Monday, September 15, 2008

138 Pitches... and counting

I have a much larger post that I was going to do after the 132 pitch game but work called so it sat in my inbox. I will finish it one day soon but below is a post I did on El Lefty Malo and then one I did on Extra Baggs, about Lincecum and his growing pitch count; they are modified so that you can understand what I was responding to.

ELM

I had some initial anxiety about his high pitch count, but after reading the after-game comments by Bochy and The Kid, I really think everyone just need to pay attention to what Lincecum is saying about his health, he should be the source people listen to.

He says he's fine, he's still not icing his arm, he was out the next day and throwing hard (again, like usual), what more do people need to hear to understand he's different?

Bochy also noted that he takes less pitches to warm up, so that allows him to take more pitches in-game relative to other starters.

And it's not like he's one of those dumb "take ball, throw hell of ball even though my arm is killing me" type of pitchers.

For one, he knows what's at stake. He turned down high 6 figures from the Indians, holding out for $1M, else he'd be doing his wonderful Timmy-ness for the Indians right now and he, Lee, and CC would be leading the Indians to an AL Central title right now.

Second, he's not looking for a contract like Cain and Lowry, he's going commando and going for arbitration gold and platinum with added bling on top. Think he's going to risk that by pushing his arm outside its comfort zone, just to keep his spot, like Jesse Foppert apparently did? He's already eyeing 2-5 seasons ahead, why would he risk that just to get a complete game shutout in his pocket for 2008? When he has accomplished so much with regards to getting a good salary in arbitration sooner than later.

And, not only will we not know for years whether he will have an injury from this, we won't even know if there is any connection between the 138 pitches and any future arm problems. It could be his throwing so much every day for so many years. It could be it was just the time for it to break, age, not usage, could be the trigger. It could be genetic and randomly broke when something else happened.

We don't know, we won't ever know.

And as much as I want to do a celebratory dance over a Giants World Series championship (like the French did over their victory) as much as any other Giants fan, it's not about you or me, it's about Lincecum and what he wants to accomplish in his career, in his season.

Like Bochy noted, it's like being a parent, you are not comfortable letting them do things you would rather not let them do, but at some point you have to let go and trust in them that they will do the right thing. If he wants to accomplish this and he seems capable of doing it (he was still firing in mid-90's fastballs at that point) and, more importantly, been honest previously in saying when he was fine and when he was gassed, which Bochy says he has been, then why not let him take his steps without you (and pray he doesn't fall)?

Ultimately, this can be very insulting to Lincecum. Here are these outside people, albeit Giants fans, who think they know my body better than I do, think they know better about my welfare than I do, think I'm an idiot who is throwing just for the hell of doing it, think I'm not smart enough or mature enough to think about my future, think I don't want to do the fun French celebratory dance with them.

Extra Baggs

Baggarly commented on how Bochy could go that far with the pitch count when managers have stopped going that far over the the past 5-10 years (only Livan and Jason Schmidt had pitch counts that high in recent years).

This reminds me of a joke:

1: What’s that gun you have?
2: It’s an elephant gun.
1: Elephant gun? There isn’t an elephant for hundreds of miles!
2: See! It’s working!

The lack of starting pitchers throwing a lot of pitches is totally a sign that managers are CYA’ing because there is no concrete proof that, say, throwing over 130 pitches in a game will absolutely cause a player to perform poorly or become injured. It has been all theory for the most part, theory that didn’t stand up to muster in Bill James’s opinion.

Just like managers used to not favor high OBP hitters previously, that didn’t mean that there was no value to them, just that it wasn’t recognized. Just like managers used to sacrifice all the time with their best hitters or try to steal just to steal, that didn’t mean that those were the right things to do either. And they did both for many years, without evidence that they were the right thing to do, they just had a theory, which sabermetrics helped proved to be wrong.

