitalized. He is so excited about this."

Ryan already is acting different than most club presidents. He sits behind the Rangers on-deck batting circle. He wants to see what the fans are seeing, and hear what they're saying.

"He slowly, but methodically, has put his arms around everything — on the baseball side and the business side," says Hicks. "He has such credibility with the fans that I think they're going to be much more patient with us than if he weren't here."

Yet, faith in a hero can last only so long. Michael Jordan couldn't turn around the Washington Wizards. Alan Trammell never won in three years as a manager in Detroit.

There comes a time, Ryan realizes, when the fans demand a winner, no matter how good his beef kabobs at the concession stands.

"I didn't come into this to lose," Ryan says. "I'll be disappointed if we don't finish .500 or above. I've got a pretty laid-back personality, so I'd like to think I'll be patient.

"I guess we'll find out."


Here's another article I read.


Joe Wages War On The Pitch Count

I hate the pitch count. It's like going to see a movie, let's say we're watching Grumpy Old Men, and at 75 minutes or so they replace Walter Matthau.

"Walter, you've acted a great movie so far. There's no scientific reason for me to pull you. It's just everyone else pulls their star at the 75-minute mark. You did good, better than Ted Danson's gonna do… but we're putting him in now."

Then Ted Danson walks onto the set and probably wrecks the end of Grumpy Old Men. You're mad that Walter's gone, you're mad at Ted, and it's not his fault that Walter's just a better pitcher than him.

It can all be blamed, or most of it anyway, on the pitch count. I did a bunch of research that I'm not going to bore you with right now, but they started keeping track of how many pitches guys were throwing in the 1980s. Except nobody really paid attention to it at first, kind of like they do with OPS now.

Then the 90s came. And yes the 90s brought us many amazing things like the Internet, The Gin Blossoms, fashionable flannel, and those four consecutive Cy Young seasons by Greg Maddux. But it also cemented the 100-pitch limit guideline and the five-man rotation.

The result? A whole bunch of Ted Dansons and ruined movies.

The thing is, aren't these pitch counts making pitchers even more fragile? Seriously, I counted almost 90 pitchers on the disabled list as of 4/11/2008; does this seem absurdly high? Many of them pitch on my rag-tag fantasy baseball team The Shivery Timbers.

Guys used to throw over 200 innings, and 300 wasn't a big deal. Nobody's come near 300 innings in a season in over a decade. So is anybody seeing the positive effects of guys pitching 150 innings a year? Has there been a rash of non-injuries or a rash of injuries to pitchers?

Cause Gaylord Perry never pitched 150 innings. Nolan Ryan didn't. Steve Carlton didn't, either. None of those guys did. And their arms were strong, and they pitched all the time. And they were damn good. Oh yeah, Greg Maddux always pitches 200+ innings, too.

There's a great article at armchairgm.com. Go there and search for "pitch count" to read it. Basically it looks at the arms of pitchers who threw and threw and weren't "babied," Nolan Ryan's arm I believe. They're looking at x-rays and comparing them to younger pitchers' arms. They grew differently, and in Nolan Ryan's case… more awesomely.

Always Red
05-18-2008, 08:40 AM
Great post, GAC. This is an excellent topic.

I think Ryan is on to something here, and I'm glad he spoke up about it. There is no science behind what is being done right now- it's just "conventional wisdom." Come on, I mean everybody knows that no one should ever throw more than 120 pitches, right?? ;)

Obviously, a pitcher needs to be "raised" and trained properly to throw 250 innings a year, so you just can't throw guys out there and expect it. Some arms will never be able to handle that kind of workload- those arms either wash out, become injured, or become relievers.

The technology is here now to start examining why some pitchers can throw long and often and others cannot. Someone needs to connect the dots.

Right now the conventional wisdom is that there are "only so many bullets" available in any given arm, so you pamper that arm, protect it, and only get it out of the box every once in a while. Ryan claims that a properly trained arm can regenerate it's own "bullets" and pampering an arm too much leads to arms that can't pitch as much and are actually more prone to injury.

There are other factors at work here, too. There is a lot of money invested, a certain number of pitchers will always get injured, and thus there is a lot of blame to go around. As long as men pitch overhanded, there will always be injuries, always have been, and always will be, no matter how many innings are thrown. As long as stats such as the "Pitching Abuse Points" exist (by Baseball Prospectus), GM's and managers will be careful to try to keep their names off the top of the list. I think that list is useful, because it also tells us which pitchers can pitch a lot- the same guys seem to be on top of the list every year. In other words, the most "abused" pitchers are often the most rugged and dependable, and seldom seem to get hurt.

I think that guys who can throw 250-300 innings a year, year after year, safely and without injury are rare. But they do exist- we know that from looking at historical records. A certain percent of pitchers will be able to do it, and they should be allowed to, and not held to 200 innings a year. The trick is how to identify them, and not to expect the same from other pitchers on your staff. So a team might have one or two guys who COULD pitch in a 4 man rotation, but the other 3-4 SP's need to be in a 5 man rotation. That will lead to some juggling of the rotation, but a smart GM and manager should be able to take advantage of it.

Japanese pitchers are trained much differently; they throw early and often. I wonder what the injury rates are, as compared to MLB pitchers?

Also- it's hard to compare todays pitchers to those from earlier era's and talk about injuries because injuries are diagnosed much differently today. Pitching injuries in the past were under diagnosed. Or, the flip side- today's injured pitchers might be over diagnosed?? :eek:

Chip R
05-18-2008, 09:11 AM
The problem is, not everyone is Nolan Ryan. As Always Red said, many pitching injuries in the past were under-diagnosed. They had a sore arm and they either learned to pitch different or they were out of the game. There was plenty of other players to take their place. We hear about how the Nolan Ryans and their ilk threw all those pitches. What we don't hear about is Joe Schmoe who did the same thing and tore his rotator cuff or his ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow and had to quit the game. They were the rule and Ryan was the exception.

