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Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Painting a Fake Tunnel on a Blind Alley

Pitch counts and abuse of the research process.

I don’t have enough evidence to say that David Leonhardt is an idiot, but his article about pitch counts that appeared in the June 13th edition of the New York Times is another sad chapter in the disinformation campaign about pitcher abuse and pitch counts—-a situation that, over the past few years, can be summed up by a familiar visual metaphor: imagine, if you will, a dog who won’t let go of a bone no matter what.

Leonhardt’s article is full of so much contradictory information that it’s hard to take it seriously—-except for the fact that it has the unmistakable aroma of a counterattack on this controversial topic, one that has ignited a great deal of heat and very little light ever since it first appeared in 1998.

And the group of neo-sabermetricians that Leonhardt quotes exclusively on this subject—-those cheery fellows at the Baseball Prospectus—-really need a counterattack right now. Their research effort on pitch counts has recently been eviscerated by the key figure of sabermetrics, Bill James, in his definitive essay appearing in a new book, The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers.

Leonhardt is conspicuously silent on this fact, despite his apparent rapt interest in the subject matter. The fundamental weakness of the research conducted by the two principals, Rany Jazayerli and Keith Woolner, is that it doesn’t predict injury or ineffectiveness better than anything else, up to and including the use of a divining rod. As James points out in his own studies that appear within his essay, the pitchers with greater overall workloads pitched far better in subsequent seasons than those with lesser workloads.

James concludes that the research is so flawed that it is virtually useless. He states this a bit more gently:

“We have driven a long way here down a blind alley, and we’re not going to fix it by backing up a few feet and trying again.”

In their rebuttal to James that appears in the book, the Prospectus folks circled the wagons (something that, more than anything, they are truly gifted at), stating that they had merely wished to “spur more research.”

Now what we see, with efforts such as Leonhardt’s, that rather than own up to the fact that the “pitcher abuse movement” was ill-conceived and ill-advised, a second front of “damage control” and spin is going to be aggressively put into place.

And that front actually began a few days earlier with Prospectus proxy Will Carroll, whose June 4th column at mlb.com studiously ignores James and tries to salvage some legitimacy for this pitch count hocus-pocus. Carroll focuses on other aspects of science to suggest a connection between biomechanics and pitch counts, something that, objectively speaking, is about as well-founded as the connection between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. Despite the fact that James’ findings indicate that there is no connection between higher workloads and injury/performance, Carroll clings valiantly to the wreckage of an idea that was grounded more in fervor than in objective science.

Careerism Trumps Research

Nothing could be less surprising to those who have watched the sabermetric movement get hijacked by careerism over the past six years. It should be abundantly clear now to anyone with an ability to read wall scrawl that it isn’t research and objective knowledge that the Baseball Prospectus is interested in, its dollars. Their MBA-driven approach has proven successful in a world where rhetoric and carefully manipulated data are now becoming as much a part of the insider culture as has been the case in other industries.

Such an occurrence is, as we all know, by no means an unalloyed gain for the industries in question—-and the impact on baseball will be similarly problematic.

As with most things in the world of consulting, appearance is far more important than reality. And in that environment, how you approach the numbers is often designed to convey how you want reality to appear, as opposed to providing the most faithful representation of reality. With their work on pitch counts, the Prospectus has demonstrated that they have firmly grasped and applied the invidious lessons of more-or-less-professional consultation.

A Brief History of the “Pitch Count Crusade”

Of course, the first thing you do is use your friends. When Pitcher Abuse Points first appeared as an idea in 1998, ESPNet columnist and author Rob Neyer was lukewarm in his assessment. Somewhere over the course of the next nine months, though, Neyer was converted into the fold; when the 1999 edition of the Baseball Prospectus appeared, he suddenly trumpeted the original PAP (their choice of acronyms, mind you, not mine) as a turning point in the battle against AIDS, world hunger, and the cross-wire brassiere. Neyer then embarked on what amounted to a two-year witch hunt on managers who dared to give pitchers more than 120 pitches in a single start, despite the fact that there was no clear evidence that occasionally hitting this number was actually dangerous.

A great deal of opposition to this simplistic approach was raised, including my own in 1999, which was burned to a crisp by the “prairie fire” of the emerging neo-sabe hegemony. In it, I dared to question the motives of the creator of PAP, suggesting that he had created it more to create publicity than to foster research. This was met with the indignant howls of a movement that had blood in its nostrils, and the “pitch count police” became even more aggressively entrenched as a result. Neyer, who is actually a very good researcher, reached back into history to discover that Orioles manager Paul Richards had been obsessively conservative with his young pitchers during the late 1950s, which was an interesting but utterly inconclusive finding (the kind that occasion much of what passes for real research in our current “neo-sabe” daze).

Leonhardt, of course, fails to make this connection between Richards’ handling of young pitchers and the current experiment of limiting pitch counts in the lower levels of the Cincinnati Reds’ farm system. He would apparently prefer you to think that these are new and original ideas. They’re not.

But Bill James has a far more considered view of the issue that is also pertinent here. He suggests that too much coddling of arms may produce unanticipated problems later on:

“Backing away from the pitcher’s limits too far doesn’t make a pitcher less vulnerable; it makes him more vulnerable. And pushing the envelope, while it may lead to a catastrophic event, is more likely to enhance the pitcher’s durability than to destroy it.”

In the face of such statements, and in ignorance of other strains of thought regarding this complex issue, the Prospectus cadre and Leonhardt spin the facts to show that what is quite possibly a needless exercise in caution is “cutting edge research being put into practice for a better, safer tomorrow.”

That’s what I’d call the “PR approach to baseball research,” which is a sure sign that you are dealing with a neo-sabe. Despite the backlash engendered against my 1999 critique of PAP, it was necessary for the Prospectus cadre to revise the method in 2001. However, in doing so, the original impetus was derailed: instead of focusing on young pitchers, an attempt to focus on overall workload limits took precedence. The study, as conducted by Keith Woolner, took on the patina of complexity but ultimately became muddled. In the coy fashion that is the apparent signature of Woolnerian research, the conclusion circled back to the idea that 120 pitches (actually, 122: go figure) was dangerous at any time and any place, and a new measure (called “stress”) was connected to this assumption.

“Spurring Research” The PR Way: Ignore It

In the meantime, other research (the work that Jazayerli claimed they had hoped to spur) was simply ignored. One of the key fallacies in the original PAP was that high single-game pitch counts were inherently catastrophic; this fallacy is repeated almost verbatim in Leonhardt’s article when he states that a pitcher throwing 130 pitches in one game and 70 in the next has worked harder than one who threw 100 pitches in each game.

The notion of workload clustering—-an alternative hypothesis that identified several problematic practices with greater potential to produce injury and ineffectiveness—-was overlooked by the Prospectus team of “PR researchers” (though not by Neyer, who was by mid-2001 slowly distancing himself from the issue).

