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Consecutive Starts of 100 Pitches

Posted by Raphy on July 6, 2011

Early in his career, there was concern that the Justin Verlander had ruined his career by overtaxing his young arm. Fortunately, Verlander not only bounced back, but this season he has been as dominant as ever. Yet , Verlander has not let up in his pitching. In fact, he has currently thrown at least 100 pitches in his last 37 starts, dating back to June of last season.
How common is this? The PI currently has complete records of pitch counts since 1999. (There are records for a high percentage of games back to 1988 including all of 1991.) In those 13 years, no pitcher has had more. Here are the longest such streaks (Stats are through June 5th.):

Rk Strk Start End Games W L GS CG SHO GF SV IP H R ER BB SO HR ERA HBP WP BK Tm
1 Justin Verlander 2010-06-27 2011-07-05 37 21 8 37 7 2 0 0 271.2 208 84 78 68 270 19 2.58 7 12 3 DET
2 Felix Hernandez 2009-05-14 2010-04-26 32 17 4 32 3 1 0 0 231.0 187 72 55 70 201 12 2.14 7 18 1 SEA
3 Carlos Zambrano 2005-09-30 2006-08-29 30 14 5 30 0 0 0 0 198.2 149 79 72 103 195 20 3.26 8 9 1 CHC
4 Randy Johnson 1999-06-20 2000-05-21 30 15 8 30 13 3 0 0 237.0 171 60 50 54 326 27 1.90 4 3 0 ARI
5 Colby Lewis 2010-04-09 2010-08-14 23 9 9 23 1 0 0 0 148.1 122 56 54 49 150 15 3.28 5 8 0 TEX
6 Randy Johnson 2002-05-31 2002-09-14 22 14 4 22 5 3 0 0 165.0 124 49 42 47 217 16 2.29 9 3 0 ARI
7 Randy Johnson 2001-05-28 2001-09-27 22 14 2 22 1 1 0 0 157.0 123 46 41 45 235 11 2.35 11 6 0 ARI
8 Woody Williams 2000-05-01 2001-04-19 22 8 9 22 4 0 0 0 163.0 152 76 68 53 107 20 3.75 4 3 0 SDP
9 Livan Hernandez 2000-04-26 2000-08-23 22 13 5 22 3 2 0 0 166.1 170 69 60 56 124 12 3.25 3 2 0 SFG
10 Javier Vazquez 2007-06-17 2008-04-02 21 12 4 21 2 0 0 0 143.2 135 63 58 32 152 18 3.63 5 1 0 CHW
11 Jason Schmidt 2004-05-01 2004-08-17 21 14 2 21 3 3 0 0 158.2 102 42 39 52 182 11 2.21 1 2 1 SFG
12 Kerry Wood 2001-04-15 2001-08-03 21 10 5 21 1 1 0 0 134.0 92 53 50 78 169 15 3.36 8 6 0 CHC
13 Tom Glavine 1999-05-29 1999-09-11 21 8 6 21 1 0 0 0 146.2 156 69 61 54 84 10 3.74 1 1 0 ATL
14 CC Sabathia 2010-09-07 2011-06-14 20 10 6 20 1 0 0 0 142.0 135 63 55 37 113 7 3.49 6 1 1 NYY
15 Johan Santana 2004-05-29 2004-09-08 20 15 4 20 1 1 0 0 147.1 76 32 30 31 185 14 1.83 5 5 0 MIN
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 7/6/2011.

I question whether there is any significance to such a streak, but it does help bring to light a statistical anomaly. Included in Verlander's streak are 19 games from this season, the third most to begin a season since 1999. However, he is not alone. In fact since 1999, 7 pitchers have started a season by throwing at least 100 pitches in each of their first 15 starts. 5 of those 7 have come this season. (Stats are through June 5th.)

