Sunday, June 14, 2009

Finishing what you start

I read with interest John Schlegel's article for, about the uptick in complete games this year in the majors.

In this era of sub-100 pitch counts, and managers babying over-priced arms, it seems counterintuitive to put much money on the complete game ever making a comeback. But Schlegel indicates that complete games are up again this year, which shows upward movement on the trend line that began last season.

According to Schlegel, complete games in the major leagues hit their low point in 2007, with 114 total. Last year, the number rose to 136. If this year's pace is maintained, pitchers could challenge the 170 mark.

I have always found it odd to treat the human arm like a tube of toothpaste, thinking that there are a finite number of "squeezes" in that tube.

Back when Nolan Ryan and other pitchers of his era were routinely throwing 140-150 pitches per start, and completing their games, going every fourth day, I might add, fewer pitches broke down. This may have had something to do with the mindset and toughness of the pitchers of that era. They didn't expect, and never received the kind of kid-glove treatment today's young pitchers receive.

Roy Halladay of the Blue Jays has the complete game mindset, as does young Zack Greinke, of the Kansas City Royals. Greinke has five and Halladay three, leading the parade. Other pitchers have been getting into the groove of the complete game of late also, like Jered Weaver of the Angels, who has two this year, having never thrown one before this season.

Speaking of Ryan, he's back with the Texas Rangers, serving as president for the club. In this capacity, he's been quite outspoken against pitch counts for the team's pitchers. It's early yet, but the Rangers pitching has been as consistent as any Texas staff in quite some time. In fact, it's probably been 30 years since the club ran out consistent starters, going back to 1977, when the rotation consisted of Doyle Alexander, the ageless Gaylord Perry, Bert Blyleven, and Len Barker. Roger Moret, former Yankee killer was also on their roster.

I heard Sox manager Terry Francona, on the Dale & Holley Show the other day. The conversation was about John Lester and the amount of innings he logged last year and concerns Sox management might have for him this year. Basically, the issue was pitch counts.

Francona, to his credit, is less concerned with specific pitch counts, as he is with Lester and other pitchers, "staying within their delivery," especially when they get deep in the game, or approach the 100-pitch threshold. I took this to mean that Francona was referring to what old-schoolers used to refer to as mechanics.

Francona is right. If a pitcher begins straying from his delivery and is obviously laboring, given the strength of the Sox bullpen, then by all means get them out of there, before they get hurt, or blow up the game.

On the flipside, if Lester, Beckett, or even Wakefield are dealing through seven, don't be afraid to bring them out in the 8th inning. Francona, to his credit has done that of late. Lester's recent complete game is a testament to the soundness of that strategy.

On the subject of Lester; has there been a more dominant pitcher in baseball of late? His last three starts have shown that with his stuff, when it's right, is untouchable. Three straight double-digit strikeout totals over his recent starts, which by the way is the first time it's been done in Red Sox history by a southpaw.

Now that Lester and Beckett are pointed in the right direction, it would be nice if the grossly over-compensated Dice-K could give us more than five innings per start.

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