Make It Not Count
Now, I'm not one to go around this "internet" too much - the only things I do online are read all the great E$PN.com Insider columns, check my e-mail, and, when I'm feeling down, go to that site with the singing banana. You know the one I'm talkin' about - PEANUT BUTTER JELLY! PEANUT BUTTER JELLY! That stuff just cracks me up. And lemme tell you, after sitting next to Young Kruk for 5 hours, and having to suck up his stink and listen to him slobber all over his Burger King Tender Crisp Bacon Cheddar Ranch sandwiches (yeah, SANDWICHES), I need me a pick-me-up. And a shower. And maybe some social lubrication, if you catch my drift (and I know you do).
But, anyway, like I said, I don't do much on the internet. However, I got this e-mail from Ravvy earlier today. Usually, I just junk his stuff. He's always sending everyone these long feel-good stories about dogs saving dolphins or these things about old people smiling or some nonsense, and these stupid music files are IN the e-mail, playing Chariots of Fire all ding-dongin' day, and they always mess up the computer I'm on - sorry HR! This time, though, I didn't delete it, because the subject, instead of it being FWD: FWD: FWD: FWD: READ THIS AND FWD TO TEN PEOPLE!!!!!!1!!!!, it was LIVNA HERNANDEZ AND PTCH COUNTS!!!!1!!!!!
Now, you don't have to know me for long to know that my favorite pitcher in baseball is Livan Hernandez. He's a gamer, the type of guy that would dominate any era of the game. He's probably the best pitcher to never win a Cy Young award, and now that he's pitching for a first place team (finally!), he should get the recognition he deserves. What I like about him is his fearlessness, and his toughness. He does what a starting pitcher needs to do to win ballgames - he throws the ball over the plate. A lot. This weekend, Livan threw 150 pitches in a start.
No, that's no typo. One. Five. Zero. Nowadays, with folks babying pitchers, and pitchers' arms STILL falling off, you'd be lucky if a guy threw that many pitches over three starts. But here's good ol' Livan Hernandez, putting his team on his back and throwing his guts out for hitters to swing at. The guy's a beast, the type of guy that earns the respect of a Drysdale and a Nolan Ryan with his heart. Even if the guy's running on empty, he's throwing. Even if they take the ball away from him, it don't matter - he'll take his hat, go into the windup, break off a 75 MPH changeup with the bill catching the outside corner of the plate, and leave a guy staring at the strike like he's looking at his first pair of funbags. It's a shame folks don't give him more credit.
But then I saw this article, by this Aaron Gleeman at the Hardball Times, and he's talking about good ol' Livan. Here's what he says:
Hernandez has ranked among the top 10 in the league in pitches thrown seven times and innings pitched six times, leading the league in each twice. Only Randy Johnson has tossed more pitches or thrown more innings since 1998. And Johnson was 34 years old in 1998, whereas Hernandez was 23. Hernandez was worked as hard as any pitcher of this era, from as early an age as any pitcher of this era, and it doesn't seem to have hurt him one bit.
Amen to that, Gleeman! It's nice to see someone in the "internet community" come around and finally talk about how great Livan is. I'm surprised more folks don't follow this example. Pitching coaches and managers and stat people are all worried about pitch counts. But here's this guy, and he's nothing special, but he can go 120, 130 deep every start. What's so special about him? Why can't a Roger Clemens or a Pedro Martinez throw that many pitches? Well, there are a lot of factors that go into the reasoning behind this.
One is agents. Agents are always looking to make as much money from teams as possible. The best way for an agent to make a lot of money is to have his clients play for lots of years. Look at old pitchers like Drysdale or Sandy Koufax - these guys were unhittable for 8 or 9 years, and then they left the game when they were done. Yeah, they threw lots of pitches, but these were good pitches, thrown during the best part of their career. Nowadays, pitchers are coddled by their agents. They're told to ease up on the gas - instead of giving 100%, they give 75% or 80%. According to an agent's thinking, 15 years at 80% (1200) is better than 9 years at 100% (900). It's all about money. These penny-pitching shysters are keeping pitchers from realizing their true potential for the sake of some extra spending cash. Shoot - once you got 100 million, what an extra 20?
It's a testament to the talent of these folks that they can pitch as well as they can at only 80%. But, man alive, imagine if these guys didn't have agents digging into their wallet, and they were allowed to just throw like they should. Guys like Pedro and the Rocket would be unhittable! Imagine that - we'd see Bob Gibson's 1968 all over the place! It'd speed up games, it'd excite fans, and it'd probably make baseball as popular as it was back in the days of the Great Depression. It's a shame this won't ever happen.
Another reason for the lack of deep-game pitchers is this: baseball is a game of habit. Once something happens enough times, folks think that's the way it works, and they go with that. Once Barry Bonds hits lots of homeruns, pitchers walk Barry Bonds. Once Brendan Donnelly wigs out on the mound, managers think of ways to make him wig out. And once a small handful of pitchers came up lame with "arm troubles", everyone stopped having their pitchers throw a lot of pitches. What kind of sense does that make?
My mom always used to ask me, whenever my friends wanted me to go do something stupid with them, "Now, Jeff, if your friends licked toads, would you go lick a toad, too?" And, of course, I'd say no - just because everyone's doing it doesn't mean that it's the right thing to do. Pitchers used to throw over 100 pitches in a game constantly - Nolan Ryan once pitched a game in the 70s where he threw over 250 pitches! You tell me if that screwed up his career! But, no, a few weak sisters come up lame playing soft-toss, and suddenly no one can throw more than 75 pitches without a permission slip from their mommy and two forms of ID. I just don't get it.
This is especially silly when you look at what's going on with baseball's little sister, softball. Here's a game played by women where folks go into triple digit pitch counts like they're shopping for clothes - A LOT - and you never hear stories about their arms getting hurt, do you? Just this weekend, while Livan was showing folks how to GIT R DONE, Texas pitcher Cat Osterman threw a four-hit, 19-strikeout, 11-inning complete game in a 1-0 elimination game in the College World Series. Now that's pressure! And you know how many pitches she threw? Three words - One. Seven. Five. That's right - TWENTY FIVE more pitches than Livan. And she's throwing underhand, too - that's not comfortable at all.
The natural throwing motion is overhand. Try throwing underhand with some heat - you probably couldn't last more than 25 pitches without crying uncle. Even major league pitchers, supposedly some of the best-conditioned athletes in all the world, couldn't do that, the way they're coddled and pampered. Hell, they can barely do it overhand without coming up lame and whining. But this little girl comes along, and with her small little body and weak little arm, does what no male pitcher can do. That's embarrassing. If George Steinbrenner wasn't so busy giving his team the once-over, I'd recommend he step up to the plate and talk to major league teams about this shameful state of events.
Wake up, baseball! You are paying these folks millions of dollars to pitch. Let them do their job. Enough with the spa treatments and the Queer Eye loofahs. Follow Dusty Baker's lead - weed out the wallflowers, heave-ho the candystripers, and get some real men on the mound to pitch to these jacked-up homer jockeys. If it weren't for throw-back throw-heavy gamers like Livan Hernandez, baseball would be in danger of going from pasttime to past tense.