Sunday Notes: Dickey & Scherzer on Pitch Counts, Bando’s Spitball, Blue Jays

On July 2, 1963, the San Francisco Giants beat the Milwaukee Braves 1-0 in 16 innings. Juan Marichal and Warren Spahn both pitched complete games. Marichal threw 227 pitches, Spahn, who was 41 years old at the time, threw 201.

What do R.A. Dickey and Max Scherzer think about the historic duel?

“I’m speechless, really,” said Dickey. “In this day and age we’re not used to seeing totals that come anywhere close to that. It’s quite remarkable. That being said, I’ve always been a guy who likes to throw a lot of pitches.”

“It’s amazing what they did,” said Scherzer. “Many guys in the past were able to consistently throw150-160, and they did it in four-man rotations. That seems preposterous in today’s game.”

By modern-day standards, Scherzer is a workhorse. The Detroit Tigers righthander has thrown at least 100 pitches in 37 of his last 42 regular season starts. On 18 of those occasions he’s thrown 110 or more. His high-water mark is 123. Could he imagine doing what Marichal and Spahn did 51 years ago?

“Could I get conditioned for 200 pitches? Yes, I think I could,” said Scherzer. “But my per-pitch intensity would have to be less than where I’m at right now. I don’t think there’s any way [Marichal and Spahn] were throwing 95 [mph] and their effort level had to have been lower. So yes, some pitchers today could do it, but with less intensity.”

Dickey believes much the same. The 39-year-old Toronto Blue Jays righty regularly logs over 100 pitches per outing, and he feels he could throw many more.

“As a knuckleballer, I could throw 200 pitches fairly easily,” said Dickey. “I’m not exerting nearly the force Max would be. He would have to temper it back, but I’m already operating at about 70 percent capacity. It wouldn’t be that much for me to throw that many pitches. But it comes down to effectiveness. If a pitcher is throwing 150 and getting his brains beat in, then he’s throwing 150 just to throw 150.”

Dickey was a conventional pitcher early in this career. Could he have approached Marichal-Spahn territory in his pre-knuckleball days?

“I could have,” said Dickey. “I threw 183 once [at the University of Tennessee]. I did that in a regional. I started a game and went seven innings, had two days off, then threw 183 to get us to the College World Series. A few other times I threw around 160.”

Scherzer hasn’t thrown nearly that many, but he does see value in stretching the limits. He feels it’s especially beneficial as a learning tool.

“In college, I think I threw as many as 133,” said Scherzer. “The whole pitch count thing… yeah, it’s right, but the biggest thing is how many days off you get after you make one of those types of starts. I think it’s fine to pitch that deep. You learn a lot about yourself on the pitches after 100. I’ve always been a big believer in that. That’s why I think going to college is better than signing out of high school.

“In college you’re on a seven-day rotation and constantly exposed to 120 pitches. That’s not the same as 120 pitches every five days. I think it’s good for a pitcher – and good for his arm – to learn how to pitch that deep into a game. When you’re fatigued, you have to pitch. You have to execute and use your off-speed. You also have to conserve so you can still throw your best thunderbolt on pitch 125.

“I’ve been told that some of the all-time greats, like Sandy Koufax, would smell the win when they got into the ninth inning. That’s when they got nasty. They were cruising with less of an an intensity level, and at the end they really picked it up.”

Dickey doesn’t practice conservation, but he does agree on the educational value of extended outings.

“The more you’re pushed, the more you see what you’re capable of doing with deeper pitch counts,” said Dickey. “You learn 130-140 is something you can handle. There doesn’t have be that psychological barrier. You can be conditioned for it just like you can be conditioned to run a marathon.

“As for [saving thunderbolts], that’s not really something I do. Some other guys may do that within the framework of nine innings. I remember watching Bartolo Colon pitch in his prime. He would be 91-92 and then in the eighth and ninth innings he’d be 98. I’ve seen Verlander do that too. I’m different in that respect, but again, I’m not exerting the same kind of force.

