The Pitch Count System

This is a sample of my experiences with the use of a Pitch Count System. The following is not all inclusive nor is it designed to paint a pattern across the board for every coach or club.

A pitching coach has at his/her disposal many tools for monitoring the rotation. A Pitch Count System is just one of them.

As the name implies, the system utilizes a combination of inputs, both historical and on going, as a sliding scale to approximate and manage scheduling, actual performance, and projectibility of a pitcher. Also, the system collects and incorporates the total rotation into a workable planning tool, in total.

The system has it’s origin with certain expectations based on the level of competition and personal attributes of the player.

For example, the level of competition would consider rookie level ball, intermediate level ball, or highly competitive. Single A Rookies season (short season) would be at one end of the scale with Major League play at the other. Hence, a learning curve of expected capability would be a grooming phase at one end, verses highly competent craftsmanship at the other end (MLB). And as would be expected, a Pitch Count System would naturally follow suit accounting for the expectations and playing environment at both ends of these competitive environments.

As far as the player himself/herself is concerned, rookies or veterans, even age, personality, slotted role(s), size and physical endowments, pitch selection and why, would all be involved with customizing a Pitch Count System for each pitcher. As time progresses in this player’s career, adjustments are made to account for experience(s), historical tracking, playoff contention, and other factors.

What about the System itself? What foundation does it have?

One would think that a system is just that - a prescribed set of “norms” or benchmarks that are used across the board. However, in this case it’s not. Why? Because each player has his/her own “norms” or benchmarks based on where they are in the games competitive level and where they are in life - age, health, etc.

So, let me simplify this a bit. I have a rookie who dishes cheese (fastballs) as his mainstay. He’s in the Rookie short season and is being groomed for bigger things and at the same time being tested to see if he’s worth time and money. So, the following is part of his Pitch Count System:

  • He should face a max of four batters per inning
  • He should have a max of four pitches per batter
  • Max 16 Pitches per inning ( fielding errors are not in the mix)
  • The second and third inning pitched should show a historical record.
  • He will not go beyond five (5) innings of work.

If our rookie is about to enter his fourth inning, brings a pitch count of ten (10) pitches, had faced 9 batters thus far, he’s got the following going for him:

  • System gave him twelve (12) batters to face, he’s faced nine (9). He’s ahead by 3 batters.
  • System gave him 48 pitches to work with to this point, he’s used ten (10). He’s ahead by 38 pitches.
  • The System wants to see his track record for the second and third innings of his appearance: So, his track record shows him ahead by 3 batters, and ahead of his allotted pitches by 38 pitches. In addition, he’s going into his fourth inning with a cushion - ahead in both batters and pitches. If he holds this track record, game after game, it not only gives a “dependability factor” for him, but it also tells those expecting improvement up the ladder.
  • Since the System has given him a 38 pitch count cushion, he should be monitored as he eats away at that cushion and starts to go in the other direction. So, as he progresses into the game, when he starts to reach that cushion’s limit, that is an early sign of potential trouble. But not necessarily the end of his appearance - just a mindful watch. However, when one or two runs are the only thing that seperates a win from a loss, a quick decision depends on a Pitch Count System, among others, to go in the right direction.
  • The System also holds a certain performance “norm” for this pitcher that can be adjusted slightly, depending on how the season progresses for the club overall. For example, let’s say that the club is in a playoff spot and the pitching staff has been used big-time. Everyone’s pretty tired. Here’s where the track record, of each pitcher, comes in very handy, in addition to using a club’s pitching resources wisely.

What about the health of the pitcher?

Let’s say that our rookie pitcher finished his second inning of work, faced ten (10) batters, and had a pitch count of 40 pitches. He’s now behind by two (2) batters and he’s behind by 8 pitches. If we break this down into how many “norm” innings he’s behind, he’s behind by half an inning “planned” even before he reaches his appearance for the next inning. Being in the hole that bad, for a rookie, is not good. Not good at all. Now if this is just a spot occurrence, there’s usually a reason that can be rationalized with some degree of happenstance. But, nevertheless that experience goes into the track record as historical data. If a pattern emerges, the laws of probability kick in and so do other things.

Now if we were talking about a youngster in our example above, I doubt if any coach would think twice about sending a youngster back into the next inning of play without a second thought to the implications of being in the red by 2 batters and 8 pitches. After all, their low numbers and of very little concern. But just the opposite should be the case. These number tend to compound themselves big-time as time goes on. So, two innings of play finds a pitch count over by 8, then the third inning of play finds the pitch count up to 20 pitches over the “norm”, then the fourth inning finds an even larger number.

Basically, what a Pitch Count System does in highlight early signs of concern and the reasons why. It also depends on an accurate record keeping routine that shows habitual performance, trends, a standards-line for planning and the efficient use of pitching resources. Even more important is the varied mix of pitchers and their individual contributions over time - who to use when and where is the litmus test to a well managed Pitch Count System in concert with other managerial tools.

Coach B.

Coach B.