Every player is an individual. I’m satisfied that the Giants management are monitoring Lincecum. Sometimes you do the right thing and a bad result happens or a the wrong thing and a good result happens. Doesn’t change the situation for me, I think the Giants are doing OK by Lincecum, if his arm isn’t hurting enough to ice, which is something almost every other major league starting pitcher has to do (and I think Oswalt has stopped doing that, he has started icing his arm now) then I don’t think his arm is getting that stressed by the game. So even if something happens to him, I think it was just meant to be, not because of poor management.

And particularly since he himself is observant enough - and frank enough - to talk about when exactly his arm does feel fatigued. How many players talk about when they are weak or vulnerable in any way, like none?

Believe it or not, sometimes it is not about the team or about you, the fan, it is about the player. Lincecum has a lot of pride and he wanted both a complete game and a shutout. Fortunately he was able to get both of the them out of the way in the same game. And it is something like getting both a shutout and a complete game that will catch the eyes of Cy Young voters, they are still in the 20th Century in that regard, though improving.

It would also help that he gets 20 wins, but the complete game and shutout was there in his grasp and he was not tiring, whereas 20 wins would be dependent on winning three more games, particularly against a Colorado team that appears to own him and particularly because the rotation would have to be adjusted to give him another start. If he was not tiring, I think adding another game to his season vs. that one additional inning, would be more harmful.

And if the Giants decide to shut him down a bit going forward, voters would be understanding of that, I think, now and would have that shutout to keep his Cy Young hopes alive and well. Plus, when you get down to it, it is still a macho type of thing to do and I think voters can respect that, whereas squeezing in another start to get him 20 would appear more manipulative and less seemly.

Giants Thoughts: In Timmy We Trust

As I noted, got a much larger post coming soon, but while I can sympathize with the worry over Lincecum throwing 138 pitches in a game, I think we have to trust in The Kid. It's his life, his accomplishments, his career, his life.

He knows what's at stake long term, he has been self-aware of himself and how others consider him to be odd for a long time, and he's been not only OK with it, but able to be himself in spite of the peer pressure to conform. Most of us don't have the self-confidence period, let alone when you are 24 years old (and younger, he's been battling this for years now), to not do what others are telling you to do?

I understand that there are those baseball players who throw out their arms all in the glory that is baseball, but Tim Lincecum is not one of them. He knows what he is capable of doing and at some point people should stop doubting him if he says his arm does not hurt, if he says he is OK. He's not happy just to be a major leaguer, he clearly has career aspirations that goes beyond just being a major league pitcher, and he won't be able to accomplish them if he is stupid with his arm and pitch when he's straining or tiring or hurting. Either you trust him or you don't.

And not to be so blunt with this, but he's looking for his share of the MLB golden goose, fair and square. He doesn't need Boras to bully owners and/or cut ethical corners to get his money, but he's not going to just be happy here either, he wants what he has earned, nothing more, nothing less, and he is willing to work hard to earn that. That's true American values right there, something to be admired.

I will end with a quote from Henry David Thoreau, which was given to me by my 12th grade English Teacher, Mrs. Holland (she got me):
If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he
hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however
measured or far away.

11 comments:

  1. Martin, I have been reading you for a long time and this is the is not just your usual good it is GREAT! Thank you for saying so much better then I what I have been trying to say for so long.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks, giantsrainman, I appreciate that!

    For a rebuttal of sorts, Baseball Prospectus has posted this free ditty on their Unfiltered Blog: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/unfiltered/?p=1016

    Of course, they had to respond in this way, they are the major proponent of the PAP pablum that many saber-wannabes lap up eagerly without thinking through everything. They note the risk and call the Giants "utterly, completely, and colossally reckless, stupid, arrogant, and just plain lazy." No, really, don't hold back, tell me how you really feel. Wait, here they go: "Clearly, they’re not up to the task."

    They also add: "People I respect have told me “Lincecum’s just different.” Perhaps. But the truth of the matter is that you don’t know that. No one can tell me they know, with any reasonable degree of certainty, that Lincecum can stand up to mindless, pointless abuse better than anyone else. He might be less capable of doing so. We just don’t know."

