This is how well things are going with the Phillies lately: the current concern with the team, at least in some circles, is the increasing high-pitch counts for Roy Halladay
Let get this out of the way at the top: Roy Halladay is well-versed in pitching very deep into games. He has led all major league pitches in complete games in 2003, 2005, 2007, 2008 and 2009.
He leads all of baseball this year with four complete games.
Complete games are one thing. But what about the pitch counts in those complete games?
Halladay threw 133 pitches Tuesday night against Pittsburgh, one short of his career-high of 134 pitches in a game. That came June 2 of last year.
Since it is right around the same time of the year, it's a pretty good frame of reference to compare to what we can expect this year... and whether or not the high pitch total had an adverse affect on how the rest of his season played out.
Before we continue on, we will add this note: Halladay has thrown 111 pitches or more in 6 of 9 starts this season. In 2009, from the Opening Day to the day he threw 134 pitches, Halladay reached 111 pitches 5 times in 12 starts.
So you could definitely say he has pitched more in the early part of this season than last.
But.... after Halladay threw 134 pitches on June 2 of last year, and thus reached beyond the 111-pitch total were using as a frame of reference, he didn't seem to be bothered in the long run. Although he never threw more than 119 pitches in any game from that day forward, Halladay finished the 2009 season 8-9 with a 2.80 ERA.
I wouldn't pay too much attention to the losing record. He played for the Blue Jays, who were 34-49 from July on last summer.
But the ERA was 2.80, one point higher than his final season mark of 2.79.
So, in the end, it didn't appear to do him any damage.
You could make the argument that he will be expected to pitch at least another month this season, given the Phillies postseason expectations. Admittedly, it's a very good point.
But here's the thing with Doc: he isn't exactly built like the modern day starting pitcher. As we mentioned earlier, he has led all of baseball in complete games in nearly every full season he has pitched last decade.
He begins working out at 4 a.m. everyday in the offseason for a reason - to keep his arm, mind and body in shape for the grueling season ahead. And here's the catch: 40-50 years ago, pitchers didn't
work out that much but still pitched far deeper into games than the modern day starting pitcher.
I actually touched on this topic two weeks ago, when Robin Roberts, who once threw 28 straight complete games, had just passed away and when 47-year-old Jamie Moyer
was fresh of becoming the oldest player in the game's history to throw a complete-game shutout.
“It’s not that (today’s pitchers) can’t do it, it’s what you’re trained to do. In this age, the game isn’t played that way,
” Moyer told me about the lost art of complete games. “It’s a mindset. If someone says you can only write half an article and they tell you that the whole year and they only allow you to write a half an article, by the end of the year you’re going to think you can only write half of an article. For me, it’s a mindset.”
Halladay obviously has that "mindset." He was brought up that way, trained that way from an early age. He is the one of the remaining of the rare, nearly-extinct breed of nine-inning-eaters among the modern day pitcher.
You can ready more about what Moyer had to say about the issues, and about the strong comments pitching coach Rich Dubee made, by reading that story here
In a related note, my Sports Illustrated just arrived in the mail and has a well-timed story that plays right into this conversation.
The story is about Nolan Ryan's quest to turn make the modern day Texas Rangers into an old school pitching staff. It's titled, "Nolan Ryan
In it, Ryan, the Rangers team president, makes a lot of the same points Moyer and Dubee made last week.
"Pitchers have been pampered
," Ryan said, regarding constant, pitch count-monitoring. "There's no reason kids today can't pitch as many innings as people did in my era
After I saw this, I decided to do a little experiment.
If Ryan could do it, why not Halladay?
Halladay recently turned 33-years-old. Like Halladay, Ryan pitched 12 big league season before his 33rd birthday.
Like Halladay, Ryan was obviously a work horse: he threw 20 complete games or more in five seasons of a six-year stretch from 1972-77.
Ryan turned 33 years old before the 1980 season, and thus, had a lot of mileage on his arm from the aforementioned numbers.
How did Ryan do as a 33-year old? He was 11-10 with a 3.35 ERA in 35 starts.
Unfortunately, the resources I've checked do not have the pitch counts from the 1980 season. So, heck, let's flash forward 10 years later
to see how good 'ol Nolan's arm fared in 1990.
Ryan, then 43-years-young and with 22 seasons of wear and tear tacked on his right arm, was 13-9 with a 3.44 ERA in 30 starts. He held opponents to a miniscule .188 batting average.
Moreover, Ryan threw 130 pitches on June 11, his 10th start of the season. He would throw over 120 pitches 9 times in 1990 .... and over 111 pitches, the frame of reference we used earlier for Halladay, a whopping 16 times.
After throwing 144 pitches (144!) in a 3-2 loss to the Red Sox at Fenway Park on July 2, 1990, Ryan finished the rest of the season 6-5 with a 3.19 ERA in 16 starts.So if Ryan could do it, why not Halladay?