Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Verlander Throws 121 Pitches

Justin Verlander threw 98 pitches through the first 6 innings of last night's 4-3 loss to the Oakland Athletics. The score was tied 3-3 at the time and it seemed like a good night's work for Verlander. So, I was a little surprised to see him come out to pitch the 7th. He gave up a leadoff home run to Nick Swisher, his second of the game but then proceeded to retire the next three batters pretty easily. I'm not blaming the 4-3 loss on the decision to leave Verlander in the game. He was clearly still strong; still throwing close to 100 MPH. Looking at the game in isolation, it seemed like the right ting to do.

My concern is that it's not generally a good idea to allow young pitchers to rack up high pitch counts, in this case 121 pitches. Now, there is no magic number which can be used as a pitch limit but 121 pitches is "in the danger zone" according to various sabermetric studies of young pitchers. In a Jasn Beck article this spring, Jim Leyland said that he does not believe in pitch counts but he also wants to keep his pitchers healthy:

"Am I going to abuse pitchers? No, I take pride in taking care of my pitchers," he said. "I'm a firm believer that it's not the best pitching staff that wins. In a lot of cases, it's the healthiest."

Leyland wants to know how tough a pitcher's innings or pitchers are. If a young hurler throws 100 pitches, Leyland won't automatically lift him, especially if they were easy pitches.

Verlander did not seem to be laboring out there so the decision to leave him in there goes along with Leyland's philosophy. However, Leyland's resume includes heavy use of young pitchers such as Livan Hernandez, Kevin Brown and Pedro Astacio. I'm not sure how much damage he did, if any, to his young pitchers but I prefer he not play with fire. I don't want to see Verlander throwing 121 pitches on a regular basis. This is something to watch closely as the year goes along.

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