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Thursday Morning Astros, etc Round Up

Polin Trinidad suffered his first rough outing in AAA against Memphis on Tuesday night, but he did manage to exact a bit of revenge at the plate. He hit his first home run of the season before being yanked after pitching just five innings. I mention that he exacted only a bit of revenge, because he allowed six home runs. Yikes. Another oddity from this game was that catcher Brian Esposito switched from catcher to pitcher during the middle of the game and recorded a scoreless eighth inning.

The Astros rank 25th in Beyond the Boxscore's Power Rankings this week. Essentially, the fact that the Astros have had a fairly easy road so far, and have not done as well as they probably "should" have is what hurts them in the eyes of the saber-folks. Our team defense is getting better though, which is awesome.

We had a nice discussion going about Bud Norris, pitch counts, and innings limits. As luck would have it, ESPN and Baseball Prospectus both have articles up about the very same subject.

Prospectus is of the opinion that 120 pitches should be the magic number, rather than 100. Christina Kahrl notes that teams are keeping tabs on the innings pitched, pitch counts, warm up pitches and everything in between much more than ever before. In fact, the way pitchers are used in the minors has had a fundamental change in some cases:

In A-ball leagues, several teams use adaptive workloads with an eye towards keeping younger pitchers from being overworked—instead of a normal starter/reliever split in assignments, you'll find groups of pitchers pitching in tandem, paired off to handle the first six or seven innings together, and throwing 60 to 90 pitches, and trading off the honor of starting or following in that ballgame.

Again though, like was mentioned in the Norris comments, there is no hard and fast rule associated with this area of the game. Different pitchers call for different treatment depending on their bodies, mechanics and history of pitches thrown. I don't want to call it a crap shoot, but it almost seems like it is. Pitchers that look like horses turn out to be injury prone (Carl Pavano), while those guys who are slight of build can step in a pitch year in and year out without arm issues for the most part (Roy Oswalt, Tim Lincecum, etc.)

Over at the World-Wide Leader, Tim Kurkjian does a good job of giving the reader a holistic view of the factors that have contributed to the diminishing pitches per start of major league starting pitchers. Orel Hershier offers his own interesting interpretation of the situation. He believes that the intensity of pitches has increased since 1969 (the year the pitching mound was lowered), and this has led to pitchers not being able to pitch as deep into games:

They [MLB] took away the plane of the baseball [when the mound was lowered], and a straight pitch became more on the plane of the bat. At that point, pitchers had to move the ball so it was not on the plane of the bat, and to do that, they had to increase the intensity on every pitch. Movement became a key, not just velocity. So with all the elements we have today, if the intensity of one pitch is increased by, say, 10 percent, then 125 pitches becomes 115, which becomes 110, then becomes 100.

The "new breed" of ML general manager is partially to blame for the shorter starts as well. As former Astros, and current Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey said:

I don't know the numbers, but the new wave of GMs are the ones who have charted that the chance of injury is, say, greater at 85 pitches than it is at 75. And with every five-pitch increment, there's a 22.8 percent more likely chance that someone gets hurt. With each 10 extra pitches, it goes up by five percent.

After reading all of this, I think that there are  two things will almost invariably help pitchers stay injury free: improving their mechanics and limiting pitches per inning. This is easy to type, and not so easy to execute I realize.

This quagmire gets even murkier in situations like the Red Sox have with Dice-K, who has blamed the Red Sox' training regimen for his arm injury:

The only reason why I managed to win games during the first and second years (in the U.S.) was because I used the savings of the shoulder I built up in Japan. Since I came to the Major Leagues, I couldn't train in my own way, so now I've lost all those savings.