Historically High Pitch Counts

I’m surprised that one of his 5-inning starts didn’t make the list.

If you haven’t checked out Keith Law’s post about the BC-Texas game, you should. Law puts everything into perspective, as he usually does, and explains why it is actually a terminating offense to have overused those pitchers. I’m not sure it’s quite that bad, but those two coaches should be held accountable and should not do that ever again. Anyway, didn’t Scot Shields throw 200+ pitches in a college game?

Regardless, I wanted to figure out who had thrown the most pitches in a game, and here’s what I found since 1954.

– Steve Williams outpitched Warren Spahn in an extra-inning affair on May 17, 1961. Williams went all 11 innings, and threw 207 pitches. Spahn went 10.1 while only throwing 148. The difference? Williams walked 12 and struck out 11 while Spahn walked 4 and struck out 7. Williams would pitch for 12 more seasons.

– Four months later on September 20, 1961, fellow Dodger Sandy Koufax threw 205 pitches in a 13-inning affair. He struck out 15 while only walking 3 and giving up 2 runs while also getting the win. Dick Ellsworth pansied out after 8 innings and 100 pitches.

– On May 2, 1957, Herm Wehmeier threw 203 pitches in a 3-2 over the Dodgers. Wehmeier pitched 12 innings, but the game lasted another 4 and he came out. Before he did, he gave up two runs and struck out 12 while walking four. Johnny Podres only threw 92 in a seven-inning effort.

– Sandy Koufax finds himself back on the list with a 13-inning start against the Cubs and, you guessed it, Dick Ellsworth on May 28, 1960. Koufax threw 193 pitches while striking out 15 and walking 9, but when he tried to go out for the 14th, he walked the first two batters and was relieved. Four batters later, the Cubs won. Ellsworth still only went 8 innings, but he threw 125 pitches this time.

– To round out the top 5, Robin Roberts went all 12 in a April 16, 1957 game. He gave up 7 runs and the game in those 12 while striking out 8, walking 4, and giving up 12 hits. Don Newcombe opposed him, going 7 and throwing 109 pitches.

A few other notes:

– The Dodgers of the 1950’s and 1960’s were masochists. 8 of the top 25 belong to either Stan Williams (1), Don Drysdale (4), and Sandy Koufax (4). Drysdale had a rough May of 1959, throwing 175 and 173 in separate games. A year later and in the same month, Koufax did the same, throwing 175 and 193.

– Of the top 25, 19 fall in the years between 1955 and 1965. The 1970’s-1990’s populate the 25-50 group.

– Tim Wakefield occupies two spots in the top 25 with appearances in 1993 with 172 pitches and 1997 with 169. It’s not too surprising that he’s up here given that he’s a knuckleballer, but I still find it weird that he pitched for the Pittsburgh Pirates. I know he did, but it doesn’t feel right.

– No game in the 2000’s even makes the top 140. In fact, Livan Hernandez’s 150 pitch performance on June 3, 2005 against the Florida Marlins is the most recent such performance in the top 150. Ron Villone also threw 150 five years before that.

– It’s actually kind of odd. If you look through the list, the 1950’s, 1960’s, 1980’s, and 1990’s come up pretty frequently, but the 1970’s only come up 12 times in the top 200 performances. Any ideas on that anomaly?

– The shortest outing to get on the list? Nolan Ryan’s September 7, 1989 appearance. He threw 150 pitches in 6.1 innings. Surprisingly, he only struck out 10 and walked 4 while giving up 9 hits and 7 runs.

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3 Responses to “Historically High Pitch Counts”

  1. Ron Rollins Says:

    They’ve proven way too many times thaat one game doesn’t mean anything, whether it’s 80 pitchers or 200 pitches.

    It’s contiued abuse that matters, no one specific game.

    Keith Law doesn’t know what he’s talking about (and that is editing my prevous comment more than I ever thought I would), and anyone listening to him rant about the pitch count in one game deserves the same condemnation. When he can prove something, I’ll listen to him.

  2. Dan Says:

    Mark,

    The 70's phenomenon is an artifact of the data used at baseball-reference. Just picking through some of Nolan Ryan's game logs at random, I noticed none of the his games have pitch counts until the 80s. The pitch counts come back in 1988 for a couple of the teams I checked.
    For fun, look at the line on Ryan in this game and tell me he didn't throw 150:

    http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/CAL/CAL197406140.shtml

    The Tango pitch count estimator puts his outing at 241 pitches I think.

    I can't see your whole list because I'm a cheapskate, but it seems like all your 50's and 60's games are National League games, which seems like more than a coincidence.

    So were the Dodgers masochists? Maybe. You aren't the first to level that charge at Walter Alston. But maybe they were just maniacal about keeping pitch logs that later found their way onto retrosheet or baseball-reference 🙂

    Keep up the good work!

  3. tHeMARksMiTh Says:

    Ron,

    It's not that the one game would affect the next game. It's that that many pitches could have put him at risk for an injury. Yes, any pitch puts him at risk, but an increased amount of 90 mph fastballs thrown from an unnatural angle would seem to put too much stress on an arm. AS I said, I think Law went a little too far calling for the coaches' dismissals, but I don't think you should use pitchers like that.

    Dan,

    Thanks for the comment.

    I looked at that game, and I think he definitely threw around 250. I wonder why that is that BR doesn't have pitch counts for those games. Puzzling.

    Anyway, the masochist thing was just a joke, but like you said, it's not a new development that Koufax and Drysdale were abused.

    Thanks for the kind words, and I'll try my best.

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