Since it is the All-Star break and last week featured limited play, few call-ups and no trades are worth noting, so I thought I would take a departure this week and look at no-hitters and pitch counts.
After Tim Lincecum's no-no of last Saturday, I wanted to look at something I have really wondered about since Matt Cain's perfect game, and that is the impact of excessive pitch counts on an arm in the near and long term.
Mind you, I am a Timmy fan of the highest order. I scored his first start, and Lincecum, as much as anyone, has been a principal in the emergence of the Giants as a championship team, while helping turn my city by the Bay into a baseball town (not that they don't love their Niners as well!).
Furthermore, I was weaned on baseball in the days of the four-man rotation, meaning guys regularly twirled 230-plus innings a year, not to mention 15-20 complete games being run of the mill. Those times were before we knew about hamate bones and rotator cuffs, and when there were 16 Major League teams, meaning the fight for a job was intense, and guys did not admit to injury unless they really had to.
It also was when relief pitchers were more regarded as mop-up players: this was a time before specialized closers and set-up men. Furthermore, it was a time when most everyday players augmented their baseball salary with off-season gigs like teaching and selling major home appliances at Sears.
Now--and I am not judging one time from another, rather just trying to frame so we can understand simply--players can condition all winter. Players are more muscular, and their skills are more specialized. Players are more athletic, for sure, and those specialized roles now do dictate that a starting pitcher generally goes around 100 pitches.
I do think, as my friend David Feldman recently suggested, pitchers are generally capable of tossing innings like they used to, but, they are not really conditioned to do so these days, hence the concern when a guy goes as long as Lincecum did, irrespective of the reason (both a no-no, and the All Star break to recover).
Still, I went to our good friend, the Baseball Reference, who gave me the last 15 no-hitters neatly compiled. Actually, they give you all of them with game links, but for this exercise I decided to limit the sample to no-hitters since June 26, 2010, when Edwin Jackson pitched his.
Of those 15, eight were deleted from our list as they each involved 115 pitches or less, which is stretching the pitch count as far as seems reasonable for all intents and purposes, and bearing in mind no-hitters are unusual enough to allow a little lattitude to the manager making those decisions.
That leaves this illustrious list of pitchers and related marks:
|Errata||Career Mark||Season after No-No|
|6/25/2010||Edwin Jackson||149|| Erratic at best
||76-81, 4.45||5-7, 4.31, 1.41 WHIP|
|7/26/2010||Matt Garza||120||Needed surgery eventually||63-62, 3.80||4-6, 3.34, 1.26 WHIP|
|5/3/2011||Francisco Liriano||123||Needed second surgery||62-58, 4.23||8-5, 4.16, 1.29 WHIP|
|5/2/2012||Jered Weaver||121||Missed month after no-no||106-57, 3.24||16-5, 3.18, 1.23 WHIP|
|6/1/2012||Johan Santana||134||End of career||139-78, 3.20||3-7, 8.26, 1.75 WHIP|
|6/13/2012||Matt Cain||125||Perfect game||91-84, 3.40||8-3, 3.21, 1.16 WHIP|
|7/13/2013||Tim Lincecum||148||Lots of pitches||84-65, 3.40||TBD|
Obviously, there is very little that we can derive from this list and information. And, well, time and deadlines keep me from going too far into the numbers at this juncture.
But, a couple of things are clear.
First, interesting is all the pitchers on this list were between ages 28-30 when they tossed their no-hitters.
Second, at one juncture, most of them needed the DL, and even major surgery.
Third, some of the pitchers were--and still are, or might be--pretty good, and obviously all had flashes of brilliance. But, in the case of Liriano and Garza, their best numbers might lie ahead, while in the case of Jackson, maybe he was never that good to begin with?
As for Cain and Lincecum, the jury might still be out, but Santana, he might not have lasted the season, but 134 pitches did not help, meaning the jury is clearly in.
Way back when--before I was writing about this stuff--Mike Warren, of the Athletics, pitched a no-hitter (9/29/83). I remember going to a pre-season Athletics festival where Warren appeared, but I also wondered how good the right-hander was.
9-13, 5.06 is the answer, over 204.2 innings, with a 1.50 WHIP, meaning not very good.
It also shows that any Major League pitcher, on a good day with good stuff, can weave miracles.
However, if baseball is truly a team sport, where the win matters more than the individual records, I have to wonder about making decisions where pitchers go out of their physical comfort zone as some are allowed chasing that no-hit achievement.
Note, I am not saying it is good or bad to do this, as there are compelling arguments both ways, but I do think that in baseball--where everything is subject to interpretation and judgement--the subject bears more study.
I promise to report back, and as usual, am more than interested in your thoughts.