1-2-3, count with me . . .

welcome back, walter jocketty. the guys at SB Nation brother site Red Reporter asked my opinion of their team’s new gm over the weekend, and i gave ‘em some thoughts; read all about it.

and au revoir, matt morris. he’s the second not-that-long-ago mainstay of the stl rotation to get released this month, following woody williams. seems like they’ve been gone ages, doesn’t it? but morris has been out of cardinal red for just over two seasons (2006-07, plus a month of 08), woody williams just over three (2005-07); they started games 1 and 2 of the 2004 world series (and of that year’s nlcs / nlds, for that matter). kind of arresting how quickly it can all go south for a pitcher.

this is probably not the time to point out that morris is the last cardinal pitcher to throw 120 pitches in an april game --- or was, until wainwright did it the other day. morris achieved the feat against the astros too, on april 6 2002 --- burned through 125 deliveries in only 6 innings, which is even harder on the arm than wainwright’s 9-inning effort on saturday. during his time in st louis, la russa has asked only two other pitchers to throw 120 or more pitches in an april game: garrett stephenson (april 22, 2000) and alan benes (april 30, 1997).

if we lower the pitch-count threshold to 115 pitches, we find wainwright and morris crossing paths again. matty mo was the last st louis pitcher --- until wainwright, this month --- to toss 115 or more darts twice in the same april. matty did that two aprils in a row, in 2002 and 2003; the only other pitcher who’s ever done it under la russa is alan benes, in both 1996 and 1997. . . . .

okay okay (you ask), so morris stephenson and benes all had short careers --- what does that prove? and i answer that it doesn’t prove anything, but it’s still a pattern that concerns me (as it does houstoncardinal, who wrote about this yesterday). after wainwright’s outing, jeff passan pointed out at Yahoo sports that while opinions remain sharply divided about the correlation between high pitch counts and injuries, the fact is that pitch counts are being watched much more closely; it’s very rare for any pitcher to throw 125 pitches in a game anymore, let alone in an april game. passan notes that only 14 starts lasted 125 or more pitches in 2007, and only 26 went that long the year before that; only 2 of those starts came in april (by schilling in 2006 and barry zito last year).

in that article, la russa blithely waves off the pitch-count issue (just more of that stat-geek crap) and cites subjective observation as the only fatigue meter that matters: "You watch and see a guy all game long. When he starts to change, it means most times he’s losing stuff, getting tired, losing concentration." wainwright, says tony, has the ability to "make pitches when he has to," and that’s true --- in both of his long starts this month adam got into trouble as his pitch counts mounted but made the pitches he needed to and got out of the jams; the cards won both games. he’s got guts, he’s got willpower; we can all see that and admire it. but if those qualities encourage la russa to make wainwright play the hero every second or third start, it is likely to catch up to the pitcher and the team --- and sooner than we might like. in his last 16 starts (going back to last august 5), wainwright has thrown 115 or more pitches 5 times; that projects out to 10 times over a 32-start season. is that a lot? only 3 pitchers have done it during tony's sojourn in st louis.

using the amazing Baseball-Reference Play Index, i looked up all starts by st louis pitchers in the la russa era that lasted 115 or more pitches; here’s the list. and below is a table listing the pitcher-seasons (st louis only, la russa era) with the highest number of outings that lasted 115 pitches or more. the DL column lists the pitcher’s next trip to the disabled list after (or during) the season in question:

pitcher season games DL
woody williams 12 2003 2004
todd stottlemyre 11 1998 1999
andy benes 10 1997 1997
andy benes 9 1996 1997
todd stottlemyre 8 1996 1997
matt morris 7 2002 2002
darryl kile 7 2000 ---
alan benes 7 1996
garrett stephenson 7 2000 2001*
donavon osborne 7 1996 1997

a sobering list. again, this doesn’t prove anything --- it’s not a scientifically rigorous study --- but experience can be a great teacher. if i were a big-league manager, and every single pitcher i rode too hard ended up getting hurt within a year and was out of baseball within 5 years, i might learn something from that experience. osborne, alan benes, and stottlemyre were never useful big-league players again after carrying their heavy workloads; they, and all the other pitchers on this list, retired before the age of 35. ok, i’m lying --- stottlemyre attempted a comeback at age 37, which lasted 21 innings (0-2 record, 7.52 era); and i’ll admit that we don’t know how long kile would have lasted in the big leagues, but he did need shoulder surgery after the 2001 season. . . . insofar as the cardinals have wainwright under club control for 5 seasons after this one (through his age-31 season) and are on the hook for guaranteed money for 3 seasons after this one, maybe tony ought to at least consider the stat-geek crap. or at least, he should do that if he wants wainwright's career to last longer than matt morris's did.

since darryl kile’s name keeps coming up, i’ll add that i thought of him when word of morris’s release came down. kile mentored morris, and no cardinal was wounded more deeply than matty when darryl died. i sensed a trace of kile’s influence --- his maturity, his humility --- in matty’s statement after being released: "It was a great segment of my life. I really can't wait to move on and be with my family. It's a sad day, but it's also a joyful day. ... I'm proud of my career."

we’re proud of ya too, matty mo. thanks for the thrills, and much success to you in all things in the future.

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