I am trying to understand this post, first thing I don’t understand is the following… what does this mean

Hi, buwhite.
What Coach B. is trying to do is systematize this whole business of pitch counts. Where he’s off the mark, I think, is trying to paint a picture across the board for pitchers, coaches, et al., and it seems unnecessarily complicated the way he describes it, so let me see what can be explained in simpler terms.
The problem is that there’s no hard and fast rule, because there are so many pitchers and so many different ways of compiling pitch counts for all of them. We could start by dividing these pitchers into four camps: the strikeout pitchers, who are often prone to running up high pitch counts because batters tend to foul off a lot of pitches; the ground-ball pitchers, who may have lower pitch counts because they often pitch to contact (what Ed Lopat used to call “making them go after your pitch, what you want them to hit”); the fly-ball pitchers who induce in-the-air outs, also prone to lower pitch counts because the batters will go after the first pitch and pop it up; and the ones who are a combination of all three—those can be the hardest ones to pin down.
Now, let’s subdivide these. You have a pitcher who’s got everything under control from the git-go, who will throw less than ten pitches per inning—sometimes six or seven. Like the White Sox’ Mark Buehrle. He very rarely has a bad day, and so he will characteristically pitch a complete game and throw maybe 90, 95 pitches. I’ve seen him do this many times. Next, you have a pitcher who will have a rough first inning and then settle down; he may throw as many as 30 pitches in that first inning because he gives up a lot of hits—or a lot of walks—or a ton of foul balls. But once he gets past that first inning, nobody can touch him, and he’ll get through a whole succession of innings of ten pitches or less. So the concept of the second and third innings telling the story is not really accurate. Now we have a pitcher who starts off strong, goes through the first three innings and then suddenly loses it, can’t find the plate, the strike zone jumps around like a jackrabbit on an overdose of caffeine, and he’ll start throwing a lot of pitches. Sometimes he’ll get past that inning—here’s where that old adage holds true that the double play is a pitcher’s best friend—and then he too will settle down; or else he’ll be taken out of the game with the bases loaded and in comes a relief pitcher because Sam Starter just doesn’t have it any more.
The combo pitcher, if he can keep from giving up a lot of long balls, is often the guy who will go seven, eight innings, even the distance, without throwing a lot of pitches. We’ve all seen innings where the pitcher retires the side on three pitches, all fly balls and pop-ups, or ground-balls, all because the batter goes after the first pitch. And we’ve seen times where the pitcher is laboring, often in the sixth inning, where he’s suddenly started to throw a lot of pitches. He may be tiring, or something has happened that is affecting his pitching—this is something the pitching coach has to determine. In any event, this guy has suddenly gone from throwing six or seven pitches in an inning to 25 or 30, and that means trouble.
And of course, there’s the poor schnook who never makes it out of the first inning. As you can see, there are so many variables that the one who’s keeping the pitching chart—tracking all those pitches—really has to take each pitcher on his own terms, or the number of pitches thrown, from one game to the next. Mind-boggling, yes—but if one is able to compartmentalize things one can get a sense of what’s what with a pitcher, or a whole staff.
Don Larsen threw ninety-seven pitches in his perfect game—seven strikeouts, no walks. He was a perfect example of the combination pitcher. :slight_smile: 8)

[i][b]I am trying to understand this post, first thing I don’t understand is the following… what does this mean

The second and third inning pitched should show a historical record.[/b][/i]

Over time, a pitcher will “trend” himself. In other words, he’ll develop a certain performance that can be banked upon for results. Some pitchers are rock solid for their first and second showing, while others need an inning or two just to settle in. Now please don’t take the part “just to settle in” to the extreme. Some pitchers need that one or two showing when other things are in the mix, like extended days off for whatever reason, coming of an injury, or even having a bad night’s sleep.

The system that I described is not a one-size-fits-all method of managing pitchers. By no means. Nor is it universal. By no means. However, it does have things in common with other methods. It attempts to track, approximate, project and put numbers up that a staff can rely on for making decisions - nothing more, nothing less. As you read from above, Zita Carno had yet another approach, as I’m sure others could chime in and go yet another route.

However, in addtion to planning for, and using pitchers as best one can, there is another factor that’s not so apparent when talking about this subject with those that haven’t done this for a living - and that’s when the chips fall - who gets blamed for what? In other words, when a coaching staff, or coach, makes a decision to go with a crew for a game, and things crash and burn - some one will, without fail, look for blame. And unless you’ve been there, it’s hard to describe or even understand. So … having a reason, on paper, with as much going for you as possible, shows a lot more in the decision process. Trust me on this one.

So, any more questons buwhite?

Coach B.

Zita …
Where he’s off the mark, I think, is trying to paint a picture across the board for pitchers, coaches, et

I qualified myself by starting off with:
This is a sample of my experiences with the use of a Pitch Count System.

Coach B.

I just have one comment. I agree with Coach B about the necessity of “trending” your pitchers so that you can plan (even though things often don’t go as planned). However, with youth pitchers, those who establish trends that indicate they can go deeper into games are often the ones who have the strongest arms. They often get used the most and, because they are so strong, they can put the most stress on their immature skeletal systems. In other words, these are often the kids who eventually break down.

So, be smart about what those trends tell you with regards to youth pitchers.

Roger is 100% on the money.

I should have qualified my post better, even before getting into the heart of the matter.

My experiences have little to do with youth baseball. Even today, I’m retired and have the time - I stay away from it.

Youth baseball has so many up’s -n - downs, and things that impact the members on any club, that the system that I described has little or no use what so ever, in total. Youngsters will start a season, quit, take time off for family vacations, miss games, and so on. Adult participation is still another subject … I’m not going there.

My intention was to offer a suggestion to that one special ball player, that one in a million that has serious intentions of going beyond the huckleberry ball environment, and is looking for a way to do more that just “go along for the ride”.

But again, Roger has a much better pulse on things, as he’s shown here.

I would suggest to those interested on this subject - pitch counts and their use, to call up Roger’s thoughts on the subject, in addition to jdfromfla, and read them. Better yet, if you have access to a printer - print them out. Roger and jdfromfla have done you all a big service.

Coach B.