Other evidence of the non-catastrophic effect of occasional high single-game pitch counts was provided by the Allan Roth Dodger dataset, a compilation of detailed game logs from 1947-64 that the great statistician had kept, which included pitch count information. The treatment of the Roth data at the hands of Jazayerli and Woolner was almost comical in its obtuseness; they simply missed an entire clutch of potential insights in their zeal to crunch the pitch count numbers.

What was most striking about the data was that it showed how pitchers who pitched well had an inherent “economy of scale” in their pitch counts, while those who struggled did not. (This tendency has become more pronounced in recent times, as offense has both improved and changed its shape.) Simply put, it appears that the number of pitches a starter can throw on any given day without ill effects is more strongly related to the quality of their performance than has been previously considered.

The data also showed a primitive ecology for pitchers that often worked as a natural barrier to the most dangerous type of overuse—a long consecutive string of 100+-pitch outings, which recent research (noted by Neyer, but bypassed by Prospectus) has shown to produce injury in close to 50% of its incidences. That type of usage pattern is relatively rare today (and was so in 1998, when pitch counts first became a cause celebre), but it was even rarer in the 1950s, because pitchers who struggled in the early innings of a ballgame were simply removed. Despite the fact that pitching staffs were smaller, managers used their long men earlier and more often; they spread out their innings (and pitches) more in this fashion, and the occasional low-count, short-inning appearance prevented starting pitchers from accumulating long strings of moderate-to-high pitch count games.

What’s important to realize is that none of these ideas can possibly explain the dynamics of workload and injury (or, as James puts it in the title of his essay, “Abuse and Durability”). They are merely signposts for a complex process that is being obscured by oversimplified data and emotionally-charged “crusaderism.” By continuing to focus on the overly cautious approach, the Prospectus cadre and Leonhardt give us only one side of the story, much in the same way that the current administration and the media give us a slanted view of the “twin wars.”

As is often the case, Bill James sums up this unfair and unbalanced approach quite well:

“What I believe has happened is that this balancing of risks has just gone completely haywire. Two things have happened to cause it to go haywire:

1) We have introduced new information—-pitch counts—-into a previously organized way of thinking about the issue, and 2) We have focused undue attention on the risk of chronic overuse, which in reality is merely one of many potential problems for a pitcher.

There is a natural balancing of risks, between avoiding a catastrophic event, and developing a tolerance for more work.  In order to develop a real understanding of this issue, we are going to have to take account of both ends of the injury spectrum.”

One notes that James is careful not to suggest that the Prospectus cadre had less-than-pure research motives at heart, which was one of the things that got me into so much trouble (and will doubtless do so again). I read this as a kindly mentor’s attempt to extricate a favorite pupil from an embarrassing episode where feeling and fervor clearly trumped good sense. The fact that Leonhardt is now trying to spin this disaster of misguided research into “the wave of the future” should indicate that the Prospectus plans to keep its wagons as tightly circled as ever. Just like George Bush Junior, they can’t bring themselves to admit that they were wrong, or that their motives were impure. And, as noted, it’s not just Leonhardt; it’s the Prospectus family itself, with Will Carroll claiming hazard duty pay as Spin Doctor.

So let’s not be hoodwinked into letting these guys paint a fake tunnel on a blind alley. That kind of escape attempt only works in cartoons. But, then again, much of neo-sabermetrics is cartoon-like, so maybe we shouldn’t be surprised by such a tactic. And with spin from a source as high-toned as the New York Times, perhaps our pesky “pitch count paranoids” will be able to emulate kindred spirit Wile E. Coyote and fall from the 500-ft. mesa to the valley floor below with only a puff of smoke to mark the spot. Teflon, anyone?

Don Malcolm Posted: June 22, 2004 at 01:36 PM | 56 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. Mikαεl Posted: June 22, 2004 at 02:20 PM (#691417)

I am interested in what others thought of the James article and the Prospectus response.

I basically agree with Don here, that on the merits, the pitch count statistics do not meaningfully record arm stress or injury likelihood.

In their response, Jazayerli and Woolner stated that their 2001 study had proven that 100-pitch starts and above were inherently hurtful, which is a very liberal interpretation of that study, IMO.  I thought that Sean Forman’s excellent peer review article suggested a number of issues with the 2001 study that were not addressed.

Does this all mean that baseball should throw out the pitch count?  It’s an interesting question, especially now that it seems there are no easy numbers to use that have much value.

   2. Jim P Posted: June 22, 2004 at 02:40 PM (#691436)

Why are there so many slams against the President in an article about pitchers?  Once is cute, three times (plus the references to “neo-sabes”) is annoying and distracting.

Otherwise, a fine and convincing article.

   3. Jon W Posted: June 22, 2004 at 04:11 PM (#691584)

Putting aside any politics, I did find the histrionics and hyperbole in the writing so distracting that I couldn’t (or, I suppose, stopped wanting to) focus on the argument. You may have a point, Don, but what I take from this article is “attack, attack, attack.”

   4. Gromit45 Posted: June 22, 2004 at 05:01 PM (#691686)

(The article almost comes off more as a veiled attempted to dig at the current government administration.

Certainly there is a point where a pitcher can be overused.  The BP guys freely admit each pitcher is different so that 120 pitches could equal 90 pitches for another pitcher.

Time will tell if PAP is a junk stat

   5. villageidiom Posted: June 22, 2004 at 05:17 PM (#691711)

You attract more flies with honey than with vinegar. However:

1. You attract even more with crap.
2. Really, who wants more flies anyway?

Good article, good points. I’ve used PAP as a rough indicator of relative workload, and that’s about all it’s worth. It captures consistent usage, as well as spikes. It might not even be the best such measure, but it’s available.

Sabermetrics works best when it reveals what the eyes do not see. I suspect, however, that with injuries being heavily context-driven there’s very little a global (sabermetric) approach can do to help understand a localized (contextual) issue such as this.

That is, given the current data available. Perhaps some log of pitch type/speed, consistency of location relative to typical location, and such will help to reveal when someone’s biomechanics are out of whack. But until that happens we need to rely on the manager, pitching coach, catcher, and of course the pitcher, to monitor biomechanics. The numbers aren’t enough.

   6. Robert in Manhattan Beach Posted: June 22, 2004 at 05:51 PM (#691751)

I did find the histrionics and hyperbole in the writing so distracting that I couldn’t (or, I suppose, stopped wanting to) focus on the argument.

Then you may want to skip over Don’s articles in the future.  This is pretty much how it goes.

This article is on the mark.  The Prospectus research on pitcher abuse has never yielded anything useful, and as Don noted, has probably done more harm than good.  The idea that Prospectus pushed this nonsence to get attention seems quite plausable considering their other behavior.

This quote from Bill James:

“Backing away from the pitcher’s limits too far doesn’t make a pitcher less vulnerable; it makes him more vulnerable. And pushing the envelope, while it may lead to a catastrophic event, is more likely to enhance the pitcher’s durability than to destroy it.”

Is brilliant.  This is why we continue to see the quality of pitching at all levels decreasing and the number of injuries going forever upward.

