The number 100 in sports is generally linked to perfection, but it takes on a different meaning in baseball in relation to pitchers: it means the pitcher must be tired and therefore he must be pulled from the game.
Cy Young holds the Major League record with 749 complete games. The modern day leader is Roy Halladay with 66, which is quite the discrepancy. This leads to the question: what is it with managers and the obsession with 100 pitches? Is it a myth or reality that at or around 100 pitches a pitcher tires? What factors could be contributing to this?
According to espn.com*, in 1988, 18.5 percent of all starts were in the 96-105 pitch range. In 2008, that number jumped to 32 percent. In 2000, there were 454 starts of at least 120 pitches. Last season, there were 71 starts, or 1.5 percent, an 84 percent drop. In 2009, 1.9 percent of starts have been 120 pitches. Several factors could lead to the belief of the magical 100-pitch barrier being a threshold.
With players becoming bigger and more powerful, and with runs per game increasing, pitchers are being forced to throw more pitches per inning and throw harder in an effort to retire hitters. Another factor is that over the past 20 years the strike zone has been shrunk so pitchers are having to throw more pitches and deal with more foul balls, as the umpires are squeezing them and not giving them the leniency they once had in the strike zone.
There are two theories, which I think are the main reasons that the 100-pitch count is routinely in play. One is that the implementation of the “quality start”, which is when a pitcher pitches at least six innings and gives up three runs or less. This statistic is important to the pitcher himself, as it could help him in negotiations, and it also shows his contribution to the team.
The second reason is the emphasis on reliever’s roles and what they get paid. The way pitching staffs are constructed today, you have your long relief pitcher, a seventh and eighth inning specialist, a closer, a left-handed specialist, and a pitcher who can pitch in any situation.
Some relief pitchers get upwards of $3.5-5 million to perform their roles, so when the situation presents itself for them to come in, more often the team will put them in to maximize their return on their investment. Some closers, like Mariano Rivera and Jonathan Papelbon, make more than $10 million. To employ these players and not use them would not make sense.
In my opinion, old-school pitchers like Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Justin Verlander, and CC Sabathia, pitchers who routinely go over 100 pitches, are the best for a reason. When they are given the ball to start the game, they want to be on the mound when it is over.
Nolan Ryan never had a pitch count. Jack Morris never had a pitch count. Both are in the Hall of Fame, and neither have arm problems. Teams should quit babying pitchers, stop worrying about the 100 pitch-mark and focus more on winning games.
What are your views? Is the 100 pitch-count overrated or a good benchmark?
Your views are always welcome.