It’s not the number of pitches that injure a pitcher nor is it a “cumulative effect” of said pitches. That’s concocted story to sell to the masses who don’t know enough about the game of baseball generally and the biomechanics of throwing a ball specifically to understand what’s going on. Because of that, there’s a simplicity that’s presented and suggests that a number (100? 110? 115? 80? 77?) is the “optimal” number for a pitcher to throw in an outing.
Ask yourself this: does it make sense that the optimal number of pitches conveniently falls at or around 100? What are the odds that the number of pitches that a pitcher is supposed to throw is such an even benchmark?
If there was intelligent research partaken and the results implemented, what would happen if it came out that the number of pitches a pitcher could throw without fear of injury wound up being 170 or 190 or 210?
What would the reaction be?
Those are numbers I pulled out of the air in the same manner as the 100 that’s currently en vogue.
From high school to college to the minor leagues, pitchers are conditioned to throw 100 pitches. They prepare themselves to throw 100 pitches—mentally and physically—and don’t think they can go any further so they don’t go any further. They dial it down when they’re approaching their designated number and relax with the expectation (or demand) that they’ll be taken out.
This silliness didn’t apply to Johan Santana on Friday night in his no-hitter for the Mets. He had adrenaline keeping him turbo-charged and he wasn’t expecting to be pulled while he was chasing history. If fact, he was lobbying to stay in the game. The faux confrontation between manager and pitcher is something that many pitchers do in a face-saving gesture without the actual desire to stay in the game. It’s an act performed within the knowledge that their manager/pitching coach is going to tell them to take a hike and yank them regardless of their insistent protests.
A pitcher doesn’t hurt his arm because he surpassed a pitch count. A pitcher hurts his arm when he throws “too many” pitches after he’s physically tired. When I say “physically tired” I don’t mean his arm. I mean his legs, hips and back. Throwing a baseball again and again with the force required to generate fastballs at maximum velocity does not come from the arm. The energy starts at the bottom and rises to the top. It’s a chain and if any part of that chain—the legs, hips, midsection—is compromised then there will be increased stress and demand on the other parts. If a pitcher is lagging mechanically, many times it’s not a lapse in his motion or that he forgot what he was supposed to be doing, it’s that his body is no longer responding to what repetition has trained him to do. Muscle memory will keep a pitcher’s mechanics mostly in line throughout a game. Occasionally, when their quirks are altered, it causes a lost release point; a lack of command and movement.
It doesn’t cause injuries.
When the legs are tired and he still needs to generate enough of that force to throw a ball at 90 mph, the power has to come from somewhere and that somewhere is his arm. That is what leads to overstress and injuries.
Pitch counts make life easier for the GM, manager, pitching coach, pitcher and organization because there’s a ready-made excuse that eliminates all analysis. If a manager chooses to pull a pitcher it’s easier to say, “He’d thrown 110 pitches and that’s his limit,” than it is to say, “His mechanics were out of whack; his legs were tired; he was laboring and I pulled him.”
It takes experience to notice the deviations between the way a pitcher loads up and throws when he’s in the first inning and when he’s in the eighth. To the naked eye, they may be imperceptible for someone who’s not close enough—practically or theoretically—to see it. A guy sitting on his couch with a load of charts doesn’t have that experience; nor does a doctor who can explain why a pitcher is able to torque his arm and create that power yet doesn’t know baseball or baseball players.
When I say pitch counts are ridiculous, it’s not due to some old-school perception of toughness and a desire to return to 1968. It’s due to that fact that they’re ridiculous because they’re presented in a wag the dog exercise of self-righteousness to feeding the media. They have nothing to do with protecting the pitcher, the club’s investment or anything else.