When watching baseball nowadays, someone, either a random person nearby, or announcers on TV, tend to start gabbing about taking out a starting pitcher “because he has 100 pitches”. Somewhere along the way things have gotten so strange that this random, “one size fits all” standard has been adopted by the masses. Forget the fact that pitchers used to throw more than 100 pitches regularly. Forget that 100 is a seemingly arbitrary number1. More importantly, why on Earth do people think that all pitcher’s are created equal?
Major League Baseball (MLB) doesn’t have something (or at least not something as public) as the NFL Draft Combine, where players of the same position take part in identical drills to gauge athletic ability. Things like vertical leap, bench press, 40-yard dash, etc. No two players have ever2 produced literally the exact same results from every single test. This seems to indicate that players have different athletic traits at varying levels of ability.
Two basketball players who are both starting point guards don’t necessarily play the exact same number of minutes as each other every game, nor do coaches have some set limit that all guys can’t cross. It’s different for every guy for a large variety of reasons.
Why have pitch counts deviated from this so much?
Not every pitcher is the same. In fact the difference amongst starting pitchers across the league is probably much greater than the difference between starting quarterbacks in the NFL. Velocity varies. Movement varies. Type of pitch varies. Weather varies. Defenses vary. Situations dictate how a pitcher throws as well. All of these things vary. So even if every pitcher was a physical carbon copy of one another, it still would not make sense to have one pitch count to rule them all.
But every pitcher isn’t a carbon copy. Height, weight, physical strength, endurance, muscle density and a million other physiological thing come into play. The toll on the body, and particularly the arm/shoulder, that throwing a 98 MPH fastball inflicts is not the same from one human to the next. And the effect of doing that over and over again is yet another variable.
Baseball has embraced analytics and numbers more than any other sport, and it’s not even close. The first thing the Moneyball guys took advantage of was a lack of value on walks. Then there was a rush for defense. Now drastic shifting has come in to play. And yet no one has been able to crack the great question of pitch counts. The number of Tommy John surgeries this year is eye-popping. The reasons behind that are being debated every week. Maybe 100 is too many pitches? Maybe it’s not enough to build up endurance?
Whatever the case is though, it’s crazy to think that every pitcher is the same. There doesn’t seem to be any other number in any other sport that is as cut and dry as people make this arbitrary number of 100 pitches out to be. It’s a great debate to have though, and one that will someday be resolved.