NOTE: If you missed my "A's preview" chat earlier tonight on NowLive and want to listen to it, you can go here and catch the interview, which starts 13 minutes (about 1/6 of the way) into the show.
Pitch counts fascinate me. Rarely is there a topic with so much data and so little consensus. Ask Bob Feller and he'll tell you, in his 90-year old crotchety-yet-articulate voice, that pitch counts are for sissies. Ask around, though, and you'll soon find a range of far more conservative ideas - and yet even those often don't agree with one another. I am breaking the discussion down into three distinct questions...
1. What, if anything, contributes to a dangerous level of arm fatigue?
Much of the conventional wisdom revolves around total pitches, putting the cap on around 115-120 pitches. However, you will also see arguments that a high pitch count (say, 25 pitches) in a given inning is more of a concern than the total number over several innings.
Ned Yost cited this last year in regards to C.C. Sabathia, who threw 120-130 pitches four times for Milwaukee, but spread those pitches out to where he rarely had a "high-stress" inning for pitch count. (Yost cited that overall Sabathia averaged just 13.7 pitches/inning, 7th lowest in baseball.) Of course, Ned Yost was also fired in September, so it's unclear how much he even speaks for the Brewers, let alone coaches and managers throughout baseball.
What matters most, do you think, and how would you like to see the A's manage their pitchers in regards to limits?
2. Why are pitchers so much less able to throw more pitches, and more innings, than before?
Perhaps each new pitch that is introduced in baseball, like the slider and the splitter, is harder on the arm than the oldest pitches in the book. And maybe the fireballers of yesteryear topped out at 95MPH instead of at 98MPH.
But does this alone explain the rather caverous difference between pitchers like Bob Gibson and Don Drysdale, who routinely threw 300 IP/season in four-man rotations, without much attention paid to pitch counts, and today's norm, where 200 IP is considered a lot and red sirens go off whenever a guy reaches 120 pitches? The game can't have changed that much. Can it?
3. How much weight should teams put on individual differences?
For a franchise player Tim Lincecum, small-frame and all, is given an awful lot of leeway with regard to "pitch" and "inning" totals. The Giants obviously believe that Lincecum, with his unique Dad-taught mechanics and regimen, can throw a lot of pitches and a lot of innings and be none the worse for wear.
Are the Giants playing with fire, or have they correctly recognized that Lincecum is a throwback to the old days - a guy capable of unleashing Nolan Ryan stuff with a Nolan Ryan workload? Are there some pitchers who get stronger by throwing more pitches, more innings?
One thing is for sure: As prized prospects like Cahill and Anderson join talented young pitchers like Gio, Mazzaro, and Simmons in The Show, the stakes for managing pitchers' health will be higher than ever. If Curt Young is reading, what do you want him to hear?