Pitch Counts, Japanese Pitchers, and Red Sox Pitcher Matsuzaka

Coach Mills on February 27, 2007 | No Comments

Are pitchers today throwing too few pitches in practice in order to improve and reduce the risk of injury? Are pitch counts one of the reasons why pitchers are actually being injured more rather than less? It seems that Japanese pitchers, such as Red Sox Daisuke Matsuzaka, have figured out long ago that throwing 100-150 pitch bullpens actually reduces the risk of injury, and helps build better pitching skills. The idea being that as long as the body is creating momentum then the arm is along for the ride. Therefore, a pitcher must throw a high volume of pitches in order to keep his body fit to deliver his arm.

Throwing too few pitches in practice, which is now the norm for American pitchers, is actually a prescription for more arm injuries and less skilled pitchers. There was an interesting article in Sports Weekly about Bobby Valentine, the former big league manager.

A quote from the article: “Valentine says he spent that morning watching “three of my starting pitchers throw 150 pitches each. At the end,  they were firing and hitting corners. I wanted to kiss them. “He shakes his head.”

That goes against my grain,” he says of watching all those pitches. “It goes against everything I’ve learned in the process of becoming a manager. But they do it here, and I don’t see guys getting hurt. I honestly don’t know why.”

Matsuzaka Throws a Normal 103-Pitch Bullpen

Here’s a quote from Red Sox GM Theo Epstein after Matsuzaka threw his first bullpen yesterday, which was 103 pitches:

“It was impressive,” general manager Theo Epstein said. “The thing that caught my attention the most, he’s in there 80, 90 pitches deep and still going from the stretch, still checking runners, still taking it like a real game situation. Every single pitch had a purpose. You almost wanted to videotape it and show it to our young guys in minor league camp on how to get the most out of your practice.”

I wonder if both Valentine and Epstein might just investigate this Japanese phenomenon further. Interestingly, if each of these baseball men read our book, “The Science and Art of Baseball Pitching: The Coach’s Complete Handbook of Scientific Pitching,” they would fully understand why these high pitch counts are not a problem, and why they should be the norm if we want fewer injuries and more skilled pitchers.

Does anyone believe Dominican high school age pitchers are throwing one or two bullpens a week of 50 pitches?

I would bet that if Valentine was to manage in the big leagues once again, his pitchers would be throwing 50-pitch bullpens, and he would never even think about what they did in Japan. Or, how throwing three times as many pitches allows them to hit corners on demand as well as how that “overloading” of the body keeps pitchers fit to throw complete games with far better skills. Maybe they think the Japanese have some special high volume pitching genes that we don’t have?

If Pitchers Keep Doing What They Have Been Doing How Do They Improve?

If all pitchers at any level practice this year like they did last year, how do they expect a better result? You cannot get large improvement from experience alone.

You can only get more skilled by increasing the volume of pitches thrown in practice. I believe that is the case in all sports. The athlete who practices more will get more rewards. Give me some top minor league pitchers, and I will show you how they will be pitching among the top Major League pitchers very quickly by throwing more volume of pitches more often in practice.

Any American pitcher at the high school or college level can jump levels of pitching ahead of his peers by engaging in the practice that we advocate in our book. I mean really jump ahead of everyone else in pitching. Far ahead. Current Major league pitchers are engaging in practice at pitch volume levels comparable to weekend golfers. In the course of a week, a starting pitcher may throw a 100-pitch game and two 50-pitch bullpens.

That’s 200 pitches every five days. Two hundred pitches are exerting the body for a total of 10 minutes since a pitch takes about three seconds. With running and conditioning, the average Major League pitcher works less in a week than a ditch digger does in an hour. I often read sports writers referring to pitchers having “heavy workloads” because they throw more than 100 pitches during their 34 starts per year. Because of these “heavy workloads,” they fatigue late in the season. This is ludicrous and shows how little sports writers understand about pitching or about athletics in general. Here’s why. A starting pitcher hopefully averages at least 100 pitches per 34 starts.

That’s 3,400 pitches. With two 50-pitch bullpens per week,  that’s another 3,400 pitches or 6,800 pitches total. Each pitch takes three seconds so, for an entire season, a pitcher will exert himself a total of 340 minutes or 5.6 hours total. This is the actual time devoted to pitching from the mound, which is what pitchers get paid to do.

The rest of the time, they are standing and focusing which, of course, can be stressful and fatiguing. But, that is not what sports writers are talking about. Sports writers actually believe that the actual act of pitching a baseball is fatiguing.

Is 10 to 12 minutes a week of work fatiguing? Think about it. Pitchers, like cricket bowlers and tennis players, should be able to do this 12 months a year with their hands tied behind their back. Let me ask any baseball writer: How is that fatiguing? It seems like all baseball coaches, sports writers only believe what they hear from baseball officials. Shouldn’t they be thinking outside the box?

Here’s a Prescription for Pitchers to Get Better Fast

If pitchers want to get better and improve every phase of their skills faster, there is only one way – throw more pitches from the mound in practice.

If every Major League pitcher tripled the amount of practice pitches per week, would that not triple their pitching skills and their experience? Japanese pitchers do it as the norm, and there is no evidence that it produces more injuries. Korean youth pitchers typically throw 200 to 400 pitches per day. Read that again.

That figure came to me directly from the director of youth baseball in Korea, who also happens to be one of our clients. Of course, you have to understand how to do this, and why it works when you do it sensibly. How long will it take before Red Sox officials realize that Matsuzaka is not a freak of nature? Every Red Sox pitcher is capable of tripling their practice pitches right now. Common sense tells us that those pitchers cannot help but get better faster.

But will the light go off in anyone’s mind? Why doesn’t American baseball wake up to this possibility? Why is there not one baseball writer with the curiosity to do some research to find out why this is not only possible but could change the course of baseball faster than any single thing?

Want to see ERA’s drop by a point?

Batting averages drop by 50 points?

Many pitchers winning 20 to 25 games each and every year?

If a very good sharp shooter triples his number of shots per week, how long will it take for him to be among the very best? Not too long. If there is a writer out there who has interest in doing this research, let me put them at ease. It has already been done and is all compiled in our book, “The Science and Art of Baseball Pitching: The Coach’s Complete Handbook of Scientific Pitching,” which comes in at 624 pages, 58 pitching topics, and more than 500 scientific references.

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