    Risk is all relative. There was the risk of selecting Lincecum with a high draft pick. Many experts thought he would fall into the middle of the first round, most thought the Giants were all about the stud physique pitchers had had them pegged to select Daniel Bard, who is finally starting to show something for the Red Sox, by the way.

    There was the risk of bringing Lincecum up so fast that heads where spinning. Why rush him up so fast, jumping from college to Advanced A to AAA to majors in less than a year? The Giants risk him losing his confidence rising so fast. Funny thing, the Giants were previously accused of being slow and deliberate with their prospects, with these observers never thinking about how, just maybe, those prospects weren't good enough to move up fast.

    Now there is this risk. And again, there is no way they can ever tie that to his 138th pitch or his 137th pitch or his 136th pitch or so on.

    Correlation is not causation, it is all just their theory and all their high-and-mighty haughtiness and certitude of opinion and name calling will not ever prove them to be correct, though it might win them new subscribers and perhaps convince another major league team to use them as consultants (they are a business after all, as I'm reminded by all the BP signs on their website that shows what is only available to subscribers).

    They call this "mindless abuse". Anyone reading Baggarly's account of the situation can see that there has been plenty of thought involved in the decision. So I will turn their words onto BP themselves: "But the truth of the matter is that BP don’t know any of what they just wrote. No one can tell me they know, with any reasonable degree of certainty, that Lincecum cannot stand up to this better than anyone else. He might be more capable of doing so. We just don’t know."

    Actually, while we don't know, I think Lincecum should know. Because he's not experiencing any pain to the degree that not only is he not icing his arm down, he's going out the next day and long-throwing from foul-pole to foul-pole (at least that is the routine I've heard that he does). Even healthy major league pitchers who have thrown for 20 years can't even do that, even the Rocket and Nolan Ryan iced their arms.

    Who is BP to tell Lincecum that he's "utterly, completely, and colossally reckless, stupid, and arrogant"? Because by calling the Giants that, they are calling Tim that because he made the call on this too, as much as Bochy. Who are they to tell Lincecum that winning the Cy Young this season isn't a big deal to him and of little value?

    Since there is no proof that 138 pitches causes Lincecum any more risk to a catastrophic injury than 110 pitches, here are some stats we do know: that most accidents happen in the home and that car accidents often happen within 5 miles of home. Should the Giants have lovely hand-maidens guide him around the home and lovingly wash his body so that he doesn't accidently hurt himself in the bathroom? A professional driver drive him around town in a military grade Hummer that can withstand the worse accidents? Where do we draw the line on risks? Particularly since there is no proof that 138 is that much worse than 130 or would cause anything other than the abstract, generic, "Well, duh, of course more pitches thrown is worse."

    This also reflects what I feel is part of the anti-Giants bias that I've noticed at BP over the years. The funny thing is that the Giants has built up this team entirely from within, trades has not affected it at all, whereas the A's has not been able to do anything close with their farm system, most of their top prospects are the result of the numerous trades they have made over the past year or so, because they had let their farm system deteriorate over the years, something few care to point out. Yet the A's are lauded right now for what they have done, and the Giants have not.

    Meanwhile the Giants have been excoriated endlessly for their lack of position player development and yet I would say that the Giants look in much better shape right now overall team-wise than the A's do in terms of development for the future using their internally developed prospects vs. the A's mix of prospects from all over.

    Don't know if anyone has noticed but after the A's dumped off vets like Harden and Blanton (they blew it by not dealing Street, who lost a ton of value when he lost his closer job), they have been losing a lot of games, unlike the Giants, who have been improving with each new prospect they add to their roster. They are actually only one game over the Giants now and look to finish with a better draft pick than the Giants, after starting off the season gangbusters and eating up the accolades for how smart Beane was in trading Swisher and Haren.

