Some Thoughts on Pitch Counts
With so many pitcher injuries … let’s do a quick and meandering exploration of, yes, PITCH COUNTS! They key word is meandering … but hopefully it will spark some thoughts from you.
There are so few clear inventors in baseball, but it does seem that the first person to count pitches was a longtime manager and general manager named Paul Richards.
He had quite the baseball life. He was the first manager of the Go-Go White Sox (so named because fans yelled “Go! Go!” whenever a baserunner reached) and was for a time called “The Wizard of Waxahachie.” Later, he went to Baltimore, where he started what would later be called “The Oriole Way” — a system that taught players throughout the organization the same baseball fundamentals. He put together a remarkable group of young players in Houston but couldn’t stand sharing baseball decision-making with the Astros’ larger-than-life owner, Judge Roy Hofheinz. He was fired after four seasons.
“Well,” one sportswriter told Richards, “what can you do? The Judge is his own worst enemy.”
“Not while I’m alive,” Richards growled.
Richards spent a baseball life clashing with others — he wasn’t an easy man — but he was undoubtedly “touched by genius,” in the words of another longtime baseball executive, Hank Peters. And it was Richards who, at some point in the late 1950s, began counting how many pitches a pitcher threw in any given game, and pulling young pitchers when that pitch count got too high. He did so to protect their health.
It should be said here that Richards was not notably successful in protecting young pitchers’ health, but the idea obviously had merit. The more pitches, the more strain on the arm, right? It made sense. And other teams began following the pitch count path.
In 1988, the pitch count became an official MLB statistic, and most teams across baseball did try to protect pitchers — particularly young pitchers — by somewhat limiting the number of pitches they threw. The guide then, based on stories from the time, seemed to be about 120 pitches. That wasn’t a limit — almost 600 pitchers that year threw 120 or more pitches in a game — but it was a guide.
And very slowly, the number of starters throwing 120 pitches in a game came down.