Justin Verlander threw a gem on Sunday night against the Boston Red Sox, tossing 7.2 scoreless innings while only allowing four hits to the explosive offense from Beantown. On Verlander's final pitch of the night, his 132nd pitch, he lit up the radar gun to the tune of 100 MPH. No big deal.
Now, some might make a big deal out of the 132 pitches, as managing Verlander's pitch count has been the hot topic of many discussions over the years. In 2008, after Verlander's previous career high 130-pitch outing, Bilfer at DTWB "flailed wildly in frustration at the stupidity of the situation" (though, it had more to do with Verlander's performance beyond the 100-pitch threshold than the pitch count itself). The debate went on, though, anytime JV seemingly threw too many pitches in any given outing, to the extent that Leyland supposedly gave in, putting a top secret pitch count on Verlander at the beginning of the 2010 season.
Well, the secret has long been out: the pitch count on Justin Verlander is no pitch count, and that should be okay.
Against the Red Sox on Sunday, Verlander entered the 8th inning having already thrown 116 pitches. To many, it was too many, like Leyland was poking all "those guys who don't know shit about baseball" and begging to be second-guessed. The Detroit News' Chris McCosky officially got the proverbial ball rolling:
This is Leyland's gift to sports talk radio - JV pitching the 8th. 116 pitches. Talk amongst yourselves.
5/29/11 10:15 PM
Luckily, for those flailing their arms, Verlander got out of the inning unscathed, thanks to Joaquin Benoit forcing Dustin Pedroia to fly out to end the inning with two of Verlander's runners on base. Still, even with the scoreless frame and ultimate shutout win, it's inevitable that the fans will question Leyland for running Verlander back out for the 8th inning.
I'm of the belief that pitch counts are overrated. Sure, pitch counts are all the rave these days, but it's not entirely well-grounded, especially as it applies to freaks of nature like Justin Verlander.
Thanks to Baseball Reference's Play Index, I've found that the 132-pitch mark Verlander reached Sunday night has been hit 1,480 times over the last 25 years (and pitch counts weren't even tracked consistently until the late 80s). A lot of pitchers who have had lengthy, durable careers are on that list, and multiple times, too; like, Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens, John Smoltz, Curt Schilling, Mike Mussina, David Cone, et al.
Nolan Ryan threw greater than or equal to 132 pitches 14 times in a single season at the ripe age of 42. Randy Johnson also did it 14 times in one season. Roger Clemens, 13. Several of their starts lasted into the 150 pitch range, too! When Edwin Jackson took 149 pitches to throw a no-hitter last year, almost as much attention was paid to the pitch count as the 267th no-hitter in baseball history. (And little do most people know, Jackson doesn't ice his arm after starts.)
Interestingly enough, in the last 10 years -- a time period everyone has become so concerned with teams adhering to pre-determined pitch counts for their pitchers -- the number of starters to throw 132 or more pitches in an outing is not surprisingly only 80 and steadily declining. Livan Hernandez is the leader with 11 such outings. Jackson's 149 pitches during his no-no last year remains the most pitches thrown since a Hernandez outing in 2005.
At 28-years-old, Verlander appears to be of the rare breed similar to the pitchers of yore. But 132 pitches in his 6th full season is a career high? You're more likely to convince me that the Tigers are babying him than hurting him. For what it's worth, Roger Clemens already had over 20 outings of 132 pitches or more by the time he was Verlander's age. Yeah, Clemens wound up having a pretty decent career that lasted into, oh, only his mid 40s.
Look, I know Verlander's arm is a different monster altogether, but he has been consistently throwing into the 110-120 pitch range throughout his entire career with absolutely zero problems. When you have golden rubber that can sling it 100 MPH at any time, you can't put a strict pitch count on that, taking away precious innings from your undisputed ace. For the love of God, cherish it. You've gotta cherish it.