    The Giants meanwhile (I was going to post this in a post, but oh well) are now all the way "back" in a tie for 9th with the Reds, and could fall past the A's and Tigers, plus maybe the Indians, Rangers, and D-backs, into the middle of the first round, after flirting with getting a Top 5 pick not so long ago.

    They could actually finish 2nd in the NL West by sweeping the D-backs and playing well the rest of the way against the 'DoRocks and D-gers. Which is possible, they are on an 8-2 streak, and been over .500 since Sandoval and Ishikawa joined the team.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I couldn't disagree more with the sentiment that it's OK to let Lincecum pitch this much in meaningless games.

    As I pointed on ELM's site and as he also pointed out, athletes are usually the poorest source of judgement with regards to their health. Yes, they want to compete and all that......yeah, yeah, yeah. I understand all of that. However, none of that is worth the potential risk of damaging the most valuable arm that we have as a TEAM. It's a TEAM thing, not a personal thing. The end does not justify the means here.

    I just don't see the upside of allowing Lincecum to do this at the end of a meaningless season in bac-to-back starts. The CY Young award means nothing in the big picture, and the big picture is what management should be worried about. The total lack of an idea of how to properly handle these players is puzzling to me. It shouldn't be that difficult. If we were in a pennant race....well maybe you've got an argument. But for a sub .500 team allowing the player to determine the aount of risk to take on is inexcusable.

    ReplyDelete
  4. What's inexcusable is people thinking they know Lincecum's body better than he does.

    IF HIS BODY IS TELLING HIM THAT HIS ARM DOES NOT HURT LIKE OTHERS AND DON'T NEED ICING, WHERE IS THE ARM DAMAGE YOU ARE SO WORRIED ABOUT?

    I can see all of your and other's arguments for any other starter on any other team. BUT LINCECUM'S ARM DOESN'T NEED ICING. He long throws THE NEXT DAY.

    He has shown that his body is capable of handling a large load plus, more importantly, has shown that he understands his body and can be honest about it, he tells Bochy when he's gassed and need to get out. He knows when he is more stressed (by high count innings, not game).

    Every other pitcher pitches with pain, knowing that some day something might snap and his career could be over. He does not pitch with pain that requires icing. If his arm is not that bothered by his throwing, then why is there fear over damage to his arm? Where is the risk?

    In addition, he saves 5-10 pitches every start because he does not need as many pitches to get warmed up. So whatever his average pitch count is, you can reduce it by 5-10 pitches to equalize it with other pitchers.

    And people focus too much on one game. I think there is more risk in giving him another start than finishing the game, personally. I think a season long drain on the arm can be more harmful than any single game you look at. That, if anything, should be the focus of people's concern. But I don't think one game is going to make that big a difference for him when he's capable of long throwing the next day.

    If all you care about is team and upside, then why not shut him down when he reached his IP for last season? Why stretch him out for meaningless games in September? Heck, why not shut him down around mid-season when it was clear the Giants were not going to ever compete? Why risk his arm breaking down at any point for such a meaningless season?

    Just shut everybody important down by the trade deadline, bring up AAA players to finish the season for them. Why risk getting them hurt over a meaningless season, plus with AAA players playing, you lose more and get a much better draft selection. Just tank the season and get the #1 pick and keep everyone safe and healthy.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Martin,

    You are a voice of sanity in a land of "group stupid mind think". The pitch count thing as a reliable index of forthcoming injury is massively overblown.

    ReplyDelete
  6. You are just talking garbage now, Martin. I never espoused shutting him down early. Portraying that is what I was saying is just disengenuous on your part.

    If you can't see that there is no upside into exercising some discretion for your most valuable asset, then that's your issue. I am just one of many that so not agree with you on this point.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Let's do clichés first. Martin's rebuttals to opposing views are almost entirely composed of strawmen, and the post on the 138 pitch game is almost entirely beside the point -- a red herring.

    OK? Now the real argument.

