I remember a game last season… Braves are winning 3-1, top of the 7th inning, the pitcher’s spot is up to bat. Bobby Cox pinch hits Greg Norton, who is hitting all of .150. Why not just leave Kawakami in to hit? This makes no sense to me. And why did you take him out in the first place? Forget the pitch count, let’s play ball!
Nolan Ryan pitched 26 complete games and 7 no-hitters. Guess how many Braves have pitched a complete game in the past 5 years? Well… I actually don’t know, but I bet you it’s 5 or less. “Pitch count” has become all too common for me. I’ve seen this WAY too many times the past few years… a pitcher will get pulled prematurely because of a hit, a walk, or PITCH COUNT. I completely understand the idea of saving young pitchers arms, but there has to be a happy medium.
Consider these facts:
- Nolan Ryan: pitched 332 innings, lots of complete games… which included 7 no-hitters. Retired at age 46. He could have gone a few more years too… did you see those Advil commercials in the early 90’s?
- Gaylord Perry: 6 seasons with more than 311 innings in a season. Pitched till age 44. Plus, he still pitches during the All-Star softball games, so his arm’s doing fine.
- Fergie Jenkins: 4 straight 300+ inning seasons. Pitched till age 40.
There’s a lot more folks too… Bob Gibson, Warren Spahn, Satchel Paige, Christy Matthewson, Phil Neikro, Don Sutton, and the list goes on. Bob Feller hurled 36 complete games one season. In those days, a team would show up to spring training with a 4-5 man rotation, and a few guys in the bullpen. A starter would pitch with the full intent of pitching a complete game, and the only reason he would get pulled would be if he was getting his butt handed to him. A lot of times a starter would pitch a complete game, and then the next night he would come in out of the bullpen.
Pitchers are babied these days; from high school on, they produce depending on pitch count. These days you have starters, middle relievers, relievers, and closers. There are a few teams who are somewhat old school… Red Sox, Phillies, and now the Rangers due to Nolan Ryan’s restructuring of the farm system. I understand saving arms, and being conservative in a rehab situation, but so many times a young healthy pitcher is pulled way too soon.
It is often argued that today’s conditions… smaller parks, a smaller strike zone, the designated hitter, Matt Diaz, the lowering of the pitcher’s mound from 15 to 10 inches in 1969… has put more strain on pitchers and hence need more relief. Whatever. The practice of the pitch count has hurt the aesthetically pleasing complete game performance. It’s like Brett Favre only playing 3 quarters, Tiger Woods playing 14 holes, or Jeff Gordon staying in the pit 20 laps shy of the finish.
Common scenario that burns my mitt:
- 2003 – starter Greg Maddux has a 2-1 lead after eight innings while using only 84 pitches. Manager Dusty Baker lets closer LaTroy Hawkins pitch the 9th. Hawkins allows the tying run to score. The Cubs end up winning the game in the bottom of the 9th, and Hawkins who pitched ONE inning and allowed a crucial game-tying run, receives credit for the win… while Maddux who only allowed one run in EIGHT stellar innings, walks away with a no-decision. This is why you see GREAT starters end a season with records like 10-2 or 12-7.
As a baseball fan I want to see some complete games, and it’s sad that the 200 game winner era is over. God bless you Nolan Ryan.