Miller: Recent history’s most cringe-worthy pitch counts

From Sam Miller at Baseball Prospectus on May 15, 2014:

On Tuesday, 23-year-old Zack Wheeler threw a career-high 118 pitches. That’s not all that many pitches, except that they were crowded into just 4 ⅓ innings; all but 33 of those 118 pitches were thrown with men on base, and all of the innings were extended:

  • 1st: 27 pitches, 20 with men on
  • 2nd: 30, 27
  • 3rd: 22, nine
  • 4th: 20, 15
  • 5th: 19, 14

“He’s got a win on the line,” Collins said, as quoted by the New York Times. (The presumed future ace was pitching with an 11-4 lead, after the Mets scored seven in the bottom of the fourth.) “A lot of people, you can say what you want, but wins are wins at the end of the year, when your name is next to some wins. So I thought, well, let’s see if he can go out there and do it.

In those two paragraphs are at least seven reasons that the outing caused a bit of a freakout over Wheeler’s labor: His age, his upside, the total number of pitches, the fact that he had never thrown that many before, the high-stress circumstances of those pitches, the pointlessness of those pitches, and the anachronistic, stat-chasing reason that he was left in. We still don’t know all the facts about pitcher stress points*, and we can’t say whether there’s some psychological benefit to a presumed future act getting a show of confidence or building up his glam stats. But it’s a suitable start for a freakout. It looked exhausting, and there didn’t seem to be a great reason for it.

Naturally, our standards for a freakout start have changed since 1998, when Rany Jazayerli introduced Pitcher Abuse Points. In 1996, for instance, Mets 23-year-old presumed future ace Paul Wilson threw 121 pitches in 4 ⅔ innings. So far as I can tell, Wilson’s pitch count was not mentioned in the New York Times game story the next day. (Greg Maddux, incidentally, threw 167 pitches in 1988, when he was 22. Gah.)

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Originally published: May 15, 2014. Last Updated: May 15, 2014.