What Ryan says makes sense but in order to repeat something that has been successful, it has to be accomplished very similar to how it was done in the first place. Ryan was famous for his hard work. Lots of wind sprints, throwing BP, lifting weights, etc. You try to repeat that on some kid who isn't going to do all those things and you are asking for trouble.

Successful people - especially athletes - sometimes have problems beleiving that mere mortals cannot accomplish the things they did.

05-18-2008, 09:37 AM
The problem is, not everyone is Nolan Ryan.

And I think Ryan would be the first to agree with that Chip. He emphasizes that all pitchers are different and should be treated (approached) as such. But in today's game, pitch counts are being used as an "across the board" tool for everyone.

As Always Red said, many pitching injuries in the past were under-diagnosed. They had a sore arm and they either learned to pitch different or they were out of the game. There was plenty of other players to take their place. We hear about how the Nolan Ryans and their ilk threw all those pitches. What we don't hear about is Joe Schmoe who did the same thing and tore his rotator cuff or his ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow and had to quit the game. They were the rule and Ryan was the exception.

Again, very true. The question is.... is MLB going too far the other way (overly cautious approach) in trying to answer those situations of the past, and is it proving to be effective or possibly contributing to pitcher's lack of endurance and vulnerability?

Where is the scientific data to validate it?

Or is it as AR states.... they are simply going on some sort of "conventional wisdom". CV is not necessarily based on truth, but are simply widely held ideas or practices, unexamined, and subject to further re-examination as events unfold.

Have pitch counts proven to be that answer or a possible detriment?

It's obvious that many other variables have to be considered, especially during game time. And that is the job of the manager, coaching staff, and the pitcher himself. But somehow it is has become the 11th commandment - "Thou shall not violate the 120 pitch count", and there is to be no argument. To ignore it invites disaster.

I agree with Ryan when he basically says that you got a pitcher who is in a groove, throwing a solid game through 7 innings, but based solely on this "rule" you have to jerk the guy or you're going to be accused of abuse.

Sure, we can all cite examples of pitchers have/have not fit that "mold". Not everyone is a Nolan Ryan or Greg Maddox, etc.

But have they gone too far to the other extreme? And is it working, or being counter-productive in the long run?

That's my question.

05-18-2008, 10:40 AM

Always Red
05-18-2008, 07:52 PM
Where is the scientific data to validate it?

Or is it as AR states.... they are simply going on some sort of "conventional wisdom". CV is not necessarily based on truth, but are simply widely held ideas or practices, unexamined, and subject to further re-examination as events unfold.

Have pitch counts proven to be that answer or a possible detriment?


But have they gone too far to the other extreme? And is it working, or being counter-productive in the long run?

That's my question.

There is no scientific data.

I don't think anyone is able to show that pitchers are getting less hurt these days (on stricter pitch counts) than in the "good old days" ;) when you threw until your arm fell off. Of course, there is also no data available on what percentage of pitchers were hurt back then, either. It's all a guess.

The main differences today are 1) doctors are able to repair a lot of the injuries that in the past would be career-ending , and 2) the amounts of money involved now are astronomical as compared to the past, and teams are anxious to protect their investments.

The game has also changed, a lot. Up until the mid-70's, teams had 4 man rotations and mostly 9 man staffs. There was little specialization, few true closers, LOOGY's, set-up men and long relief specialists.

I think pitch counts are a GOOD THING. As Ryan himself said, all pitchers are different, and pitch counts need to be individualized for each pitcher. I think it is smart to go slow with young pitchers, as the Red Sox do and the Yankees are doing with Chamberlain, for example, until you can quantify and then calculate their game. Some guys can just pitch longer with good form than others can. Pitch counts can tell you that, as long as someone is paying attention to when a guy starts to feel bad, gets hit harder or begins losing form.

A strict across-the-board-number, however, is just a made up number. That's what Ryan is saying. For a guy like Ryan, Clemens or Seaver, who pitch as much with their legs and hips as with their arms, running higher pitch counts after they have finished growing is most probably not going to hurt them. Young pitchers who are still growing need to be watched much closer; and a lot of men aren't done growing in their early 20's, which is why it is prudent to limit the innings on a guy like Cueto or Homer.

I can see a day coming, soon, when all teams will demand CT scans, MRI's, or whatever new imaging test is out there on the horizon for all pitchers either being drafted or traded for. I know if I'm building a team that I want that information. The Majewski trade would have been a non-issue if an MRI was done at the time of the trade- and both teams would have a sense of comfort knowing he was healthy. The MLBPA might not go along with that, however!

05-18-2008, 09:01 PM
Along the same lines I found myself wondering today...does anyone know Hershieser's pitch counts during his streak in 1988...just wondering out of curiosity.

05-19-2008, 10:24 AM
A few thoughts on this matter.

-Throwing a baseball in its self is a violent move.
-Why will there never be a 30 game winner in a season anymore?
-Why will there never be a 300 game career winner anyomre?
-Where did the 120 pitch count come from?
-Has pitching changed that much from a time when 4 man rotations were the norm?
-I would think injuries would be less of a concern because of advances in medical technolgy
-All hell breaks loose on this forum when a pitcher hits that magical 120 pitch count, heck even 118 pitches warrents fire Dusty chants.