How Have Pitch Counts Changed in the Past 20 Years?

Last week I asked the following question:

From 1988 to 2009, by how many pitches did the median number of pitches thrown in a game by starters change?

The answer: the median number of pitches declined by one, falling from 100 to 99. As the box plot below shows, the median has remained close to constant over the past two decades. The line in the middle of each box marks the median, the edges of the box mark the 25th–75th percentile range, and the whiskers mark the 5th–95th percentile range. If you are wondering how the mean changed, it declined from 97.4 to 96.5.

Median Pitches Thrown

Does this means that despite all the lip service paid to pitch limits teams aren’t paying any more attention to pitch counts than they used to? Not at all. The average may have stayed the same, but the extremes have fallen on the high and low sides. Pitchers aren’t just throwing fewer long outings, they are also pitching fewer short outings. The diagram below graphs the maximum pitches thrown in a game by year, and it shows a significant drop.

Max Pitch Count

So, congratulations to Dan for correctly guessing the decline. Dan wins a copy of Stumbling on Wins by David Berri and Martin Schmidt.

14 Responses “How Have Pitch Counts Changed in the Past 20 Years?”

  1. Marc Schneider says:

    What about the average number of innings pitched (total or per game)? Has that changed? My theory is that it takes more pitches today to get through the same number of innings due to smaller strike zones, changes in hitting approaches, less foul territory in new ballparks, stronger hitters (whether natural or not), and so forth. I assume that the real change would have occurred after the lowering of the mound in the late sixties. Also, I suspect that the same number of pitches today require more effort than 20-30 years ago.

  2. Greg says:

    Doesn’t this also mean that there are now fewer games in which the starter is yanked after 40 pitches? That’s what your chart shows, if I’m reading it right.

    I’m assuming managers have to stick with poor starters longer, because the bullpen is being used so much more in other games.

  3. dan says:

    If someone threw 172 pitches in a game today, the baseball world would have a stroke. You gotta let us know who dunnit, and what happened to him after that.

  4. JC says:

    Marc,

    Mean IP drops from 6.5 to 5.9.

    Greg,

    Yes, managers are sticking with starters longer.

    dan,

    That starter is still around today. Tim Wakefield pitched it on April 27, 1993.

  5. Dan says:

    Hoorah! I figured that a small change is more interesting then a big one, and after thinking about it I decided it made sense, since pitchers who get pulled because of a high pitch count are already over the median.

    What’s surprising is the drop in short outings, and the corresponding small change in the mean. Have managers also become more concerned about their bullpen’s pitch count? Or have they grown more likely to see each batter faced as independent, so that a starting pitcher who struggles early is likely just having bad luck (not a bad day) and should bounce back to his normal level against the next batter?

  6. John Northey says:

    Just looked at Wakefield’s career. His first two starts were 146 pitches and 144 pitches followed by 123 pitches then 114. Dropped drastically at the end of the season as the Pirates were playoff bound, but on 3 days rest for his 2nd start in the playoffs he threw 141 pitches. In 1993 he had 3 120+ pitch games plus a 100 before that 172 pitch game which was followed by 124 pitches. Then he ran into trouble (shocking I know) and would have just one more 100+ pitch game until September mixed with time in the minors and was left in the minors for all of the following season despite having 2 shutouts to finish 1993.

    Wow. One wonders how that manager kept his job? Of course many here would know it was Jim Leyland who is still managing today in Detroit.

  7. dan says:

    Ah, the knucklehead. Makes sense. What is strange to me is that Wake hasn’t thrown so many pitches since then. Why doesn’t he go 150+ at least once or twice a year? Seriously?

  8. Millsy says:

    DRATS! Guessing zero was so close!

  9. Johnny Twisto says:

    Because he’s 45 years old and gets hurt every season already?

  10. Carl says:

    Funny thing about Wake – his 2nd start in ’95 was on 2 days rest – he threw nearly 180 pitches those two starts.

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