by Jon Wilt
In general, I think people who are critical of pitch counts are looking for simple answers to complicated problems. And they overlook that injuries in the past were probably at least as prevalent as today but were less publicized. They see high innings/pitch totals in the past and that injuries haven't gone away with the introduction of limits and want badly for this to mean that wussified pitch counts are useless.
But the core problem is that the game isn't the same. It's possible to get back to a situation where pitchers throw 8 or 9 innings a start and 300+ innings in a season. But you need some fundamental changes in the game, some far easier to accomplish than others:
1) Biggest key is to force starters to pace. Max-effort for 5-6 innings is the biggest difference between today and 1970. You could make a rule that (barring injury) the starter has to record 21 outs. Maybe with an exception once he's allowed, say, five runs. That would force most starters to throw at less than max effort.
2) You could help things by lowering the quality of play. If you expanded to 60 or 80 MLB teams you'd see the reintroduction of defense-only players as MLB regulars (as was common 40+ years ago), and ease the load on starters.
3) You could eliminate the DH. It's easier to go deep into the game when 1/9th of the batters you face are, more-or-less, me.
4) You could place limits on the number of relievers you're allowed in a game. Say, 2 or 3, with exceptions for extra innings. That would eliminate or drastically reduce short-stint specialized relievers and would probably cause starters to pitch a bit more.
5) You could deaden the baseball to bring back 1960s levels of offense. Remember, nobody pitched 40+ starts and 300+ innings in the 1930 when offense was high, even with no pitch counts and an attitude that leaving a game before it was done meant you were a 12-year-old girl.
6) You could set up a salary and bonus structure that heavily incentivized keeping pitchers healthy. Again, set up the game to reward pitching at less than 100% effort.
7) This obviously won't happen, but you could just throw every young starter 40 times a year and 8-9 innings a start, and that quickly weeds out who can't handle that kind of workload (and in modern baseball that'll mean 70, 80, 90% of starters). That was the old method. But you would identify a handful of Seavers and Livan Hernandezes who could throw more than anyone is allowed to today.
Some of this is unrealistic, some would only work in conjunction with other reforms. But it's all tied to rewinding the clock and stuffing a bunch of stuff back in Pandora's box. You have to get over the fact that all pitchers are more effective in short stints going max effort. You have to get beyond $millions tied up in pitcher's arms, driving teams to be risk-averse, often very justifiably. Pitchers don't get hurt because they throw too little. They get hurt because they're throwing more intensely per-pitch and per-inning than ever before and they still have strong pressures to go as long as they can into a game. Managers tell all their starters to throw as hard as they can for as long as they can and we'll pull you when you start to fail. It's like running a car race where you go at redline until smoke starts coming out from under the hood, then wonder why your car was no good.
If you can somehow force pitchers to go at 80% effort for most of the game they'll go back to pitching 300+ innings. And injuries will go down. But that's terribly difficult to do. You can't unlearn that 100% effort is more effective. And you have to have a league-wide fix because one team with starters who pace themselves (absent other reforms like dead baseballs) will be one team with an ERA of 6.75.
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