   7. villageidiom Posted: June 22, 2004 at 05:53 PM (#691754)

Certainly there is a point where a pitcher can be overused. The BP guys freely admit each pitcher is different so that 120 pitches could equal 90 pitches for another pitcher.

But this makes it near impossible for a pitcher’s pitch count to have predictive value. If someone throws 110, 108, 120, 111, and 115, is he at a greater risk of injury? If his threshold is 90, yes; if 120, no. How can you tell what someone’s threshold is without trying him at ever-higher pitch counts until he gets hurt?

For that matter, what if he gets hurt in his next outing on his 30th pitch? What’s his threshold? 95? 115? 120? 30?!

The foundation of the PAP concept is that pitchers will risk injury when their mechanics break down, which in turn happens when they’re fatigued. I think an adequately attentive pitching coach should be able to determine this better than a pitch count should.

   8. ChuckO Posted: June 22, 2004 at 06:24 PM (#691804)

ESPN had an “Outside The Lines” special on pitch counts last season. Leo Mazzone, Tom House, and someone else was on there, I can’t recall who. Mazzone says that he doesn’t use pitch counts. He says you get to know your pitchers and you can tell when they’re losing it. Both Mazzone and House recommended pitch counts in youth baseball.

   9. Damon Rutherford Posted: June 22, 2004 at 06:36 PM (#691821)

So, essentially, no one has a ####### clue.

   10. cercopithecus aethiops Posted: June 22, 2004 at 08:09 PM (#691972)

The James quote may strike Robert and Don as brilliant, but it’s no more reality-based than PAP is.  Where’s the objective research supporting the claim that pushing the envelope is likely to enhance durability?  Maybe it’s in the James book, but it certainly isn’t in this article.  It may be a given that you have to train beyond your limits if you want to improve your stamina, but there’s an inherent difference between training and competing, and the line between the two is obvious in most other sports.  The real pitcher abuse is that this distinction is effectively non-existent in baseball, and not just at the major league level.

   11. Robert in Manhattan Beach Posted: June 22, 2004 at 08:20 PM (#691999)

<objective research supporting the claim that pushing the envelope is likely to enhance durability? </i>

I don’t know but it would seem easy to come by.  These days, pitch counts are everywhere but the number of TJ surgeries and torn labrums are sky high.  A 200+ IP season is something to be celebrated and unlikely to be repeated.

For the first 100 years of baseball, pitch counts were no where to be found, and while plenty of pitchers got injured, a 300 IP season was nothing to think twice about.

It’s only a matter of time until the light goes on around baseball that the more they baby their pitchers, the more they will need to be babied.  Unfortuantely, we haven’t gotten there yet.

   12. Zach Posted: June 22, 2004 at 08:29 PM (#692015)

A couple of points…

1) The original study was put together pretty well.  If pitcher abuse were as big a cause of injury as was reasonable to believe at the time, that study would have caught it.  That the issue turned out to be more complicated is reality’s fault, not BP’s.

BP, Neyer, the community et al can be faulted for overselling the results, though.  In retrospect, a lot of evidence was taken as conclusive when it was merely suggestive.

2) Subsequent approaches to the problem have gotten less and less convincing as the data sets have grown larger and the mathematical apparatus heavier.

In science, if you’re measuring some phenomenon that actually exists, your data gets more and more solid as your ability to measure the effect increases.  With regards to PAP, the effects of abuse have continued to hide at the limits of detectability.  The nature of the effect has changed a little, too.  Instead of the original “these players are at risk for career ending injuries” the effect has now become decreased effectiveness in subsequent starts.

3)I’d still be interested to see a more comprehensive version of James’s study—preferably one that didn’t put all of the superstars on one side of the dividing line.  Something along the lines of finding *every* pair of pitchers exhibiting comparable value and differing PAP levels, rather than the 20 or so pairs listed in the James article.

Such a study would also benefit if as many of the pitchers as possible were near league average value.

   13. Damon Rutherford Posted: June 22, 2004 at 08:55 PM (#692093)

It’s only a matter of time until the light goes on around baseball that the more they baby their pitchers, the more they will need to be babied. Unfortuantely, we haven’t gotten there yet.

What evidence do you have to support this claim?  I’m not maintaining it’s false, but, rather, I just don’t see how anyone can assert anything given the lack of complete data and research. 

What is needed is a set of thorough research projects conducted by a group of baseball analysts, physiologists, medical doctors, and the pitchers themselves working in collaboration to settle this issue.  Or something similar.  Until then, rants like the article above have no solid foundation.

   14. Hey, Randy Milligan, turn off your laser beam eyes Posted: June 22, 2004 at 09:50 PM (#692208)

I think the implication that BPRo is intellectually dishonest in knowingly selling incorrect studies to further their careers is irresponsible. I don’t think that the Bpro guys pimp stuff they know to be false. If that’s what Malcom thinks they’re doing, he should provide meaningful evidence, since it’s a serious charge. If it’s not what Malcolm thinks they’re doing, then there’s no reason for a discussion of their motives to be included.

Inquiring into others motives is easy to do, but it’s usually unfair and often doesn’t add much to the discussion at hand. It would be like saying Don Malcolm is a bitter crank resentful of being shut out from the sabremetric mainstream. That’s a really unfair thing for to me to make, since it has no relevance to the question of whether what he’s saying is true.

I don’t think the BPro people are intellectually dishonest. I just think some of them are intellectually lazy.  They often seem to latch onto catchphrases (TINSTAAPP, OBP is everything and everything is OBP, etc.) that communicates a simplistic message at the expense of nuance.

Often they are slow to catch the implications of some of their stats. They rely on players’ sabremetric reputations to make their judgments without even peeking at their own stats. A most memorable example is Walt Davis’ post showing that according to WARP3, KC won the Dye, Neifi threesome. It seems like every Pro Triple Play has some similar simpleminded evaluation of a player based on his reputation that’s contradicted by their stat pages.

I’d imagine a lot of what I perceive as intellectual laziness is due to a quantity over quality mindset which obviously distinguishs the career minded BPro people from the slightly less prolific Malcolm.

   15. Martin Hemner Posted: June 22, 2004 at 10:24 PM (#692241)

I know Rany Jazayerli, and feel confident in saying that there is no way he did this study just to generate publicity.  He is extremely bright, and I believe that he felt that he had something to contribute to this area.

He is not a statistician.  Heteroskedastic tendencies’ (wow, that’s a long name) points about intellectual laziness ring true.  I think they have some brilliant mathematicians (at BP, and even here) who missed the course on measurement and validity. I have no doubt that Nate Silver is a really smart guy, but using PECOTA last year, before it was validated, was completely inappropriate.  I’m not a subscriber, so I don’t know if it’s been validated this year. There are so many stats out there that are just formulas that have never been tested. I think that’s great for a project like the Hall of Merit. I think it’s reprehensible if you try to translate it into practice at the minor or major league level.

   16. greenback calls it soccer Posted: June 22, 2004 at 11:23 PM (#692370)

I guess I should go buy the Neyer/James book, because aside from an oblique book review, there just isn’t much to this article beyond gratuitous slams from another crusader.

