Thursday, August 28, 2008
Last night, I was enjoying the game at my favorite little corner sports bar, when in the bottom of the 7th inning the Giants went ahead on back-to-back home runs by Bengie Molina and Pablo Sandoval (the first of his career, and it was an awesome opposite field shot). Lincecum had been pretty much untouchable since the first inning, and now he was in line to bring in his 15th win. With 118 pitches through seven innings, it looked like his night was done. Job well done, Tim. Hit the showers, rest that arm, and prepare for win number 16 next week.
Then the game came back from a commercial break and...whaaaaaa???? There was Lincecum, trotting out to start the 8th inning. If I had been in mid-swig, I would have done a colossal spit take. Here he was with 118 pitches already under his belt, trudging out to the mound to put some extra mileage on his arm, all to aid the Giants in their scintillating battle for...third place in the NL West. Pitch count nazis were sharpening their stilettos.
To add an extra touch of foreboding to the proceedings, when Lincecum starting throwing to the first batter in the 8th, the jukebox in the bar we were sitting in starting playing "In the Air Tonight" by Phil Collins. It was just eerie, and didn't seem like a good omen at all. This is a song that drove a guy to hang himself in a bathroom, after all. My friends were commenting that at the exact moment of the song's signature drum crescendo, we expected to hear this ear-splitting shriek on the game broadcast, then look up to see Lincecum hop-scotching off the mound and grabbing his arm in pain.
Luckily none of that happened and Lincecum was fine. Brian Wilson came on to get a four-out save, the Giants won, Lincecum did some bizarre calisthenics on the dugout railing, and the world didn't cave in after all. Lincecum's final pitch count came in at 132, which tied him for the highest any pitcher has thrown all year.
There has been a lot of talk about pitch counts lately. I mean, a lot. McCovey Chronicles has been talking about it. Bay City Ball has been talking about it. Andrew Baggarly has been talking about it. El Lefty Malo wrote about it and touched off a mini-debate in the comments section, in which I participated a little. Things got heated, mothers were insulted, people got pwned (no, not really). Bruce Jenkins of the SF Chronicle even got in on the fun, although his articles on the subject should really just be retitled "An Idiot's Guide to Bad Dinosaur Journalism." All the fuss has started because Lincecum is near the top in the majors in pitches thrown per game and, after last night's start, has vaulted up to the top in BP's Pitcher Abuse Points (PAP)*.
I'm a guy who is firmly of the belief that different pitchers have different limits, and a lot of times it just comes down to asking a pitcher if he's good to go back out to the mound. Pitch counts are a good way to measure when a guy is getting to the point where he can't. Obviously, if Lincecum is out there throwing 132 pitches a night that's insanity and someone needs to be fired. Last night was just one instance though (with a day off in between starts), and I don't think it's something to get too up in arms about.
That said, while I'm not a fascist or anything when it comes to pitch counts, last night was a little extreme. I personally don't think Lincecum has been overworked this season, but bringing him out to start the 8th last night was pretty silly. When you're not in a pennant race and you have the future of the franchise on the line, why even take the risk? So he can come in and get two outs, and then you take him out? What's the point?
Since the Giants aren't fighting for anything at this point, enough of this! There is just no reason to stretch out Lincecum and even risk an injury. What do the Giants have to gain from leaving him in and possibly putting extra stress on his arm? A pointless win in a lost season? Hey, I'm all about beefing up this year's win total, but certainly not at the risk of Lincecum's right arm. I'm not saying limit him to a strict pitch count from now on, but if he's thrown 118 pitches through seven again, make his ass stay on the bench.
*Okay, a little mini-rant here. I've never been a fan of PAP at all, for a variety of reasons, but here's number one. Click on that link and check out the list of pitchers who are in the Top 10 in PAP. Notice anything? Yep, that's a list of the best pitchers in the major leagues. Now, I understand that you want to be careful with your pitchers, but don't you want the best pitchers throwing the most innings and staying on the mound as much as possible? Otherwise, they wouldn't be the best.
Plus, how do we even know that the guys at the top of the list are even being "abused"? Maybe they just have the highest workload; that doesn't necessarily constitute abuse. It all just seems very subjective and I have trouble with anything that tries to put a number on "abuse" when the definition of "abuse" can vary wildly from pitcher to pitcher.