Work Horse

Number 1 and Number 2 in the majors in pitches thrown during each regular season, 2009-2013:
2013 Justin Verlander 3,692, James Shields 3,657
2012 Justin Verlander 3,768, James Shields 3,617
2011 Justin Verlander 3,941, Dan Haren 3,774
2010 Dan Haren 3,749, Justin Verlander 3,745
2009 Justin Verlander 3,937, Felix Hernandez 3,633

Most regular season pitches thrown over the five years combined, 2009 through 2013:
1. Justin Verlander 19,083
2. Felix Hernandez 17,565
3. James Shields 17,529
4. C.C. Sabathia 17,138
5. Tim Lincecum 17,059

The size of the gap in pitches thrown between Verlander and Felix, #1 and #2 on the list above, is about 1,500 pitches. To find that size gap between Felix and a pitcher below him on this list, you would have to go down to #17 on the list.

22 thoughts on “Work Horse

  1. 1
    RJ says:

    It’s funny to see Lincecum ahead of Matt Cain on the second list; Cain’s nickname is ‘The Horse’ after all. Cain comes in 10th over the same timeframe, with around 400 fewer pitches despite more innings pitched. I’m guessing Lincecum’s 200 odd extra strikeouts are a factor.

  2. 2
    Paul E says:

    Verlander is 3rd straight, plain old, OPS over the past five years amongst pitchers who have thrown 800 innings:

    .573 Kershaw
    .624 Felix Hernandez
    .628 Verlander

    It will be interesting to see if he was off his game last year due to the workload or he possibly recovers this year and goes back to a 140 ERA+ pitcher. But, still one of the “strongest” arms (in the Bob Feller kind of sense) over the last 50 years.

  3. 3
    birtelcom says:

    BTW, Verlander has also thrown 1,181 post-season pitches over the 2009-2013 period. Sabathia has thrown 1,367 post-season pitches over that period, and Cliff Lee 1,233. I’m pretty sure no one else is over 1,000 post-season pitches over that period.

    • 18
      Doug says:

      Despite being a workhorse, Cliff Lee was pretty efficient, especially for the post-season, with 15.0 pitches per IP, the same as Andy Pettitte over the same 5 years.

      Sabathia and Verlander are both over 1.5 pitches more per IP, at 16.9 and 16.5 respectively. But, still a good deal more efficient than (for example) C.J. Wilson at 17.9 pitches per IP over 51 post-season IP since 2009.

  4. 4
    Disco says:

    A quick google search did not yield the answer to this: what is the record for most pitches thrown in a season?

    • 5
      RJ says:

      According to the Play Index it’s 4076 by Randy Johnson in 2001 (data only goes back to 2000). Johnson has three of the top four seasons. Johnson, Verlander and Livan Hernandez have eight of the top nine seasons.

      • 6
        Brent says:

        We can guess, however, that Rapid Robert’s 1946 season when he not only pitched a record 371.1 innings, but also walked 153 batters and struck out 348 had to have an incredible numbers of pitches. Also in the mix would be his 1941 season (343 innings, 194 walks, 260 Ks) as well Nolan Ryan’s 1973 and 1974 seasons (326 and 332.2 innings, 162 and 202 walks, 383 and 367 Ks)

        • 8
        • 9
          James Smyth says:

          Using Tango’s Pitch Count Estimator, here are the top ten since 1901 by pitchers with 200 K and 100 BB (all four years you mentioned are here):

          Pitcher Est. Pitches
          Vic Willis 1902 6179.6
          Bob Feller 1946 5951.49
          Bob Feller 1941 5789.9
          Bobo Newsom 1938 5756.28
          Bill Donovan 1901 5719.1
          Nolan Ryan 1974 5679.58
          Christy Mathewson 1903 5634.19
          Pete Alexander 1911 5623.8
          Phil Niekro 1977 5602.49
          Nolan Ryan 1973 5478.3

          Obviously these are just estimates based on a formula, but it gives a ballpark number.

          • 10
            Richard Chester says:

            1904 Jack Chesbro with 1720 BF, 239 SO and 88 BB calculates to 6228 pitches.

    • 7
      Lawrence Azrin says:


      It’s just conjecture, but it’s probably some 19th century super-workhorse, from the days when foul balls didn’t count as strikes, and it took a lot more than four balls for a walk.

      For instance:
      – Will White/1879 (680 IP)
      – Jim McCormick/1880 (657 IP)

      Radbourn and Hecker both have more IP in 1884 than McCormick, but by then only six balls were required for a walk, as opposed to nine in 1879.

      • 22
        Jimbo says:

        Wow, I had never heard of the walk taking more than 4 balls before. I knew that Radbourne season well but had no idea he got 6 balls instead of 4. Always something new to learn.

  5. 11
    robbs says:

    If the Red Sox played the A’s today and it took 9 balls for a walk, would the game get over in 24 hours?

    • 13
      mosc says:

      It would help the pitcher, not the hitter. Drawing a walk would be virtually impossible. It might actually speed up the game since working the walk would be so rare. You’re not really eating more pitches from the pitcher unless you can foul off forever (most can’t). If in the previous system he’d give up a walk and the next guy would come up he’s basically got another 2 strikes to give away.

      You know, a lot of these BA and sacrifice focused guys should actually get together and recommend adding balls before a walk. It would make the actual game of baseball much more like they want it to be.

      • 16
        oneblankspace says:

        Also, back in those days, a foul ball caught on the first bounce was an out.

      • 19
        robbs says:

        Mosc You could be right but they would have to impose a limit a the number of times a batter could step out of the box and the pitcher steps off the rubber. I played ball through pony leagues and can’t recall calling “time out” as pitcher or hitter, though I may have made a quick “sign of the cross” when checking with the 3rd base coach.