   17. Lawa Posted: June 22, 2004 at 11:52 PM (#692482)

Somebody once said: For every complex problem there is a simple answer that in reality only makes the problem worse.

That might be the case with PAP. It seems like there could be a method of predicting & preventing pitcher breakdown. However, I don’t think PAP does the job. The physique of each pitcher would logically seem to be a factor, as well as mechanics, age, and natural ability granted from a higher power. I bet Livan could go 150+ without much of a problem, while others start to break out in cold sweat around 90.

   18. Pops Freshenmeyer Posted: June 23, 2004 at 03:51 AM (#693508)

The fascination with pitch counts in many places has always slightly bothered me.  Sabermetrics itself is partly based on the idea that there are things that provide valid information about baseball on the field that you don’t have to be in the dugout to know.  A lot of the criticism of the statistical side of baseball sounds like a bad joke about Vietnam vets—you don’t know what it’s like because you haven’t been there.

In this case, Malcolm is right on about the fact that pitch counts have been used to measure wear on a pitcher with numbers, but with about zero evidence to back up the idea that this particular measure of pitcher use has anything to do with the injuries that high pitch counts are supposed to induce.  I can’t say anthing as to why those on Prospectus do what they do.  I can only say that in my opinion the overuse of pitch counts seems to reek of the fact that those of us outside of the baseball game are trying too hard to create an understanding of the events within it.  Many, including my opinionated self, sometimes get caught up in how we are right and those insiders are wrong… and we’ve got the numbers to prove it.

  I think this is just a case where creating a number to measure something is just an attempt to quantify for its own sake.  In reality, it may be impossible to determine the connection between cause and effect.  It’s probably impossible to determine just what caused an injury.  Was it an outing 9 months ago that started the problem and then it just kept regressing?  Was it 4 years ago?  The important thing is not to get the cart ahead of the horse. Not to create a number before we know what it means and then worship the false idol in the name of self-importance.

Pitch counts aren’t useless but I think that PAPs pretty much are.  There is absolutely no way to really know that 5 outings worth 2 points each are equal to 2 outings worth 5 points each and 3 worth zero.  Maybe we’ll just have to tip our cap to the Larry Rothschilds, Lee Mazillis, and Rick Petersons of baseball.  Look at THEIR records of keeping their pitchers healthy before we condemn their methods.

   19. Pops Freshenmeyer Posted: June 23, 2004 at 03:53 AM (#693510)

Wow, I’m tired: that should be Leo Mazzone NOT Lee Mazilli… boy I sound ****ing stupid.

   20. Damon Rutherford Posted: June 23, 2004 at 04:10 AM (#693520)

Not as ****ing stupid as some others.

   21. The Ancient Mariner Posted: June 23, 2004 at 04:13 AM (#693525)

Few comments:

1.  Lawa:  don’t know the source of your precise quote, but here’s a similar one:  “For every problem there is an answer that is simple, easy to understand, and wrong.” —H. L. Mencken

2.  I know Rany Jazayerli slightly—a good college friend was a med school classmate of his—and I’m quite sure that he can be acquitted of both dishonesty and laziness.  If anything had a negative effect on his work on this study, I suspect it was sheer business.

3.  Jon W:  if you don’t like Don Malcolm’s tone, to be blunt, you might as well stop reading sabermetricians.  The rivalries, infighting and petty backstabbing are truly astounding for a group of insurgents who all have the same professed goal.

4.  To Robert in Redondo:  remember that until the days of Ruth, pitchers only put any significant stress on their arms when they were in a jam.  Even after Ruth ended the dead-ball era, they could still cruise through a lot of at-bats.  The need to take greater care of pitchers doesn’t result from them being babied (take a look at what Dallas Green did to the Mets, for instance), but from these being extremely stressful times in which to pitch.  You have to bring your best stuff for 100 pitches every five days if you want to win, and even then you might not; and if you ease up for a while, as pitchers of previous eras did, you might save your arm but you’ll lose your job.

5.  To villageidiom:  IIRC, it was Craig Wright, in *The Diamond Appraised*, who started the sabermetric examination of pitcher workload (he looked primarily at batters faced, not at pitch counts); and from his work and observations, it seems to me that pitching when fatigued will tend to increase one’s risk of injury even if it doesn’t lead to mechanical breakdowns.  I agree that managers and pitching coaches will probably have to judge this on a pitcher-by-pitcher, game-by-game basis; and in fact, there are so many variables involved that I’m inclined to doubt that this issue will ever be subject to an accurate statistical analysis. 

6.  General comment:  all that said, I think Don Malcolm got one thing wrong:  I don’t think the BPro folks have done damage, on the whole.  Rather, I think they’ve done a lot to sensitize baseball to the fact that “Be a man, suck it up” isn’t a good approach to coaching pitchers, and that overworking them to prove they have hair on their chests is a good way to hurt the team.  We may be a long way from coming to any sort of consensus as to how to avoid overworking (or underworking) pitchers, but at least we have general agreement that this is a necessary thing to do—and that’s an invaluable gain, whatever the errors which may have accompanied it.

   22. Jon W Posted: June 23, 2004 at 04:30 AM (#693543)

Ancient Mariner - appreciate the counsel, but of course this isn’t the first sabermetrics article I’ve read, not by a long shot.  I wouldn’t have commented on the writing style if I didn’t think it noteworthy.  If it works for others and I’m in the minority, however, more power to Don.

   23. The Ancient Mariner Posted: June 23, 2004 at 05:06 AM (#693564)

I don’t know that it works for me, either, and I’ll grant that Don Malcolm’s an outlier—but anymore, I really don’t think he’s all that much of one.

   24. Damon Rutherford Posted: June 23, 2004 at 05:13 AM (#693569)

Not as ****ing stupid as some others.

Wow…that sounds harsher than I intended it to be.  A failed joke, if you will.  Carry on.

   25. Damon Rutherford Posted: June 23, 2004 at 05:27 AM (#693584)

Jon W: if you don’t like Don Malcolm’s tone, to be blunt, you might as well stop reading sabermetricians. The rivalries, infighting and petty backstabbing are truly astounding for a group of insurgents who all have the same professed goal.

Well, this is present in every area of science.  People just don’t interact well together.  We can’t let the negative aspects ruin the positives.

   26. Damon Rutherford Posted: June 23, 2004 at 05:29 AM (#693585)

Well said, Ancient Mariner.

   27. John Posted: June 23, 2004 at 05:41 AM (#693587)

Regardless of the merits of the various “pitcher abuse” studies, the tone of this article (and the entirely unsupported allegation that all Baseball Prospectus is interested in is dollars) is offensive, and smacks of barely-disguised petty jealously.  I have been sorely disappointed in Primer over the last couple of months (both in terms of quality and quantity), and this article only reinforces my dismay.  How unfortunate.

   28. Neil Posted: June 23, 2004 at 06:20 AM (#693600)

Just curious, but is there any history between Don Malcolm and BPro?  Malcolm and anyone else?

