Rotations and pitch counts
One would think that those two subjects would be applicable only to the individual pitcher and one’s tolerance, pitch selection, place in the rotation (sometimes) and similar considerations.
But from a coaching standpoint, there’s a broader spectrum of topical events and circumstances that give way to thinking about these two subjects with cause and effects on the overall competitive nature of a club.
When a club is being formed, usually within a broader time frame than just the calendar year, a roster of pitchers constantly evolves. In other words- who do have today (returning under contract), who can we get next season, and who’s available during the season, and who’s at the end of their usefulness? The process of filling and staffing a rotation never finalizes itself. Every day a rush of questions just like those just mentioned is on the mind of the coaching and management staff.
So, this on going process has to deal with a game schedule that can be 110 games plus (my experience) – not discounting playoffs and championship games. It also has to deal with injuries, cancellations, sickness, personal distractions and home issues, alterations in accommodations and meals on the road, and finally an overworked pitching staff when a scheduled rotation for a game just doesn’t cut it and the coaching staff has to go deeper into the rotation.
Also, consider the usual three or four day game schedule with only one day off in between, with the personnel usage not going too well just for one or two of these games – then a couple of guys get sick from bad food, another guy comes down with a cold and gives it to five other guys, then you have guys that aren’t very effective in cold weather while still others aren’t very effective in high humidity, and on it goes.
So when considering pitch counts for any pitcher in any rotation, consideration is given to the longevity of the total pitching staff – as one pitcher may have cause and affects upon his teammates.
If I know that Ed’s effectiveness is good for 90 to 110 pitches per outing based on prior experience, and Ed is now up to 48 pitches at the bottom of the second inning, I can safely assume that Ed is living on borrowed time. An over simplification – yes. But a basic starting point that every coach leads with when a pitcher starts his work. Also, if I know that Ed is quality stuff, he could be just having an off day – it happens. And quality
guys are needed for the long haul down the stretch. Also, keeping in mind that quality guys are not immune to sickness, a restless night sleep, bad food on the road, and muscle cramps like everyone else. Pushing a guy during the season to produce like a machine will come back to bite a staff big time.
Another consideration is with developing players that are good – but need a little more seasoning. These guys are important to the rotation because they have that spark of competitiveness that keeps the rotation hungry. Young arms are a God sent down the stretch and their effectiveness as an unknown during the early part of the season can give a club that edge .. just enough to get some momentum going. Going easy with these guys is as much good game strategy as it is instructional for the pitcher(s). These guys learn that endurance is just as much a planning phase with their repertoire as it is a health maintenance issue. Overwork it and you’re out of gas down the stretch, pushing the workload onto somebody else.
Then there’s the broadside right out of the blue. You pencil in four guys to carry you in tonight’s game if necessary and out of nowhere the first guy gets a muscle pull while trying to skip two stairs in the entrance to the bullpen before the game, the second guy just isn’t himself for some reason, and the third has just been handed a paternity suit. This actually happened to me. It’s a good thing that we metered our guys so as to have enough staff to meet this and other tolerance and quality demands.
Trading talent that’s not worth the effort is also in the mix. Burning a guy out and then trying to “deal” him for other talent isn’t smart business. Also, reputations for “using” guys up is not something that I’ve been a part of nor have I attached myself with that kind of game plan.
The game that I’m talking about isn’t a game – it’s a business. Taking care of the assets of that business is smart. However, getting quality staff and trying to make a go of it makes sense. In the sports business, good talent cost money and it cost money to maintain them. Maintenance takes into consideration “usage” based on a lot more than I can elaborate here, but some of that managed usage uses pitch count management per individual and that individual’s cause and effect on the rotation as a group contribution to the overall game plan.