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Brainstorm, starring Christopher Walken and the Cast of VEB

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ca·thar·sis 
Pronunciation: \kə-ˈthär-səs\ 
Function: noun 
Inflected Form(s): plural ca·thar·ses \-ˌsēz\ 
Etymology: New Latin, from Greek katharsis, from kathairein to cleanse, purge, from katharos
Date: circa 1775

Is the offense fixed? Well, probably not, no. We saw some signs of life in the Florida series as well, only to watch the team crash right back down to earth against the Indians. What's the old saying about blind squirrels and all?

Still, it was certainly rejuvenating to watch the Cards whale away on Verlander last night, who must by now have nightmares featuring beautiful, naked women who turn into Fredbird mid coitus. He's been one of the best pitchers in all of baseball for most of the season, with only his first couple outings of the year negatively impacting his overall numbers. And it didn't appear as if he were badly off last night; on the contrary, Verlander's stuff was popping in there with remarkable life, and his command was pretty solid. No, the Cardinals just flat out beat Justin Verlander last night. The plate appearances were just what most of us have been clamouring for the past month or so; Yadier Molina's at-bat in the first inning was a thing of beauty. Yadi fouled off pitch after pitch that he couldn't handle, until he finally got just enough wood on one to drop a hit into right field. It was the sort of at-bat we haven't seen too very much of, the sort of at-bat that would have looked eerily at home in October of 2006, rather than June of 2009. Same pitcher, same result, drastically different circumstances.

But honestly, I'm not here to talk about the offense this morning. You'd think I would take advantage of the first really good game the hitters have had for a while and just ride that wave, but I can't. There's something else that's been on my mind, and I would like it if you could all help me out.

 See, right now, there's this outstanding article over at SI.com, written jointly by Joe Posnanski and Bill James, and it regards pitch counts. More specifically, it regards Nolan Ryan's crusade to try and destroy the modern notion of pitch counts and the way they are used.

The current gospel in baseball, of course, is the 100 pitch threshold; when we see a manager consistently let his pitchers throw more than that, we immediately get up in arms about it. We joke about Dusty Baker, and how his pitchers will all have their shoulders explode after about two years of his routine abuse. We here at VEB have ourselves fretted over the high pitch counts that Tony La Russa has occasionally allowed Adam Wainwright to rack up at various times.

The Nolan Ryan article has crystallised something that I've been turning over in my mind for a very long time now, an idea I have about pitchers and why they break down. I've written here and elsewhere that I, in fact, agree with Ryan, in that there's really very little logical cause for pitchers to be on such strict pitch limits, particularly since it doesn't seem to be lowering the rate of injuries very much, if at all.

I think there are several reasons for the continued prevalence of arm injuries; kids don't throw nearly enough, but pitch far too much, the effects of excessive weight lifting, more breaking balls, awful mechanics being taught to young pitchers (Tom House, I'm looking at you), and a different culture in baseball that encourages working the count more are all likely culprits to my mind. That, however, is a conversation for another day.

This is what I'm looking to do; the point of all my pointless rambling. Most, if not all of us, have read the excellent articles from the past over at Baseball Prospectus and elsewhere about what the effects of overwork can be. BP of course has the Pitcher Abuse Points system. There's the Verducci Rule. Will Carroll routinely writes very solid work on the subject. The problem, of course, is that we're still not really sure exactly what causes pitchers to get hurt.

We've all heard a lot of old baseball men, men who have seen arms come and go for years on end, talk about how it isn't the number of pitches, it's the number of jams. And personally, I happen to agree with that train of thought. Simple logic dictates to us that not all innings are created equally, and neither are all pitches.

Back in the early days of baseball, pitchers routinely racked up huge pitch counts, the type of counts that would get contemporary managers fired in a week or two. Part of the reason they were able to do so, I believe, has to do with the parks they played in, as well as the type of hitters they were facing. Pitchers didn't have to max out on every single delivery then, as hitters weren't nearly as capable of hurting you with any one swing of the bat as they are today. Modern ballparks are smaller, and modern hitters are much stronger, making the longball a constant threat. When the center field fence was 455 foot away, you could toss a high fastball in there without a ton on it, confident in the knowledge that a ball hit to the outfield was just going to die in someone's glove.