And as a Royals fan, I’d sure like to see this: A most memorable example is Walt Davis’ post showing that according to WARP3, KC won the Dye, Neifi threesome.  Anyone have a link to the post?

I tend to agree with Malcolm that PAP and PAP^3 are flawed (when I first read Rany’s and then Keith’s explanation in the 2001 handbook, I thought “huh? how can they reach that conclusion with that evidence?”, and James certainly takes an axe to PAP (Jazayerli’s and Woolner’s response was weak…).  But can anyone point me towards another study of pitch counts?

   29. Dr. Vaux Posted: June 23, 2004 at 10:03 AM (#693639)

I know annecdotal evidence isn’t accepted as definitive, and it certainly shouldn’t be.  All that it takes to convince me, however, that pitch counts are better and safer than no pitch counts, is a still painful perusal of Alan Benes’s 1997 game log, followed by Matt Morris in 1997-8, and Kerry Wood in 1998.  This can be followed a quick trip over to retrosheet for a random sampling of the scores of pitchers who threw 220+ innings in pre-age 27 seasons, with a great deal of success, but afterward were never the same.  It may be that no pitcher would ever become as durable as some pitchers have become if not pushed at an early age, but so what? A baseball in which nearly all good pitchers can throw 80 pitches every five days for 15 years would be much better than one in which 25% of them can throw 115-130 every five days for 12 years, and the rest are pumping gas by the time they’re 28.

   30. cercopithecus aethiops Posted: June 23, 2004 at 02:14 PM (#693727)

Well, this is present in every area of science. People just don’t interact well together.

Well, Greg, in my area of science one absloutley could not get away with this kind of tone in a review article or letter to a journal that had published a study that contradicted one’s own findings.  Hell, you couldn’t get away with this tone in a discussion at a conference.  Things get heated, all right, and lots of folks do just plain dislike each other, but if you can’t maintain at least some semblance of collegiality (however transparently false it may be), you get ostracized pretty quickly.  We question the validity of each other’s findings all the time, but we do it without questioning each other’s motives or honesty.  Except of course, in those thankfully rare and extremely unpleasant cases where there is objective evidence that calls someone’s motives or honesty into question.

   31. bhamcontrarian Posted: June 23, 2004 at 02:24 PM (#693743)

The Pitch Count Crusade?

While the internecine squabbles are somewhat interesting, it would seem that an article on Pitcher’s health would at least check with the current medical opinion. Being a Birmingham resident, one often reads local stories about Dr. James Andrews, a strong advocate of Pitch Counts.

As Dr. Andrews is also a member of the USA Baseball Medical Safety & Advisory Committee, I hopped over to their site, where pitch counts are advocated for all levels of Pitching, Little League to Professional:Their Position Statement.

So I think to write an article on the science of Pitch Counts without checking the, uhh, science, is rather poorly researched.

   32. Toolsy McClutch Posted: June 23, 2004 at 02:55 PM (#693798)

I’ve been of the opinion, and maybe I’m wrong, that pitch counts can be a handy tool on say, 75% of pitchers.  Because that number is so low, it may be completely useless as a measuring stat, but I believe it has value.

  I think it’s just frustrating when someone points out Pitcher A threw 150 in a game 2 years ago, then had a run of 5 great starts.  Of Pitcher B threw 140 then had his arm fall off on the team bus.  There’s a lot of stuff that goes into arm fatigue: bullpen sessions, stretching, even doing some home renos where you slip and fall.  We can’t ever know ever input into the equation, but we shouldn’t stop trying to get as good as output as possible.  Imo anyway.

   33. Chris Dial Posted: June 23, 2004 at 03:41 PM (#693905)

I shouldn’t get in here…

bhamcontrarian,
that “science” doesn’t account for fully-developed adults, as I can see in the articles.  *Most* people, from House and on, believe that a the mature pitcher (>23) can handle heavier workloads.  Do you have an article from Andrews regarding MLB pitch counts?  Because many, many things that happen at ages 12-14 simply don’t apply at 25.

As I mentioned to Greg Tamer last night, to complain about Don’s tone is akin to complaining to Shakespeare that you don’t like sonnets.  Hey, don’t read the dang things.

Mordecai,
have you seen Sean Forman’s critique of PAP?  Attempts at open dialogue have been attempted.  Even in many scientific fields, there comes a breaking point.  When a bad idea becomes policy, somebody has to yell.  Ostracized?  Not that often - AFAICT, the screamer’s opinions simply get temepered. 

An area where some screaming did occur was in some botany work about 20 years ago - discussion of a plant’s nervous system.

While Don’s criticism of BPro may be a little over the top, and I completely discount any possibility that Keith (who I do know) or Rany (who I do not know) would do anything remotely like that.  I don’t know Keith really well, but I have seen tons of his research, and he’s largely above reproach. 

However, I do recall a nasty exchange between a Cleveland columnist and Will Carroll regarding the death knell for C.C. Sabathia’s arm.  Will declared that he had definitive evidence regarding workloads for pitchers under 23 that would rock the world.  Horsehockey.  It turned out to be *absolutely* nothing.  That fits nicely with making claims for publicity sake.

Ancient Mariner: very very well said.
Your point #6 is nice, but before pitch counts were pretty common before BP existed, and way before PAP.  I think BP didn’t raise awareness- clearly The Diamond Appraised had already done that.  They may certainly have raised awareness among the internet readers that aren’t familiar with Wright’s book, but I don’t really see anything but increased hysteria from PAP.

And point #4. 
“remember that until the days of Ruth, pitchers only put any significant stress on their arms when they were in a jam. Even after Ruth ended the dead-ball era, they could still cruise through a lot of at-bats.”

Why do you think that is different from today?

” The need to take greater care of pitchers doesn’t result from them being babied

(take a look at what Dallas Green did to the Mets, for instance), “

Dallas Green roughed up Isringhausen.  Pulsipher was a timebomb anyway (see his motion), and he didn’t abuse Wilson.  As Casey would say, “you, uh, could look it up.”  It’s a common misconception -PERPETUATED by pitch count fanatics (while including BPro, that also includes Dan Szymborski and many authors here, with whom I have heated debates with over the issue).

“but from these being extremely stressful times in which to pitch. You have to bring your best stuff for 100 pitches every five days if you want to win, and even then you might not; and if you ease up for a while, as pitchers of previous eras did, you might save your arm but you’ll lose your job.”

Do you have *any* evidence for that?  I think it is bunk.  Jamie Moyer can’t throw a lick, but gets tons of people out.  Greg Maddux.  *Tons* of guys throw smarter, not harder.  What you call “old-timers cruise control” is what we call “taking something off the ball”.  It’s keeping hitters off-balance.

Why?  Why can’t pitchers “take it easy” on Rey Ordonez?  Why can’t they “cruise” on pitchers?  You assert they will lose their jobs, but I simply don’t buy it.  You refer to the “manliness” of high pitch counts - that applies to “bring it every pitch” as well.  It’s nonsense that should be beaten out of everyone’s heads.