Rk Strk Start End Games W L GS CG SHO GF SV IP H R ER BB SO HR ERA HBP WP BK Tm
1 Carlos Zambrano 2006-04-03 2006-08-29 29 14 5 29 0 0 0 0 191.2 145 78 71 100 187 19 3.33 8 9 1 CHC
2 Colby Lewis 2010-04-09 2010-08-14 23 9 9 23 1 0 0 0 148.1 122 56 54 49 150 15 3.28 5 8 0 TEX
3 Justin Verlander 2011-03-31 2011-07-05 19 11 4 19 4 2 0 0 143.1 95 38 36 31 138 12 2.26 3 3 2 DET
4 Jered Weaver 2011-03-31 2011-07-02 18 10 4 18 3 2 0 0 131.1 91 29 28 30 114 5 1.92 1 4 0 LAA
5 C. J. Wilson 2011-04-01 2011-06-28 17 8 3 17 1 0 0 0 117.2 107 48 41 38 100 8 3.14 6 2 0 TEX
6 Roy Halladay 2011-04-01 2011-06-15 15 9 3 15 4 0 0 0 112.1 103 33 32 14 114 7 2.56 2 1 0 PHI
7 CC Sabathia 2011-03-31 2011-06-14 15 8 4 15 1 0 0 0 107.0 104 46 39 28 81 4 3.28 5 1 1 NYY
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 7/6/2011.

This strange statistical blip cries out for an explanation. Certainly the "end" of the steroid era is a factor, but I would think that there are more factors in play. What do you say?

This entry was posted on Wednesday, July 6th, 2011 at 11:46 pm and is filed under Streak Finders. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

21 Responses to “Consecutive Starts of 100 Pitches”

  1. I think it's mostly a product of the swing towards pitching and the greater appreciation for long outings that seems to have developed. Halladay and Sabathia are both regarded as workhorses - didn't CC throw something like 783 complete games and pitch on a 3 minute rest for the Brewers that one half-season? - while Wilson is a consistent pitcher for the Rangers, a team that is stressing improved starting pitcher stamina. They're the ones leading the re-institution of long toss, for instance. Weaver and Verlander have simply been fantastic this season, and that tends to lead to long outings.

    It's the right combination of personnel and league-wide trends.

  2. Mustachioed Repetition Says:

    Even for such a limited period, I am shocked Verlander has the record. Pitch counts have changed a lot since 1999. Of course, as with any streak it just takes one game to throw things off, so it may not be that meaningful.

    As for why so many guys have started this season with 100+ pitch streaks. All those guys are mature pitchers, ranging in age (without checking) from around 27 to 33. Old enough for their managers to let them go, but young enough to be near the top of their games. We recently saw a generation of all-time great pitchers retire (Maddux, Johnson, Martinez, Clemens, Glavine), as well as some a tier below (Mussina, Smoltz, Schilling). But the next generation didn't have as many top pitchers. There's Andy Pettitte, and then not much else. I don't know if this was random variation, the heavy-hitting era, or what. Anyway, this next generation seems to be more talented, and perhaps is the first group to develop during the "pitch count era" which has matured enough to now be let loose. And the reduced offense this season doesn't hurt.

    I dunno, I'm sort of talking out of my ass, but I'll post it regardless.

  3. This is all on Nolan Ryan.

  4. god look at randy's streak... 230 innings, 13 CG, 326Ks, only 54 walks...

  5. @1.

    I think Zachary's got it - all the guys this year are established, elite pitchers (one can debate C.J. Wilson) at or near their primes. They will go deep into most games because they pitch well most nights, and throw a lot of strikeouts (eyablling it, it seems everybody on the list is 7+ K/9 this year, except CC just a touch below).

    On the few nights they don't pitch well, they're still likely to get a high pitch count because:
    - they're savvy and can adjust their approach to hang around on the nights they don't have their best stuff
    - managers will give them a longer leash than other guys

    Are there more guys like the above this year than other years recently? One way to check is to look for guys of a certain age (27-32, for example)with a particular pedigree (pick some standards for superior Ks, BB, IP, ERA, etc.) and see how many pop up in the search results each year.

  6. To see just how ridiculous this is I went back & looked at 1970 National League Pitching leaders and compared them to 2010. Roy Halladay led the league in innings pitched by 15 with 250.2 and had almost twice as many complete games (9) as the runner up. Yet in neither category would he have cracked the top 10 in 1970. He wasn't even particularly close, missing complete games by 3 and inning pitched by 8. Same story in the AL in 1970. How about '71? Worse. By far. In both leagues. How about '72? At last! While he was 4 complete games from cracking the top 10 his innings pitched would actually tied him for the 9/10 spot in the NL. He was still way off the mark in the AL.