“Do I tip my hat to Marichal and Spahn? Oh, man, are you kidding? Absolutely. But the dynamic of a pitching staff has changed so much. There are specialized relievers. Teams are paying much more attention to the metrics of righty-versus-righty, and this guy versus that guy, and managers are making decisions based on those metrics. It’s a big reason we’re seeing lesser and lesser pitch counts for starters.”

——

Pitch counts weren’t a big deal for the Brewers in the late 1970s. Their starters threw a lot of innings, but not necessarily a lot of pitches. From 1978-1980, the Milwaukee staff allowed the fewest walks and logged the fewest strikeouts in the American League.

Buck Martinez, now a broadcaster for the Blue Jays, was one of the Brewers’ catchers in those seasons. He says the low strikeout and walk totals were by design.

“When I got to Milwaukee in 1978, George Bamberger was the manager,” said Martinez. “The first thing he said to the pitching staff was, ‘Boys, we’re going to cut the walks in half. We can’t have 800 walks in a season.’ He wanted our pitchers to limit the number of pitches batters saw. That helped turn things around in Milwaukee.”

The results speak for themselves. After winning just 67 games in 1977, the Brewers won 93 and 95 in Bamberger’s first two seasons at the helm. Offense was a big reason – Bamberger’s teams were the precursor to “Harvey’s Wallbangers” – but the pitch-to-contact approach clearly paid dividends.

“It was about pitching late into the game,” said Martinez. “Who are your best pitchers? They’re your starters, so you want them pitching most of your innings. You do that by reducing your pitch counts – not that we had pitch counts back then; the hitters told you when you were tired. We simply didn’t consider strikeouts important. It was about outs. We had a good offensive club and our pitchers realized the longer they stayed in the game, the more chances we had to score runs and give them a win.”

Mike Caldwell and Lary Sorensen were among the beneficiaries. In 1978, the duo combined to win 40 games and pitch 574 innings. Caldwell’s K/9 was 4.0. Sorenson’s was 2.5.

The 1979 season featured one of the most unique pitcher-usage games in baseball annals. On August 29, Bamberger used position players for the final five innings of an 18-8 loss to the Kansas City Royals. Third baseman Sal Bando went three innings. Second baseman Jim Gantner and Martinez each went one inning.

“We were down by a ton and didn’t want to use any more pitchers,” explained Martinez. “Bamberger handed Bando the ball and said ‘you’re pitching,’ Gantner was in the dugout lobbying to pitch. I called down from the bullpen and told [pitching coach] Cal McLish, ‘I want to pitch in this game.’ The game was in Kansas City and I had come to the Brewers from the Royals. I warmed up for about five innings, so by the time I got to the mound I was dead tired. I’d still have been out of the inning without giving up a run had Bando been able to turn a double play. He was playing second base by then. I threw fastballs, curveballs and a palm ball. I got Amos Otis to pop up on a palm ball.”

According to Martinez, Bando had a go-to pitch of his own.

“Sal came out for the second inning looking like a McDonald’s french fry pack,” said Martinez. “ He was greasy all over the place. He had Vaseline everywhere. He got all doctored up to pitch the next two innings.”

——

Rob Rasmussen has faced one batter. The Blue Jays southpaw made his big-league debut on Tuesday at Fenway Park. He retired David Ortiz on a ground ball to first base.

John Gibbons hinted the match-up might happen during his pregame media session. Asked about the 25-year-old UCLA product, the Toronto skipper said, ‘Who knows, maybe he’ll come in face Ortiz tonight.’ Word got to Rasmussen as the team prepared to take batting practice.

“People were asking, ‘What are you going to do if you have to face Ortiz?’ Rasmussen told me the following day. “That was kind of out of the blue a little bit. I didn’t know what to say, because I didn’t know Gibby had said that.”

Rumor became truth in the seventh inning.

“While we were hitting, they said ‘Hey, you’ve got Ortiz.’ They told me Dustin [McGowan] was going to face Pedroia to start the inning, then I was going to get Ortiz. After that, Delabar was coming in to get Napoli. It was my first time getting hot in a big-league pen, and to be honest, it was kind of a surreal moment.”

What did Gibbons say to the rookie when he reached the mound?