Don’s, er, enthusiasm, is intense, but no one has issues with similar vitriol for Bud Selig or *any* research that’s done that our community believes to be seriously wrong-headed (I’m thinking of Mike Hoban).  Part of the problem is that no one wants to see their heroes humanized.  Many of you cut your teeth on BPro, and so seeing them criticized hurts you.  It’s a natural reaction.  I’m sure there are people that think this board’s criticisms of Bud Selig are based in petty jealousy.

   34. Walt Davis Posted: June 23, 2004 at 04:58 PM (#694147)

A most memorable example is Walt Davis’ post showing that according to WARP3, KC won the Dye, Neifi threesome.

Actually I think I showed they came out even.  And it depended on how far back you go.  KC still came out the loser but not ridiculously so.

But I wish someone could find that post too cuz the numbers Prospectus has posted now don’t seem as close as I remember them being.  So maybe I screwed it up then or maybe they’ve retroactively refined their park factors or something.

And before more people keep jumping on Rany for wanting to baby pitchers, remember he also advocates a return to the 4-man rotation.  His idea is that it’s the stressful pitches that hurt—i.e. there’s no reason that pitchers can’t throw 100-110 (say) pitches every 4 days.  He could well be wrong about that of course.

I guess I’ll have to go buy the damn book to have any idea what James’ study finds.  As Don describes it, it sounds like either a tautology or a near tautology.

But this I find humorous in an article supposedly telling us that pitch counts are bunk:

The data also showed a primitive ecology for pitchers that often worked as a natural barrier to the most dangerous type of overuse—a long consecutive string of 100+-pitch outings, which recent research (noted by Neyer, but bypassed by Prospectus) has shown to produce injury in close to 50% of its incidences

So pitchers who are regularly pushed past 100 pitches have an injury rate of 50% ... and pitch counts don’t tell us anything about the likelihood of injury?

PAP/PAP3 is certainly a crude (and maybe useless) tool.  But pitchers regularly pushed past 100 pitches will have high PAP3 totals and high stress values.  Yes it’s possible that two pitchers will have identical stress values but one has enough short outings mixed in that the phenomenon Don cites (without a freaking cite I might add) doesn’t occur.  But you would still find a difference between high-stress and low-stress pitchers since low-stress pitchers are unlikely to have long strings of 100+ pitch games (unless maybe they’re all at 101).

And by the way, what’s the injury rate if we make that a string of 105+ pitch outings?  110+?  Obviously I’ll have to go out and find that research too, but as summarized by Don, it hardly sounds like a refutation of PAP/PAP3.

So where is all this fabulous pitch count and injury data?  I would love to get my hands on it (without having to do tons of data entry).

Now this is annoying!  It seems that BP has changed their definition of stress.  Or at least the 2003 numbers in their stats section have changed ... and 2002 is apparently under construction.

So I have to dig out an old post that used those old numbers.

From 2001 to 2003, at least 8 of 11 pitcher-seasons aged 25 or younger who had a stress value of 30 or higher in a season were injured for at least one month the following year (or later that same year).  Yes, 25 and 30 are arbitrary cutoffs.

That’s a pathetically small sample, but it’s a damn scary number and certainly not one that makes me think they’re dead wrong.  That list includes guys like Chad Durbin, Scott Elarton, and Bud Smith whose careers seem effectively finished; and Adam Eaton who missed a full year I believe.

If anyone has pitch count data going back more years and wants to expand that sample, I think that would be great.

   35. Andere Richtingen Posted: June 23, 2004 at 05:03 PM (#694161)

But Bill James has a far more considered view of the issue that is also pertinent here. He suggests that too much coddling of arms may produce unanticipated problems later on:

“Backing away from the pitcher’s limits too far doesn’t make a pitcher less vulnerable; it makes him more vulnerable. And pushing the envelope, while it may lead to a catastrophic event, is more likely to enhance the pitcher’s durability than to destroy it.”

I haven’t read James’ book, so maybe someone can summarize:

What is James’ evidence in support of the opposite of the PAP viewpoint here?

   36. Andere Richtingen Posted: June 23, 2004 at 05:08 PM (#694165)

So pitchers who are regularly pushed past 100 pitches have an injury rate of 50% ... and pitch counts don’t tell us anything about the likelihood of injury?

Don had article(s) on this, and I don’t think he means to say that pitch counts tell us nothing, more that single game counts (the basic currency of PAP in both forms) tell us little.  He showed graphs which depicted the distribution of pitch counts over a full season, and discussed Kerry Wood’s pre-injury 1998 season quite a bit.  He demarked a danger zone where pitchers threw (I believe) 350+ pitches over three outings.

I don’t remember seeing the actual evidence that this was harmful, however.  Not sure where Don published that.

   37. Damon Rutherford Posted: June 23, 2004 at 07:37 PM (#694459)

Well, Greg, in my area of science one absloutley could not get away with this kind of tone in a review article or letter to a journal that had published a study that contradicted one’s own findings. Hell, you couldn’t get away with this tone in a discussion at a conference.

I agree, mordecai’s other two fingers.  I was more referring to your comment about the rivalries, infighting and petty backstabbing.  But, in fact, I have seen and heard about some outlandish verbal attacks at conference presentations.  But I think they are few and far between.

   38. Derek J Posted: June 23, 2004 at 08:11 PM (#694508)

The way that this thing is written, I don’t know what was so wrong about David Leonhardt’s article (it’s now in the Times pay archive, and there weren’t any quotes in this piece) or what Bill James actually had to say about PAP.

And does anyone know what Malcolm’s referring to when he says:

One notes that James is careful not to suggest that the Prospectus cadre had less-than-pure research motives at heart, which was one of the things that got me into so much trouble (and will doubtless do so again). I read this as a kindly mentor’s attempt to extricate a favorite pupil from an embarrassing episode where feeling and fervor clearly trumped good sense.

Other than on a philosophical level, does anyone at Prospectus have connections to Bill James, that James would lay off of them?

It looks like Don Malcolm just spend 2000 words saying, basically, “NYAAH NYAAH, Bill James agrees with me on pitch counts”?

   39. Derek J Posted: June 23, 2004 at 08:24 PM (#694522)

Oops, it looks like Derek “just spend” time needing remedial english lessons”?”

   40. cercopithecus aethiops Posted: June 23, 2004 at 08:41 PM (#694542)

I have seen and heard about some outlandish verbal attacks at conference presentations. But I think they are few and far between.

So have I, Greg, and the reason they are few and far between is that there are consequences.  People who act this way get reputations.  Those reputations color other people’s perceptions of their work.  Some of the people whose perceptions become so colored are the same people who are peer-reviewing your manuscripts and grant applications.  Long story short, there are ample incentives to at least go through the motions of playing nice and more importantly, having an open mind.  I think sabrmetrics would benefit from some similar incentives, and I know that sabrmetrics would benefit greatly from real peer-review.

