Friday, August 28, 2009

By the Numbers

I was watching the Yankees game the other day and Joba Chamberlain was pitching. (For those of you who are not baseball fans, Joba is the proclaimed gem of the Yankees farm system and future "franchise" pitcher.) Since he arrived in the big leagues two seasons ago, much ado has been made about how many pitches he is allowed to throw in a game. There has been great concern that he might throw too many, presumably because someone has calculated just how many he will be able to throw in his entire career and they don't want his arm to fall off too soon.

These days, you can't watch a Major League game without someone mentioning pitch counts. One night recently, the commentators were talking about how 100 pitches seemed to have become the magic number at which managers and pitching coaches start thinking about bringing in a relief pitcher. Doesn't matter whether the pitcher reaches that number early in the game, halfway through, or near the end, they will get someone warming up in the bullpen. Pitchers who have complete games are becoming a rarity where once they were the rule.

Case in point, Cy Young, perhaps the greatest pitcher in the history of the sport. In his 22-year career, he started 815 games and completed 749 of them. He pitched a total of 7,355 innings and ended with a record of 511 wins and 316 losses. (Here's another useless baseball stat: In the history of major league baseball, only sixteen pitchers, Young included, have won more than 316 games!) Young won 30 or more games in five seasons and 20 or more in an additional ten seasons; this year, with the season three-quarters over, one pitcher in each league has 15 victories. No one has won thirty games since Denny McLain went 31-6 in 1968 and that was the only time it happened since Grover Cleveland Alexander did it in 1916.

Certainly, no one was counting Cy Young's pitches. If he had had the same restrictions then as they now have for Joba Chamberlain and many others, who knows how many more years Young could have gotten out of his arm? He might still be pitching today!


One other note: Joba skipped his turn in the pitching rotation last week because it was decided that he would only start six more games this season. If he had pitched, it would have meant starting seven. I guess that one goes into the bank so he can pitch one more game in 2033 or something.

As the result of the skipped start, Joba had ten days off. One of the commentators, utilizing the overwhelming amount of other useless stats that are now at his fingertips, pointed out that Joba is far more effective when he's had six or more days off between starts. Just how ridiculous is that stat? Well, it turned out to mean nothing at all because Joba was not effective at all. The Yankees staked him to a four-run lead in the first inning, but he gave back two runs in the second and then gave up five more in the 4th...all with two outs! I can just imagine how that stat will have changed the next time he has a week off.

Not surprisingly, the newspaper the next day mentioned how these were the most runs Joba has given up with two outs in the inning in his career. Another stat is born!

1 comment:

  1. Well, you know, these sweethearts are being paid ten, fifteen, twenty million or more a year. Your owners don't want to take a chance on Alice or Gertrude hurting an arm by actually PITCHING and WINNING games.

    It's baseball... it doesn't matter whether you win or lose... it matters whether people watch the game on TV.

    Because, y'know, police and firemen and teachers who get paid 1% of what Sheila or Gladys make on the mound... well, they just don't matter as much, and their health and lives aren't very important.

    I remain,
    Eric L. Sofer
    The Bad Clown...