Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Pitch Counts,...When Did They Start?

Who's counting (pitches)? The A's -- as early as 1967

By Stan McNeal - SportingNews

Dave Duncan was a catcher for the Kansas City Athletics in 1967 when he first heard about pitch counts. Charlie Finley, the club's unconventional owner, and farm director Eddie Robinson had ordered a 100-pitch per-start maximum throughout the A's farm system. The objective: Don't overextend young arms.

"I remember because they took out George Lauzerique when he had a no-hitter going," Duncan says. Lauzerique was lifted after seven innings in a Class AA game in '67 when his pitch count reached 97. Two months later, Lauzerique, who wound up having a short career in the majors, pitched a perfect game in a minor league contest scheduled for seven innings, accomplishing the feat with 85 pitches.

Thirty-seven years later, limiting pitches is as much a part of the game as the setup man. But until well into the 1970s, a 100-pitch outing was considered little more than a warmup for most starters. And those who pitched back then always seem to enjoy telling stories about how manly the starters were.

Gaylord Perry remembers a game he started for the Giants against the Reds in 1967. The score was 0-0 heading into the 16th inning when manager Herman Franks cozied up to Perry and asked, "You got another inning in you?" Perry, who topped the 300-inning mark six times during his Hall of Fame career (no one has topped 300 in a season since the Phillies' Steve Carlton did it in 1980), said yes, of course. He made it through the inning without giving up a run and turned the game over to the bullpen. The Giants went on to win, 1-0, in 21 innings.

Tom Seaver says he had a pitch count for the Mets in the 1970s. It was 135 pitches, which are about 25 more than when the caution flags go up these days. Seaver says the Mets' Jerry Koosman and Nolan Ryan were good for 145 and 155.

Jim Palmer recalls he once informed Orioles manager Earl Weaver that Mike Cuellar was going on 110 pitches entering the ninth. Weaver, never one to miss a chance to put Palmer in his place, told his ace righthander, "Get your (butt) back to the end of the dugout. I'll tell you when he's tired."

But in this age of long-term contracts and $2.49 million average salaries, clubs tend to care more about their investments than they did before the free-agent era. Pitch counts today are monitored as closely as wins and earned-run average. Their importance is noted by their inclusion in box scores and scouting reports. Many teams count warmup pitches as closely as pitches thrown during the game. With so much attention on pitch counts, most starters have come to believe their day is done shortly after hitting the 100-pitch mark. American League starters are averaging 96.4 pitches a game this season, according to STATS Inc.; N.L. starters are lasting 94.3.

For the 21st-century pitching coach such as the Mets' Rick Peterson, counting pitches is nearly as important to his job as teaching a fluid delivery. The reason is simple: Many believe the leading cause for pitching injuries is overwork, and monitoring pitch counts is the most accurate way to judge workloads.

Even older former players such as Seaver believe in the benefits of counting pitches. Seaver wishes the individual involved was a greater part of the equation, though. "It's seems like there's a blanket number that they use on everyone," he says.

Tigers pitching coach Bob Cluck is another big supporter of limiting workloads. When he was pitching coach for the Astros in 1991, the team pulled rookie Darryl Kile even though he had no-hit the Reds for six innings. It was Kile's first start in the majors, he had not thrown more than 41 pitches in a previous big-league game, and the Astros had decided beforehand to limit him to 50 to 60 pitches. "He had 65 at the end of six, and (manager) Art Howe and I took him out," Cluck says. "(The media) barbecued us. I told Darryl that someday you'll throw a no-hitter. And he did, the year after the next."

Stan McNeal is a managing editor for Sporting News. Email him at

Updated on Monday, Jun 28, 2004 4:47 pm EDT

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