   41. Ralphie Wiggum Posted: June 24, 2004 at 12:16 AM (#695032)

And does anyone know what Malcolm’s referring to when he says:

One notes that James is careful not to suggest that the Prospectus cadre had less-than-pure research motives at heart, which was one of the things that got me into so much trouble (and will doubtless do so again). I read this as a kindly mentor’s attempt to extricate a favorite pupil from an embarrassing episode where feeling and fervor clearly trumped good sense.

Other than on a philosophical level, does anyone at Prospectus have connections to Bill James, that James would lay off of them?

Jim Baker—James’ first research assistant—started writing for BPro about a month ago or so. But that’s obviously after he wrote his critcism of PAP in the book.

Actually, if anything, it seems that James and BPro have been at ends in the past. For one, James was quite critical of Keith Woolner’s study on Catcher’s ERA, claiming that Woolner was “completely wrong,” but refusing to publish his own study which contradicted Woolner’s work. (This resulted in Woolner revisiting the topic in a column as a response.) Secondly, Gary Huckaby has never been particularly kind to James in response to questions asked at Pizza Feeds, claiming that James is great at asking questions, but not particularly good at coming up with useful answers, especially when it involves doing statistical heavy lifting.

In the end, I seriously doubt that James was being unduly kind to the Prospectus folks in order to preserve a relationship. More likely this is just a case of Don being Don—doing his best to present the illusion of a groundswell against the folks who drove his pet project out of business.

   42. Damon Rutherford Posted: June 24, 2004 at 02:47 AM (#695576)

I think sabrmetrics would benefit from some similar incentives, and I know that sabrmetrics would benefit greatly from real peer-review.

Well, first, sabermetrics needs either MLB-funding or government funding, similar to the National Science Foundation, The Whitaker Foundation, and The National Institute of Health dishing out millions upon millions of dollars to hundreds of research groups.  Second, sabermetrics needs a couple of journals.  SABR has a “By The Numbers” publication, but it only appears four times a year, I believe.  Third, sabermetrics needs positions in academia so I can ditch my current work and teach about baseball!

   43. Srul Itza At Home Posted: June 24, 2004 at 07:04 AM (#695746)

? the current administration and the media give us a slanted view of the “twin wars.””

Twin wars?  Mary Kate and Ashley?

   44. Srul Itza At Home Posted: June 24, 2004 at 07:24 AM (#695753)

To correct a quote from above, which is one of my favorites:

For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong.

H.L. Mencken

   45. Srul Itza At Home Posted: June 24, 2004 at 07:32 AM (#695755)

Sorry, Ancient Mariner, didn’t see you had picked up the Mencken quote, albeit in a slightly different form.

“but is there any history between Don Malcolm and BPro? Malcolm and anyone else?”

Don has had some very harsh things to say about Neyer; his tone in this article seems far less confrontational toward Rob.

   46. Srul Itza At Home Posted: June 24, 2004 at 07:47 AM (#695758)

“But I wish someone could find that post too cuz the numbers Prospectus has posted now don’t seem as close as I remember them being. So maybe I screwed it up then or maybe they’ve retroactively refined their park factors or something.”

Walt, my recollection si that you got your results by adding the BPro figures for hitting and fielding—and Neifi was a very, very good fielder.  However, for a long time, a lot of us thought the BPro numbers for fielding were exaggerated.  And my recollection, again is that they went back at one time and did change the numbers.

Or, I could have just imagined all of this during my last flashback episode.

   47. Absum Posted: June 24, 2004 at 01:45 PM (#695835)

Ack! I’ve clearly come to this debate a little late,but here are my thoughts on the issue.

PAP strikes me as a simplistic approach to predicting pitcher injury and I certainly don’t have a stake in it being the one true way (tm) though it’s not clear to me that BP does either. I’m perfectly prepared to accept Don’s view that it’s not much use.

That said, having been a largely silent reader of this site, BP (I subscribe) and, in days of yore, Don’s website (which is still up, I see,) it’s hard for me not to get sick of Don taking the sledgehammer to the collective kneecap of BP all the time. For him to imply as he clearly does that BP push PAP because it’s their label and their principal talent is for self promotion has *precisely* the status of my saying that Don Malcolm is a bitter old hack who won’t forgive BP for the fact that you can still buy their book and you can’t buy his.

I should perhaps point out that I don’t believe either of those statements.

I have to say that I disagree with what Chris says, to whit “If you don’t like the style, don’t read.” Presumably Don wants to influence my opinion. Quite frankly, it’s *his* responsibility to be credible to me. If you want to be relevent, you have to be readable. Being over the top, an outlier, whatever you wish to call it has nothing to do with it. If hyperbole were a problem, who would ever read Kahrl’s transaction analysis at BP? Don, whose sabermetric sandals I am not worthy to tie, makes it hard for me to take his argument(s) seriously because he makes it easy for me (and others, I’d guess) to think his first concern is attacking BP and not neccessarily to search for the truth, whatever that is.

In all, I think it’s probably not his first concern. Still, I find it easier and more profitable to read an article when I don’t have to spend a large chunk of my concentration seemingly filtering out firstly the author’s prejudices and secondly my reaction to them.

T

   48. BWC Posted: June 24, 2004 at 01:58 PM (#695853)

I haven’t read James’ book, so maybe someone can summarize:

What is James’ evidence in support of the opposite of the PAP viewpoint here?

First of all, let me say that you should get the James book—it’s superb.

To summarize a few of James’s findings:

1) James ran a series of studies comparing pitchers with high PAP scores to similar pitchers with lower scores (e.g. he would try to find two 30-year old pitchers with 80 career win shares and 15 win shares in the most recent season).  In virtually every case, the “more abused” pitcher went on to have greater success both in the next season and for the rest of his career.

Given that the list of pitchers with the highest level of abuse since the mid-80’s contains a lot of names like Randy Johnson and Roger Clemens, this makes sense.

2) James points out that PAP scores essentially penalize power pitchers, since it obviously takes more pitches to record a strikeout than to get a BIP.  Since every study you could possibly do shows that power pitchers last longer than low-K guys, it doesn’t make sense to penalize power pitchers.

3) He doesn’t draw any firm conclusions (guess that would reinforce Huckaby’s complaint about asking questions but not answering them), but does suggest that a) nobody in their right mind should leave a 20-year-old guy out there for 150 pitches and b) there’s nothing in baseball history to suggest that older pitchers aren’t capable of building up enough arm strength to throw 140-150 in a game.  He compares pitching to any exercise—you wouldn’t attempt to press 200 lbs if you’d never pressed more than 50 before, but if you work your way up by adding more weight each time you work out many people could definitely press that much weight.

Well, first, sabermetrics needs either MLB-funding or government funding,

Well said, Greg Tamer.  I know it was noble when James, Palmer and Dick Cramer were sharing their studies with each other in the mid-70’s and nobody was paying attention and everything was being done for the love of research, but I don’t think it’s quite fair to attack the BPro guys for trying to make a living off their work (I realize most of them still have day jobs) and having to turn to the free market in order to do it.  I don’t think it necessarily follows that Jazayerli’s or Woolner’s research motives are irredeemably corrupt.

