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Dusty Baker, pitch counts and pitcher injuries

Feb 23, 2010, 12:17 PM EDT

Jeff Fletcher at AOL takes a closer look at the conventional wisdom that Dusty Baker is the angel of death when it comes to young starting pitchers:

There is no way to prove conclusively why any pitcher gets injured, so
the claims of pitcher abuse by Baker will forever be just theories. It
is indisputable, though, that Baker has had his starting pitchers
consistently throw more pitches than the norm.

Pitchers on Baker’s teams have thrown more pitches per start than the
National League average for pitchers on other teams in 14 of his 16
seasons. The difference is just about five pitches per game over his
career, but he has had two years in which his pitchers threw at least
10 more pitches, on average, than the rest of the league. One of those
was 2003.

Fletcher is pretty thorough in his reporting here, providing all of the pro-Dusty and con-Dusty I can recall hearing over the past decade or so.  It’s definitely worth a click-though and a full read.

My view: Dusty catches a more flak than he probably deserves for the specific injuries that have occurred on his watch. Some have suggested that Mark Prior’s allegedly perfect mechanics were actually far from it and inevitably led to his injuries. As Fletcher notes, Kerry Wood had an injury history before Baker drove him hard, and simply watching the torque he put on the ball back in the day was enough to make your arm hurt.  Fletcher notes other examples of pitchers who suffered injures under Baker that likely had little to do with their pitch counts.

That said, the fact is that we simply don’t know enough about the link between pitch counts and injuries to where Dusty can be excused for the consistently and significantly higher pitch counts his pitchers are forced to endure. I can’t say that Dusty Baker killed Mark Prior’s career, but I can’t say he didn’t either, and there’s no evidence that Baker every gave much thought to the matter at the time.

If I’m running a team and I’m investing tens of millions of dollars in precious pitchers, that’s simply unacceptable to me. 

  1. Levi Stahl - Feb 23, 2010 at 12:31 PM

    Because the causes of injury are so many and difficult to pull apart, I tend to blame Dusty less for destroying Prior’s arm in general than for one specific instance when he left him on the mound far too long: game 2 of the 2003 NLCS, when he let Prior go 7+ innings and 116 pitches, despite having a 12-2 lead.
    My seatmates and I were howling from the end of the 5th (11-0) on. It was awful to watch an obviously tired Prior struggle into the 8th, knowing he would be needed again in game 6–and would now be far more tired going into that start than he should have been.

  2. Church of the Perpetually Outraged - Feb 23, 2010 at 12:38 PM

    If I’m running a team and I’m investing tens of millions of dollars in precious pitchers, that’s simply unacceptable to me.

    Tbh, I’d be more ashamed at Baker’s terrible understanding of baseball when he makes comments about players like Adam Dunn “clogging up the bases”. Fortunately the guys at FJM do a far better job than I of explaining it:

  3. Big Harold - Feb 23, 2010 at 1:16 PM

    If Baker is to be blamed for hurting pitcher with excessive pitch counts what is to be said about Nolan Ryan? His philosophy is that pitcher are babied too much and pitch counts are pretty much worthless as an indicator of when a pitcher has had enough.

  4. ralphdibny - Feb 23, 2010 at 2:06 PM

    I remember reading somewhere that 2003 was a conscious decision on everybody’s part. The Cubs had arguably the two best pitchers in the NL, but not much else, especially in the bullpen (not even Dusty is foolish enough to count on the likes of Farnsworth and Borowski long-term). So he took a chance, and rode them hard, figuring that he had a pretty good shot of following the 2001 Diamondback playbook all the way to the World Series. And except for an epic collapse that no one could have seen coming, it would have worked. If the Cubs had won the WS that year, would Wood and Prior say it was worth it? If it had worked, wouldn’t they be the most beloved Chicago athletes this side of Jordan?

  5. Jonny5 - Feb 23, 2010 at 2:10 PM

    Watch it Craig, I’d hate to see you made an example of on a blog somewhere because you are unfairly pointing out Dusty baker…..

  6. Nolan Ryan - Feb 23, 2010 at 2:11 PM

    Watch what you say punk, unless you want some of this!!!

  7. moreflagsmorefun - Feb 23, 2010 at 2:16 PM

    Carl Pavano will blame Dusty for his butt injury too.

  8. moreflagsmorefun - Feb 23, 2010 at 2:19 PM

    good point

  9. Amol - Feb 24, 2010 at 8:44 PM

    There’s an important difference between the program that Ryan’s implementing in Texas and what Dusty Baker did. Where Baker and his ilk just say that pitch counts are worthless because they didn’t use them thirty years ago, Ryan is saying that pitchers can throw more if they’re in better shape. Thus, Ryan has his guys running and building up the leg strength that, hopefully, will keep them from getting injured. I’ve got no idea if he’s right, but at least he’s trying to address the problem, rather than simply pretending it doesn’t exist.

  10. JFM3 - Mar 2, 2010 at 7:08 AM

    Pitch counts have RUINED Major League Baseball…..guys back in the 70’s (which really wasn’t that long ago) used to throw complete games win or lose almost every time they went out on the mound.
    Steve Carlton,Bob Gibson,Fergie Jenkins,Gaylord Perry,Nolan Ryan,Luis Tiant,Jim Palmer have had consecutive seasons with 20 or more complete games in a season…..meaning….they would finish what they started MOST of the time……while guys like Lincecum win 2 Cy Young awards in back to back seasons and has only 6 complete games in his 3 year career.
    Nolan Ryan never won a Cy Young award and he was a warrior on the mound……I bet these guys like Carlton,Gibson and Ryan get sick to their stomach when they see the mediocre,watered-down product on the baseball field today…..MLB today stinks!!!!

  11. JFM3 - Mar 2, 2010 at 7:40 AM

    There are too many relief pitchers in the big leagues today, there is a reason why they’re relief pitchers….BECAUSE THEY AREN’T GOOD ENOUGH TO START!!!…..I’m sick of hearing about Prior…..he wasn’t meant to be, get over it!!….you’re either a superstar or you’re not….the thing that is said about Prior can be said about a lot of former MLB pitchers like Wayne Garland and Mark Fidrych…….Oh well, it happens!!!… IT’S NOBODY’S FAULT!!!! A long career in the MLB just wasn’t meant to be for those guys.
    Half of the relief pitchers in the MLB shouldn’t even be on a MLB roster……so what does that say about the hitters of today?
    Are the batting average kings and sluggers of today really THAT good? ….or….are they just clobbering mediocre,bush league pitchers?

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