“Gibby said, ”Hey, have fun and join us in this party.’ That made me smile. It made me realize this is fun. There’s tons of money and a lot on the line in terms of wins, but at the end of the day it’s about enjoying the moment. We had a three-run lead, so I also knew the worst I could do was give up a solo home run and we’d still be up two.”

It took five pitches for him to retire Big Papi. I asked Rasmussen to describe the at bat.

“I fell behind with two fastballs, which wasn’t ideal,” said Rasmussen. “The first one I yanked down and away. The second one was a little up and off the plate. On the first one I was just trying to get that first strike in there, but there was such an adrenaline rush that I missed. I had to step back and take a deep breath. The second pitch wasn’t a strike, but it was more of a quality pitch. It was, ‘OK, that was better. Here we go.’ Then I got a fastball in that he took to make it 2-1. Then I threw a slider that kind of cement mixed – it backed up – but fortunately he fouled it off. On 2-2, I threw a curveball and he rolled it over to Edwin [Encarnacion].”

Adrenaline aside, Rasmussen claims to have been calm and focused on the mound. Once it was over, he reflected on the experience.

“When I came out of the game is when it really hit me,” said Rasmussen. “It was like, ‘Oh, man.’ It was then that I kind of realized the magnitude of what I did. I had just realized a dream.”

——

Everyone loves a good quote, and Steve Delabar is no exception. The Toronto reliever gladly accepted my invitation to participate in “the quote game,” an offbeat interview approach I’ve had fun with over the years. In short, I recited half a dozen notable baseball quotes, and Delabar gave me his interpretation of them.

Good pitching will always stop good hitting, and vice versa. – Casey Stengel

“That’s true in a sense. The way I see it is good pitches beat good hitters. Good pitchers can make bad pitches.”

I exploit the greed of all hitters. – Lew Burdette

“He was exploiting the gray. I’m a power guy so that doesn’t really apply to me. I’m just trying to throw it around the strike zone and let it eat.”

A baseball game is a nervous breakdown divided into nine innings. – Earl Wilson

“Every inning, something crazy can happen. If you sat in a dugout during a game, you’d understand why. There are so many ebbs and flows. You can be as high as the moon in one inning and then the other team starts chipping away and you hit the panic button and freak out. You’re up and down the whole game, so you just try to chill.”

Baseball is like a church. Many attend but few understand. – Leo Durocher

“The further you get away from the field, the easier the game is. Even the guys in the dugout will say ‘Why did he do that?’ On the field, decisions have to be made at the speed of the game. When you’re questioning what somebody did, well, go out there on the field and make that decision.”

A ballplayer has two reputations, one with the other players and one with the fans. The first is based on ability and the second the newspapers give him. – Johnny Evers

“Now, with the social media, you can kind of show everybody what kind of person you are. Still, you could be the greatest guy and the best teammate, but if you’re not getting the job done, the media might blow you up.”

You have to be a man to play baseball, but you have to a lot of little boy in you – Roy Campanella

“You need to have fun. You can’t let it become too serious. You work hard on the side to play the game, but they don’t say ‘We’re going to work baseball.’ They say, ‘We’re going to play baseball.’ It’s a job, but we play our job. You don’t tell a kid, ‘Go to your room and work with your toys.’”



Print This Post



David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from February 2006-March 2011 and is a regular contributor to several publications. His first book, Interviews from Red Sox Nation, was published by Maple Street Press in 2006. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Scott
Guest
Scott
2 years 4 days ago

Best column on the net. A weekly Sunday morning treat.

Yancy Eaton
Member
2 years 4 days ago

Top-notch column. I’m 25 and didn’t grow up as a baseball fan. I learn a lot reading stuff like this. I love the quote segment.

Nik
Guest
2 years 4 days ago

This is good content.

Mark Williamson
Member
Mark Williamson
2 years 4 days ago

Wow haha second last quote, JP Arencibia much?

everdiso
Member
everdiso
2 years 4 days ago

So yeah, when is fangraphs going to fix Dickey’s stats?

They’ve been wrong for weeks now.

Dickey has a 3.95era, not 4.35.

