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.