Hal Bodley

It's time to do away with the pitch-count crutch

Bodley: Do away with the pitch-count crutch

It's time to do away with the pitch-count crutch
COOPERSTOWN, N. Y. -- Bert Blyleven is not-so-patiently waiting for the next pitcher who throws over 100 pitches "to blow up."

There's such an obsession with pitch counts in the Major Leagues during this era that former workhorse pitchers such as Blyleven are disgusted and outspoken about their perceived over-importance.

Blyleven has a timely platform on which to deliver his message. Along with former All-Star second baseman Roberto Alomar and retired general manager Pat Gillick, he'll be inducted into the Hall of Fame during ceremonies Sunday.

Blyleven, 60, won 287 games during 22 years in the Majors, including -- and this is the point -- 242 complete games.

It does my heart good to hear some of the game's greatest aces criticize today's ridiculous pampering of starting pitchers.

The late Robin Roberts, a Hall of Famer, used to spend hours talking about how absurd and what a psychological drain pitch counts are.

Go to just about any Major League ballpark these days and you'll see a message board that keeps a running tally of pitch counts as the game progresses. It's a crutch play-by-play announcers over-emphasize.

Get rid of it!

And it doesn't matter how well the pitcher is throwing when the magic -- no, make that dreaded -- number is reached.

Call to the bullpen. You've reached your limit and your game is over.

On the flip side, Blyleven, known for his lethal curveball, believes there are signs teams might be wising up.

"What we're seeing is that clubs are finally realizing the starter has to go deeper in the games," says Blyleven, now a broadcast analyst for the Twins. "We had a game with Francisco Liriano the other night. He threw 94 pitches after six innings. Last year, or the year before, they would have said, 'He's done, he's near that hundred-pitch mark. We're still waiting for the first guy to blow up who throws his 101st pitch.

"In this game they let Liriano go another one more inning, he threw another 14 pitches and it took one inning of relief off the bullpen. To me, a quality start is seven innings and two earned runs or less. Not the six (innings) and three (earned runs) they talk about today. I don't like the 100-pitch [limit], especially when you're giving guys an extra day between starts. There's no reason why they can't go 120 pitches. I agree 130, 140 -- that's a lot."

Blyleven said a lot depends on the situation -- how the pitcher is throwing, how many innings were under duress. "Ballparks should not display the pitches, but they're such a big deal as an analyst you have to talk about it on the air."

Jim Kaat, a former Blyleven teammate, won 25 games for the Twins in 1966. He had 19 complete games that season and ended his 25-year career with 180.

When Kaat was 18 and pitching in the Minors for Jack McKeon -- currently the Marlins' manager -- going deep into games was required.

"I think I pitched something like 250 innings that season for him," said Kaat. "That helped me a lot, built up the arms and also taught us how to pitch out of jams, particularly late in the game. That's something pitchers today are seldom faced with."

When Kaat pitched, "the only time we knew about the pitch count was the day after. You didn't really pay much attention to it. For some pitchers today it's a psychological problem. It's like, 'What am I up to?' "

Former Baltimore center fielder Paul Blair remembers in 1971, when the Orioles had four 20-game winners -- Mike Cuellar, Pat Dobson, Jim Palmer and Dave McNally.

"That was the last time a team had four 20-game winners," said Blair, who is in Cooperstown this weekend to watch the inductions. "Those guys together had 70 complete games, and if they hadn't finished what they started, they wouldn't have won 20."

Adds Blyleven: "I pitched in an era when nine innings meant something to a ballclub. I always felt if I went nine innings it made the bullpen fresher for the starter the next day. That was my job --- to go deep into the game.

"I don't like the way baseball is going. The bullpens are wearing down. When we played the Royals recently they had a 13-man pitching staff. That means over half the players manager Ned Yost has are pitchers. It used to be eight or nine [pitchers], now it's 12- or 13-man staffs because starters aren't able to go deep.

"I grew up in Southern California and threw that baseball all the time. Everybody has different mechanics and you have to find out what works for you. We're not robots. There has to be a balance point, but the No. 1 thing to me is that pitchers today do not throw enough and that's why they are breaking down so frequently."

The typical current edict from teams for their Minor League prospects is to end their seasons when they reach 150 innings.

"Oh, my goodness, we don't want to wear them out," the outspoken Blyleven said in jest. "They'll get their agents involved if they pitch too much. The more I threw, the better off I was. You have to build up the arm strength, the leg strength. I was brought up knowing the more I threw the stronger my arm would be."

Kaat believes it should start at the lowest Minors "and do what Jack McKeon did to me. We'd get to the sixth inning, I'd have a couple of men on or whatever. He'd come out to the mound, spit a little tobacco juice on my shoe, and say, 'Well, kid, figure out a way to get out of it.'

"Some days I would and some days I wouldn't. Eventually, if you stub your toe often enough you learn to avoid whatever caused you to stub it in the first place. That helped me a lot."

Pitchers today just don't get that chance.

Admittedly, baseball is built on numbers, but pitch counts shouldn't be part of that.

Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.