    First of all, I doubt anybody is advocating rote pitch count strategy. But only the stupid entirely discount workload, especially in young pitchers, as a factor in long term success. And that's the point most people made: The Giants' interest in Lincecum is long term. They shouldn't use him in a short-term, low-reward-high-risk manner. Toss Cain in: The two have thrown more pitches than almost anybody else. The 138 pitch game was an *illustration* of the problem, not *the* problem.

    Moreover, it looks like that 138 pitch game was mainly a reaction to criticism (mainly from Barbieri and Jenkins).

    The pitch count argument is in part based on strong indications that the Giants organization consistently puts PR above baseball. Anybody who has watched the team since 2002 knows that's a supportable point of view. People try to forget the words "Barry Bonds," (greatest living baseball player not named Willie Mays), but if you look at lame-ass teams they bottom-of-the-barrelled around him after the crash of '02, you know the organization's eye was not on the ball, only the bottom line. And the Cain-Lincecum workload is consistent with that Larry Baer, American Businessman philosophy: Live for today, let tomorrow take care of itself.

    As for Lincecum's knowledge of himself and his body: Yes, according to the multiply-mediated versions of Lincecum most of us have access to, he seems like a special and self-aware guy who may also be physically anomalous. (The media image reminds me of Zito's early PR persona.) Despite handedness, as a pitcher he reminds me of Koufax (Koufax's stride was extreme), not just for the skill but also the sense of authentic personality that bleeds through the media's attempt to define him. (I am not going to argue that because Koufax's arm blew up, Lincecum's will.)

    He may well know his body in precise detail. Let's say so. He still can't predict the future any more than any 24 year old, or anybody else, can. He feels good, he sticks to his routine. Is it possible to extrapolate exquisite long term iron horse status from that? Can you seriously believe that he actually knows, as opposed to what he believes or wants to believe, the effect the heaviest workload in the league will have on his long-term wellbeing?

    He doesn't know any more than you do. He should have a decade or more to find out. I love workhorses, especially superbly skilled ones. But in a lost season at the dawn of Lincecum's career, there is absolutely no point in pushing him up against and beyond limits that objectively and indisputably correlate with pitchers breaking down. The point is, there's time for him to realize greatness in all dimensions, including innings pitched. Being too careful with him now to maximize his chances of thriving for a decade or more is in the Giants' best interest.

    ReplyDelete
  8. The pitch count argument is in part based on strong indications that the Giants organization consistently puts PR above baseball.

    Ladies and gentleman of the jury, I present to you the Barry Zito contract.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Ladies and gentleman of the jury, I present to you the Barry Zito contract.

    Can we call it exhibit Z!?

    ReplyDelete
  10. Hilarie: Who is making straw arguments now? "the Larry Baer American Businessman philosophy" give me a break. That is as cliche as it gets pal.
    In addition, did we not have the best record in baseball in 2003? is that an example of focusing on the "bottom line"?
    You accuse martin of writing a straw man argument only to make an even more ridiculous one yourself. "anyone who watched this team since 2002" really? Anyone? Or anyone that agrees with your jaded point of view?
    Martin's counter argument to boof was not hey you are arguing for them to shut him down early. Martin's question, which neither of you have answered, is where do you propose we they draw the line? Is it some magical place that you deem to be the line in the sand from your couch at home? What constitutes a long-term strategy for you? I do not see how anything other than a rote pitch count achieves this goal.
    You and Boof and people like you over at MCC are so quick to jump all over Bochy and Martin for arguing against your groupthink yet you have yet to come up with any sort of specific resolution. Was it start 23 that he should have been taken out in inning 7? Or was it start 15 in the 6th? What is the prescription?
    Your arrogance on this topic is laughable.

    ReplyDelete
  11. ...where do you propose we they draw the line? Is it some magical place that you deem to be the line in the sand from your couch at home? What constitutes a long-term strategy for you?

    Um, maybe not sending Tim out to throw 138 pitches in a meaningless late season game in which the team has a 7-0 lead.

    ReplyDelete

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