    And while some of those guys racking up the big innings were veterans you also had a 21 year old Bert Blyleven, 25 year olds Nolan Ryan, Catfish Hunter & Jim Palmer and a 27 year old Tom Seaver. I'm pretty sure that in racking up 15 to 25 complete games and 275 to 325 innings (or more) they were throwing more than 100 pitches just about every outing. Too bad their managers overworked them like that, otherwise they might have turned out to be pretty good pitchers...

  7. Thomas Court Says:

    I once heard Jim Kaat talking about why he worked so quickly during his starts. He stated that after two hours, his fastball turned into a pumpkin. This leads me to question why there isn't more study put into the length of game versus the number of pitches thrown when trying to analyze why pitchers do not complete games like they used to.

    Ever watch one of those full broadcast games from the 1970s? Pitchers worked much more briskly then. I never noticed it until I watched the 1978 Yankee/Red Sox playoff game in its entirety.

    Specialization has kept the modern pitchers from finishing what they start; but so has the increase in time between innings, between batters and even between pitches.

  8. John Autin Says:

    What the streak says about Verlander:

    1. He's been very consistent during the streak. Only once has he allowed more than 4 earned runs; his streak of 28 straight starts with no more than 4 ER (6/27/2010-5/19/2011) is the longest of any SP in 2010-11, 2 more than Jered Weaver's active streak.

    2. Like most strikeout pitchers, his pitches/PA (4.05 this year) is higher than average (3.80 in the AL this year).

    3. He's been so durable (avg. 33 starts over past 5 years), and has shown the ability to throw well over 100 pitches per game without ill effects (33 career games of 120+ pitches), that management doesn't have him on a tight pitch count within a given game.

    4. He's the best SP on a team that doesn't have many other good ones and thus can ill afford to limit his innings.

  9. I doubt the pitch count data is complete or a lot of other names would have shown up.

  10. @6, Hartvig - you have to account for the 4 man rotation though. Halladay made 33 starts, all those high inning guys from 1970 made at least 36 starts and as many as 41 (Gaylord Perry). A handful of guys made 40 starts in the AL. Halladay averaged 7.5 innings per start. Give him another 7 starts and he's over 300 IP.

    We don't have pitch counts, but we do hav ethe pitch count estimator (3.3*PA+1.5*K+2.2*BB). It's not perfect obviously and probably needs tweaking for era but should give a rough idea.

    Per the pitch count estimator, Gaylord Perry averaged 107 pitches per start in 1970 with a high of 203 pitches (May 11) and a low of 46 (August 22). That August 22 start almost certainly didn't get to 100 pitches - 1.1 IP, 7H, 8 R, 1 K, 1BB. IN addition there are 3 other starts that fall below 100 pitches with his September 23 start also almost certainly falling below 100 - 4 IP, 5H, 5R, 0K, 0BB. The other 2 misses are 90-91 pitches so could have been just over 100, but then he had 9 starts of 100-110 that could have been under 100 as well.

    How about Tom Terrific? 109 pitches per start, high of 150, low of 85, 3 under 100, 3 between 100-110. His final 2 starts seem like good bets to almost certainly be under 100 as he went 5.1 & 4.1 IP (I thought maybe the Mets were way out of it and that might be the reason but the Mets were still in the hunt for both games). Actually looking at Seaver's pitch count numbers, they really aren't THAT different than someone like Verlander today. Yes he had 4 starts of 140+ and another 7 of 130+ but those numbers aren't that far off what Verlander has done.

    One last one - Bob GIbson. 118 pitches per start, 195 high, 105 low, none under 100, only 1 between 100-110. THERE'S our workhorse but he also only made 34 starts unlike Perry & Seaver.

    Anyway, just some fun with the pitch count estimator.

    Oh, BTW the Dodgers team statistician kept actual pitch counts in the 50's and through 1964 and neither Koufax nor Drysdale ever came close to 30 in a row over 100 pitches. Just for fun I eyeballed both Koufax's and Drysdale's 1965-1966 using the pitch count estimator as well and they almost certainly never came close to 30 in a row in those years either.

  11. @9 - I don't understand your comment. Do you mean before 1999 or after 1999?

  12. Richard Chester Says:

    @ 10

    Baseballlibrary.com states that on Aug. 22, 1951 Tommy Byrne, then of the Browns, threw 248 pitches in a stint of 12 2/3 IP. With 63 BF, 5 K and 16 BB (tied for ML record) your formula calculates 251 pitches, mighty close.