OTOH, it does seem that BPro isn’t on the cutting edge of sabermetrics any more (if they ever were), perhaps as a result of their decision to move to a closed source model.  I grimace any time I read one of their writers refer to some “essential” study done by James Click or whomever on the BPro website (like, for example, Click’s sac bunt series) which pales in comparison to work that people like MGL have already done.

So, are there any stathead-friendly billionaires out there who want to start a foundation for people like MGL, Tango, etc.?

   49. Los Angeles Waterloo of Black Hawk Posted: June 24, 2004 at 06:57 PM (#696519)

This is why we continue to see the quality of pitching at all levels decreasing and the number of injuries going forever upward.

Is this latter point true?  Do we really know that injuries have increased?  Medical diagnostics have improved to such a degree that we can now identify and repair injuries at unprecedented rates.  How many pitchers in 1932 were written off with dead arms that would be saved by modern medical practices?  There’s no way of knowing this.  Defense of the heavy workloads of the past always focuses on the successful outliers, but we hear nothing of those whose arms were blown out at age 23.

I’m not sure I buy the first part of this statement, either.  Has pitching quality truly decreased at all levels?  There have been periods of more robust offense than that which we are currently witnessing, and I believe the average batting stats of, say, the Pacific Coast League are lower than they were in the 1950s.

   50. Andere Richtingen Posted: June 24, 2004 at 09:07 PM (#696869)

Well said, Greg Tamer. I know it was noble when James, Palmer and Dick Cramer were sharing their studies with each other in the mid-70’s and nobody was paying attention and everything was being done for the love of research, but I don’t think it’s quite fair to attack the BPro guys for trying to make a living off their work (I realize most of them still have day jobs) and having to turn to the free market in order to do it. I don’t think it necessarily follows that Jazayerli’s or Woolner’s research motives are irredeemably corrupt.

Of course, it’s hyperbole to the point of absurdity to accuse these guys of doing what they do for anything but respectable reasons.

Principal Seymour Skinner was not exaggerating entirely when he said, “Every good scientist is half B. F. Skinner and half P. T. Barnum.”  There is a bit of ham in everyone who uses the internet as a means for disseminating their sabermetric ideas,  and I doubt that Jazayerli and Woolner are exceptional in that regard, or Don Malcolm for that matter.  Sometimes this can be an impediment to good work, but not necessarily.  That doesn’t mean they aren’t good at what they do, nor should the flaws in their work raise suspicion about their motives.

These personal attacks aren’t just off the mark, they’re ironic.  The evidence supporting his ideas about BPro’s motivation are as weak as the evidence in support of PAP.  Anyway, as someone who is far more immersed in the peer review process than he would like to be, I know that you criticize the work, not the people doing it, otherwise your own motives become suspect and you end up undermining your credibility.

   51. Chris Dial Posted: June 25, 2004 at 06:16 PM (#698324)

Absum,
I didn’t say “if you don’t like his style don’t read it.”

I said, if you are going to read Malcolm, you know the style, then don’t bother complaining about it.  If all you are going to do is complain about his style *then* don’t read it.

   52. Flynn Posted: June 25, 2004 at 06:23 PM (#698346)

Defense of the heavy workloads of the past always focuses on the successful outliers, but we hear nothing of those whose arms were blown out at age 23.

But there’s still tons of pitchers today who are blowing out their arms with workloads that would make a 1950s pitcher blush.

Pitch counts are almost useless, imho; it may be that pitcher abuse is something that just cannot be measured by numbers, but by the trained eye of pitching coaches and trainers.

   53. Flynn Posted: June 25, 2004 at 06:31 PM (#698363)

As well, the quality of pitching has probably decreased. Just look at the numbers.

Teams in the 70s carried 9 or 10 man staffs. Now, it’s 12, perhaps even 13.

With starters pitching less innings than ever before, and with the closer mentality meaning that the back end of the bullpen is pitching the majority of relief innings, it seems difficult to conclude that pitching hasen’t had some drop in quality.

   54. tripvm Posted: July 14, 2004 at 10:58 PM (#734492)

I have never been a big fan of the PAP system other than as a measurement for workload. 

I am sure that it reflects risk and abuse for some pitchers.  But which ones?  I seem to remember the prediction that Livan Hernandez would succumb to severe arm injury due to the workload that Dusty Baker gave him back in the late 90s.  PAP seems to have little relevance to Randy Johnson.  It would have been useless with Nolan Ryan.

Randy Johnson and Nolan Ryan would both fit in with Craig Wright’s theory that team’s should be careful with young pitchers.  On the other hand, both of these guys took very good care of themselves and have motions or physiques that allowed them to throw a lot of pitches during their long careers. 

I found Wright’s work very influencial back in 1988 and 1989 when I read it.  I don’t see any harm in being somewhat careful with younger pitchers as you work through your system especially with the 18 year old high school pitchers.  They don’t need to throw 140 pitches in Rookie Ball games. 

There are many examples of college pitchers who were really pushed hard who have struggled with health issues in the pros.  A couple that readily come to mind are Darren Dreifort and Kenny Baugh (Tigers system).  How hard was Paul Wilson worked at Florida State?  Maybe Mark Martin did him in not Dallas Green?  Maybe he was going to get hurt anyway?

We just don’t know.  And we never will definitively unless cloning becomes common because we are all different.  How do you deal with this as a GM?  You just signed your #1 draft pick with a big signing bonus.  He is 21 years old throws 95+ with good movement.  Do you baby him to protect your investment?  Do you push him to develop his skills?  Remember, you are now accountable for a multi-million dollar investment.

   55. tripvm Posted: July 15, 2004 at 02:13 AM (#734772)

Sorry, MIKE Martin is head coach of the FSU baseball team.

   56. BDC Posted: February 16, 2006 at 01:07 PM (#1864258)
it reflects risk and abuse for some pitchers. But which ones?

That's an excellent point.

Thought experiment: let's say that relief pitchers were suddenly declared to be against the rules. Short of your arm falling off, you have to pitch a complete game. And you can only carry four pitchers on your roster.

What would happen to pitchers? Some of them would blow a gasket after 2 or 3 starts. Somebody would lead the league in wins this year and never pitch well again. Somebody else would win 300 games in his career and make the Hall of Fame. Every year there would be an ERA champion and a Cy Young winner, and the best pitchers would make millions of dollars a year.

IOW, everything would look a lot like it does now except a different population of pitchers would flourish under the conditions. And different wisdoms about how to get pitchers to flourish would arise.

Nothing has changed that briskly overnight since 1893, but the conditions that pitchers are expected to work under change with more geological slowness continuously. (I hope that observation ties into the evolution/ID debate :)

Pitchers are obviously harmed by overwork and are obviously helped by sensible conditioning. But the definitions of those phrases have been moving targets from the day of Hoss Radbourn to the days of Pedro Martinez. I think that's what the acrimony is about in these discussions. A few commentators keep thinking they have absolute and dogmatic answers to ever-changing questions. (Will Carroll, from what I can read here, seems relatively undogmatic.)

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