        • 20
          Paul E says:

          You couldn’t have made more “sign of the cross’ gestures than Tony Taylor, second baseman of the 60’s and 70’s. He led his league every year…

      • 21

        In NAIA baseball (small colleges), to intentionally walk a batter all you have to do is announce that you are doing so — you don’t have to pitch. If the balls for a walk were increased, that rule change might be a good idea.

  6. 12
    John Autin says:

    Out of curiosity, I did a quick study based on 2008-12 pitch totals and 2013 performance.

    First, I formed two groups:

    Group 1 (high-pitch) — The pitchers who had any single season of 3,400+ pitches in 2008-12. There were 76 such seasons (about 15 per year), by 39 different pitchers.
    — Those seasons averaged 4.63 WAR and 223 IP.

    Group 2 — The pitchers who had both (a) NO season of 3,400+ pitches in 2008-12, and (b) any season worth 4.5 WAR or greater. There were 30 such 4.5-WAR seasons, by 26 different pitchers.
    — Those seasons averaged 5.53 WAR and 205 IP.

    Then I found each group’s composite averages for 2008-12:
    — Group 1 averaged 3.45 WAR/200 IP and 897 IP in 2008-12.
    — Group 2 averaged 3.25 WAR/200 IP and 716 IP in 2008-12.

    Last, I found each group’s averages for 2013:

    — In Group 1, 33 of 39 pitched in 2013. Those 33 averaged 2.29 WAR and 180 IP, or 2.55 WAR/200 IP. (Averaging all 39 by counting zeroes for those who didn’t pitch drops the averages to 1.94 WAR and 153 IP, same 2.55 WAR/200 IP.)

    — In Group 2, 22 of 26 pitched in 2013. Those 22 averaged 1.07 WAR and 115 IP, or 1.87 WAR/200 IP. (Averaging all 26 drops it to 0.91 WAR and 97 IP, same 1.87 WAR/200 IP.)

    Those with at least 3.0 WAR in 2013: 14 from Group 1; 5 from Group 2.

    In Group 1, the 6 of 39 who didn’t pitch in 2013 were Johan Santana, Chris Carpenter, Randy Wolf, Gil Meche, Daniel Hudson and Doug Davis. Of the 33 who did pitch, 26 qualified for the ERA title, and 30 had at least 144 IP; two had about 60 IP (Halladay and Cueto), and Brett Myers had about 20 IP.

    In Group 2, the 4 of 26 who didn’t pitch in 2013 were Javier Vazquez, Kevin Millwood, Brandon Webb and Mike Mussina. Of the 22 who did pitch, only 9 qualified, and 12 had 100+ IP; three had 43-81 IP (J.Johnson, W.Rodriguez and J.Beckett), and seven had less than 40 IP.

    Obviously, there’s a selection bias against Group 2 (no seasons of 3,400 pitches) which depresses their IP for 2008-12. Still, they averaged 80% as many IP as the high-pitch group in 2008-12, and were nearly as effective in that period. But Group 2 fell way off in 2013.

    This is far from a scientific study — small samples, no controls for age or voluntary retirement, etc. But the results certainly don’t support the benefits of carefully managed pitch counts.

    BTW, the guys who recently came up needing TJ surgery haven’t carried heavy pitch loads:
    — Brandon Beachy has about 520 professional IP through age 26, never reaching 150 IP in a year.
    — Kris Medlen has about 750 pro IP through age 27, peaking at about 200 IP and 3,100 pitches last year (counting postseason).
    — Patrick Corbin peaked at 208 IP last year, age 23, but less than 3,100 pitches. His minor-league max was 160 IP.
    — Jarrod Parker had less than 3,000 pitches last year, and maybe 3,100 pitches in 2012 counting minors (age 23).

    Those four combined have just one game over 117 pitches — a 122-pitch shutout by Beachy.

    I wouldn’t ask many pitchers to carry Verlander’s pitch load. But I think we’re a long way from really knowing anything about a connection between pitch counts and injuries.

    • 14
      mosc says:

      Injury prevention has swamped the value proposition. The cost-benefit of inning limits and pitch counts against their proposed savings in injury prevention is off. There’s also a “one size fits all” fallacy with starting pitchers. Different mechanics and body types should be given different limits.

  7. 15
    birtelcom says:

    A starting pitcher’s effectiveness tends to decline significantly each additional time he goes through the batting order in a game. That was true in the 1950s and it’s still true today. Even if one worried not at all about “pitch counts” from an injury point of view, there are good reasons to limit a starter’s innings if you’ve got decent talent in the bullpen.

    • 17
      mosc says:

      That would at it’s logical conclusion give you pitchers targeting about 2IP give or take, more like running a team with nothing but relievers. Most guys who pitch an average of 9 batters a game are good for about half a season’s worth of appearances. Say 81 games, 162 IP. More opportunity, that doesn’t sound too terribly unreasonable. 9 guys like that would give you a season’s worth of innings. A typical pitching staff of 12 (except all long relievers), with your usual minor league fill-ins, would not change the offensive side of baseball much at all to try something like that. Relievers profile with more WAR/IP than starters too which is another indicator that this isn’t such a crazy idea.

      Pitchers like roles, I get it, but hitters also like to know who they’re facing. Walking to the park not knowing which of say 6 or 7 pitchers you’re going to see on that day, in which order, really makes things a mess. It also cuts the offense’s ability to platoon players! Making pitchers uncomfortable by routine change should be measured against how opposing hitters feel with the routine change as well.

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