Palmateer: A closer look at college pitch counts and injuries

From Dustin Palmateer at Baseball Prospectus on September 3, 2013:

Once a rallying cry for the sabermetric cause, pitch count analysis has subsided in recent years, largely because major league organizations have fully embraced a better-safe-than-sorry approach. Gone are the days of a 20-year-old Kerry Wood surpassing 120 pitches eight times in his rookie season. By contrast, Florida Marlins rookie sensation Jose Fernandez hasn’t been allowed to throw 110 pitches in a single outing this year, and he didn’t reach 100 until mid-June.

Tim Lincecum’s recent 148 pitch outing still piqued our curiosity, if only because of its rarity. A starting pitcher has thrown 148 or more pitches 65 times since 1990, and 92 percent of those outings occurred in the ’90s. Last season there were only four outings of 130 or more pitches, and 74 that surpassed 120. In 1998, Wood’s rookie year, 133 starts exceeded 130 pitches and an astounding—by today’s standards, at least—498 lasted until at least 120.

While predicting pitcher injuries remains a difficult task—incorporating considerations such as workload, pitch types, mechanics, body type, recovery time, and numerous other variables—all parties (well, most, anyway) seem to agree: fewer pitches is probably better, especially for younger pitchers who have yet to establish what kind of workload they can handle.


Before a pitcher is drafted, however, major-league teams are forced to simply observe their development, unable to alter pitch counts or mechanics, as high school and college coaches have full control. While it would be unfair to vilify all amateur coaches for having little regard for the long-term health of their pitchers, it’s certainly true that their goals don’t always align with those of a professional organization.

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Originally published: September 3, 2013. Last Updated: September 3, 2013.