  13. Mustachioed Repetition Says:

    Oh, BTW the Dodgers team statistician kept actual pitch counts in the 50's and through 1964 and neither Koufax nor Drysdale ever came close to 30 in a row over 100 pitches. Just for fun I eyeballed both Koufax's and Drysdale's 1965-1966 using the pitch count estimator as well and they almost certainly never came close to 30 in a row in those years either.

    Yeah, there is much more consistency in pitch counts start by start now. As best we can tell, the average pitches per start has not changed that much over the last few decades. But the 150+ pitch outings have been eliminated, and so that have those under 50. Starters don't get pulled after giving up a few runs in the first inning anymore, they have to get absolutely shelled.

  14. "I'm pretty sure that in racking up 15 to 25 complete games and 275 to 325 innings (or more) they were throwing more than 100 pitches just about every outing. Too bad their managers overworked them like that, otherwise they might have turned out to be pretty good pitchers."

    Yeah, guys like Andy Messersmith and Jon Matlack and Frank Tanana wouldn't be in the Hall of Fame had they not pitched so many innings.

  15. "Yeah, guys like Andy Messersmith and Jon Matlack and Frank Tanana wouldn't be in the Hall of Fame had they not pitched so many innings."

    But of course, we know better than that now so no such thing could ever happen to a valuable commodity like Stephen Strasburg because he never threw as many as 100 pitches or more than 7 innings in any outing or with less than 4 days rest...

  16. In response to #6 and 10, you touched on the question I'd like to ask. Why is it that pitchers can't go as long in games and why can't they pitch in a 4 man rotation? Some of the standard answers are that stats show that effectiveness diminishes after 100 pitches, batters are stronger and more patient, there's more specialization etc.

    But it seems impossible now for a pitcher to start 35 to 40 games. And the thought of throwing 150+ pitches (or even close to 200) is unconscionable.

    I would like to hear your theories on this. Halladay's a horse, but not as much as the guys in the 70's and earlier. What gives?

  17. Mustachioed Repetition Says:

    Remove yourself from the abstract. When you watch a game, how many times do you think to yourself, "Why are they taking out Pitcher X? I really think he could go another 3-4 innings"?

    It may not be so much a question of "Why can't they," but "Why should they?" Most of the time, the reliever is more effective than the starter facing the same batters for the 4th time.

  18. John Autin Says:

    @16, Dan -- I think M.R. nailed the question of why there aren't more complete games: they've got all these relievers on the roster, and a fresh reliever is usually more effective than a starter in the late innings, so ... might as well use 'em.

    The logical follow-up question is: Do they get more win value from carrying 7 relievers (sometimes 8) and having a very limited bench? I have my doubts; in particular, I wonder if the now-common role of a "lefty specialist" really provides as much value as an extra bench player would. Some of those lefty specialists aren't all that good.

    As to why every team uses a 5-man rotation, a simple answer is: That's the status quo, and baseball management (like most management) abhors innovation. The pitchers obviously aren't going to push for it; they won't make any more money, in general, by logging more innings.

    I don't think it's been proven by any kind of rigorous study that a 5-man rotation is more effective, either at run prevention or at maintaining health.

  19. John Autin Says:

    Hmm -- something happened to my comment; I guess something I typed was interpreted as HTML. Well, it's too late now.

  20. Mustachioed Repetition Says:

    The logical follow-up question is: Do they get more win value from carrying 7 relievers (sometimes 8) and having a very limited bench? I have my doubts; in particular, I wonder if the now-common role of a "lefty specialist" really provides as much value as an extra bench player would. Some of those lefty specialists aren't all that good.

    It's hard to say. I prefer the bigger bench and smaller pen, because I think it's a more interesting game. I enjoy seeing a manager put together a team of imperfect players who skills complement each other, using pinch hitters, pinch runners, defensive replacements. But I think teams decided that they gain more from the platoon advantage through the pitching side rather than the hitting side, and since there is evidence that most hitters do not perform as well when pinch hitting, they may be right.

  21. An article in Baseball Digest in 1971 said Sam McDowell averaged 196 pitches/game. He also piched in a 4 man rotation. His last year piching 162 innings was when he was 29.