This, then, is my hypothesis: the number of pitches thrown is less important than the amount of stress a pitcher is put under during the game. I believe that an inning in which a pitcher throws 30 pitches and struggles to get out of a jam is much, much more taxing that an inning in which he throws 15 pitches and sets down the opposition in order. Now, I'm sure that doesn't exactly seem like an earth-shattering revelation, by any means, but here's the rub: simply taking the two pitch counts, you would think that the 30 pitch inning would be twice as taxing as the easy 15 pitch one. I don't think it's that simple. I believe that 30 pitch inning is several times more tiring, and is less a function of the number of pitches than it is the stress the pitcher undergoes in getting out of the jam.

So what I'm looking for is a system to quantify the actual amount of work that a pitcher is doing.  I think that we can come up with a numerical system to track exactly how stressful a given outing is. Now, please note, I'm not looking to make any sort of correlation here with injury probablity; there are so many other factors that go into whether or not a pitcher can stay healthy, including his level of conditioning, heredity, and mechanics, that I wouldn't presume to be able to draw any direct conclusions.

No, all I'm looking to do is come up with a measure of how hard any outing is for a pitcher. I'm working off of these assumptions:

  • Throwing a large number of pitches in one inning is much more stressful than a similar number spread out.
  • Throwing with men on base is more stressful than throwing with bases empty.
  • Pitching with men in scoring position is even more stressful. 
  • Breaking balls are more stressful than fastballs and changeups. 
  • Easy innings are less taxing in general, and allow a pitcher to get into a rhythm.

Now, if anyone has any issues with any of those assumptions, feel free to say so. I feel like those are fairly solid ideas, but I'm certainly willing to hear any objections.

What I'm looking for is a numerical system to quantify all these factors. Currently, I'm thinking of basing it on a simple point system, and then add in multipliers based on the level of stress that a given situation entails. Something like:

  • One point for every pitch thrown.  
  • Add one point for every breaking ball. (i.e. fastballs/ changeups are one, sliders/ curves are two) 
  • Any pitch thrown from the stretch is doubled. 
  • Pitches thrown with men in scoring position are tripled in point value. 
  • Every pitch thrown beyond a certain count in an inning is again doubled, in addition to any other modifiers. 

I'm considering some other modifiers as well. I'm wondering if a large number of pitches to a single batter should count as more stressful; those ten or eleven pitch at-bats feel tough and stressful to us, I'm sure, but I wonder if they have any sort of effect on a pitcher?

Something else I'm wondering: should easy innings actually help bring the count down? Obviously, an easy inning is going to count as less work anyhow, but does having a couple of quick 1-2-3 frames in a row allow a pitcher to relax, get in a groove, and actually  help him go deeper into a game? For instance, if a pitcher throws an easy, six-pitch inning worth nine points, given that it falls below a certain threshold (whatever that threshold might be), could we halve that value, or does that not make any sense?

Basically, what I'm looking for from everyone here is a big brainstorming session. As I said before, I'm not trying to base this system on anything concrete, or establish a value that becomes damaging. What I want is to be able to add up everything a pitcher did on a given night and have some idea of just how hard he actually worked. What I need is for this very knowledgeable community to help me flesh out some ideas as to other ways I might handle it. In the end, I would like to get some sort of community approved numerical system put together, strictly to get an idea of the workload a pitcher may be asked to shoulder in a particular game.

I realise this whole thing is relatively arbitrary, and I honestly have no idea how useful it's going to be, but I've had the idea in my mind for quite some time, and I'm curious to see what everyone else thinks about it.  Hell, it may even be that someone somewhere else has already undertaken this sort of an experiment before, and I'm just not aware of it yet. If so, just ignore everything I said and talk about how awesome it was to put up eleven on El Tigres.

And lastly, with apologies for my forgetfulness the last couple of weeks, I give you the Baron's Playlist for this week:

"I Wanna Kill"- Crocodiles- Okay, so yeah, it sounds like a Jesus and Mary Chain song. If you ask me, the world would be a much better place if more things did.

"Holocaust"- This Mortal Coil- It's really sad to me that This Mortal Coil has been almost entirely forgotten, outside of a very specific segment of the population that no one really listens to anyway. Intensely sad? Absolutely. But this may also just be one of the two or three greatest songs recorded in the entire decade of the 80s.

"Grace Kelly Blues"- Eels- Your crystal ball, you keep it hid.

"On My Block"- Scarface- What rap should be, and can be at its best.

Have a lovely day, everyone.