Ballfan
Guest
Ballfan
2 years 4 days ago

to be fair that happened yesterday when he went 8.1 w/2ER

everdiso
Member
everdiso
2 years 4 days ago

no they’ve been counting three extra earned runs against him for weeks now.

everdiso
Member
everdiso
2 years 3 days ago

And they fixed it!

Thanks, whoever you are.

Radivel
Guest
Radivel
2 years 4 days ago

Excellent quotes, haha. “We’re going to work baseball.” That’s awesome.

Underwood4000
Guest
Underwood4000
2 years 4 days ago

I love the unabashed baseball jargon in some of these quotes. “A slider that kind of cement-mixed.” I want to start using that in my day-to-day.

Great column as always.

Doug Erdmann
Guest
Doug Erdmann
2 years 4 days ago

Great article. The Milwaukee Braves and the Brewers both getting a mention? Awesome. Not enough has been written about those Brewers teams from the late ’70’s. Very underrated

Trotter76
Guest
2 years 4 days ago

Good pitching will always stop good hitting, and vice versa. – Casey Stengel

I always imagined when he says “vice versa” he meant “Bad pitching can even get hit by bad hitters”.

David Bowser
Guest
David Bowser
2 years 3 days ago

I love how just about every Stengel quote can be interpreted at least 3 ways.

I happen to agree with your interpretation.

adam smith
Guest
adam smith
2 years 3 days ago

Marichal threw 275 innings in the Eastern league the year before he got called up. He had thrown 245 innings the year before in the midwest league. Pitchers were stronger back then. Marichal grew up on a farm. He threw everyday. The Alou brothers were in his neighborhood…they played year round. Warren Spahn had a mound in his backyard growing up. He threw 212 innings in the minors as a 20 year old, and then 245 innings in the Eastern League as a 21 year old. Then he went to war. He spent three years in WWII, and was a decorated war hero before he became an established big leaguer. There is really no comparison between generations. The pitchers who threw 300+ innings, and racked up high pitch counts, were stronger. And they threw hard. There are some Asian high school pitchers who are throwing over 200 pitches in a game. They are not breaking down. On the contrary, they are becoming among the best pitchers in the game. Pitchers are breaking down now because they are underdeveloped. Watch the future–more pitch restrictions, more breakdowns. It isn’t because of “stressful innings” or “high leverage pitches.”–those have always been around. What is different now is that pitchers are learning to throw 5 innings at a time. They are being trained to run 5k when the game is a 10k race. They are under developed when they get to the ML, and can’t handle even 7 innings a game.

TheoK
Member
TheoK
2 years 3 days ago

I’ve actually seen most people saying the complete opposite. Kids are pitching way more innings at a younger age and simply wearing out their tendons

Marsupial Jones
Guest
Marsupial Jones
2 years 2 days ago

Its true. With all the travelling teams and tournaments, kids pretty much pitch year round these days (And they do it at max effort). That wasnt the case back then.

By they time they are 17 they have probably already overworked their arms.

james wilson
Guest
james wilson
2 years 3 days ago

Pitchers were not stronger back in the day. They were weaker, like everybody else. But in 1968 Yaztremski won the batting title at .301, Gibson the ERA title at 1.16. In response the mound was lowered, and so was the strike zone. Goodbye three hundred innings, four man rotations, and complete games. Hello Tommy John.

jim fetterolf
Guest
jim fetterolf
2 years 3 days ago

Quite possibly the best piece I’ve seen on fangraphs. Thanks.

For our spreadsheet friends: “The further you get away from the field, the easier the game is.”

Westside guy
Member
Member
Westside guy
2 years 2 days ago

For our spreadsheet friends: “The further you get away from the field, the easier the game is.”

That could just as equally apply to the old-school prognosticator spouting off from his barstool.

Jason B
Guest
Jason B
2 years 2 days ago

Thanks for posting this; it was a very enjoyable read. I love the quote game.

RichW
Member
RichW
2 years 2 days ago

I loved the bit about Bando and his vaseline help. I’d guess that the umpires knew and would only have done something if Milwaukee got back into the game.

wpDiscuz