Tackling the unusual use of pitch counts

I’m becoming more and more like Bert Blyleven every day.

Well, that’s not necessarily true. But one of the many things that Blyleven likes to harp on during Fox Sports North broadcasts of the Minnesota Twins is the use – or misuse – of pitch counts.

What got me thinking about the subject was something I saw John Millea of the MSHSL write on his Twitter feed. He mentioned how a player tossed 126 pitches during a championship game Wednesday at the Minnesota state baseball tournament. The player said his career high for pitches is 178 during an American Legion game.

This isn’t the first time such numbers have been thrown around. I know I’ve read before about high school kids throwing more than 200 pitches in extra-inning games.

And all of this just doesn’t make a lot of sense. Major leaguers – adults – throw 100 pitches, and that’s referred to as working deep into a game. But it’s not that unusual for high schoolers to eclipse that mark.

I don’t know what’s right or what’s wrong. That just seems to make no sense. Are young developing arms being overused, or are big leaguers not being worked enough?

One thing is for sure: Every individual is different. That, according to this post on ESPN’s SweetSpot blog, is the reason Gil Hodges started paying attention to pitch counts during his managerial days about a half-decade ago. But now every major league pitcher seems to be painted with this broad brush of 100 pitches being near the limit.

Anyone know of any studies done on young adults or adults as to whether or not pitch counts are any useful in terms of preserving a player’s health?

Blyleven to get No. 28 retired, but why the wait?

Found out late tonight that the Minnesota Twins will retire Bert Blyleven‘s No. 28 during a ceremony this season at Target Field. Blyleven, after 14 years of waiting, finally got elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame earlier this month.

It makes me wonder why the Twins decided to wait for Hall of Fame induction before retiring his number. To my knowledge, there’s been no policy implemented recently regarding a player’s Hall of Fame status being a requirement for his number being retired. I know the Boston Red Sox have rules like that. Kent Hrbek, of course, has his number retired by the team and isn’t in the Hall, but maybe there’s been a change since that decision.

I think it’s an honor Blyleven definitely deserves. It’s a lifetime achievement award as much as anything. He had two different stints with the team, which were both pretty successful. He’s going to the Hall of Fame. He’s been a popular announcer for many years. It’s a good call.

Blyleven finally makes the Hall of Fame

It took quite a long time – 14 years to be exact – but Bert Blyleven is in the Hall of Fame.

Bert Blyleven

Circle me, Cooperstown! Associated Press photo

Blyleven crossed the 75 percent threshold during Wednesday’s 2011 vote and will join Roberto Alomar at this summer’s induction ceremonies in Cooperstown, N.Y.

At some point, it does become difficult to ignore Blyleven’s career accomplishments. Top 5 all-time in strikeouts. Top 10 all-time in shutouts. Two World Series titles. Impressive career ERA. All of 287 victories. He didn’t have the peak years – back-to-back Cy Young Awards or anything like that – but still, the career numbers are impressive.

I blogged last year about who I would vote for if I had a ballot. Unfortunately, I didn’t and still don’t, so this blog was my imaginary ballot. I failed to do that this year, but my ballot would have been the same except for Andre Dawson, who was already voted in last year.

I was pleased to see Barry Larkin make a 11 percent jump to 62 percent. He seems a sure lock to get elected in the next few years. Also, Tim Raines jumped 7 percent this year to 37 percent of the vote. I feel he’ll go the route of Blyleven and slowly work his way in. Edgar Martinez saw a 4 percent drop to 32 percent. I think his numbers are incredible and worthy of induction, but I don’t believe he’ll get elected. Too many people have doubts about his candidacy becomes he was a full-time DH and spent a lot of time injured, not to mention the fact that he didn’t really take off at the big league level until he was 27.

Early returns favor Blyleven

One of my favorite December and January blog activities last year was checking out Baseball Think Factory’s website and its “Hall of Fame Ballot Gathering Machine.”

Bert Blyleven

Is this the year that Bert Blyleven gets circled by the Hall of Fame? Associated Press photo

The website takes the ballots posted online by writers that vote for the Baseball Hall of Fame and combines them to figure out percentages and see who is on pace to get elected this year and who will get snubbed.

I learned last year that you can’t take too much from it. Early returns had Roberto Alomar getting in and he surprisingly didn’t. But in the case of former Minnesota Twins pitcher Bert Blyleven, the returns weren’t far off from the final tally.

This time around, Blyleven has enough votes so far among those voters who has made their picks public, sneaking past the 75 percent threshold needed for induction. According to these returns, Blyleven and Alomar would make it in, with Barry Larkin coming up just short. But I do emphasize that it is extremely early with just 71 ballots in so far.

Blyleven got 74 percent of the vote last year. Nobody has ever gotten that close without eventually getting elected.

It’s interesting how with some of these players, I feel like I become bigger fans of them after they retire than when they played. Tim Raines and Edgar Martinez are examples of that. I’m convinced Raines will one day get in, that his numbers show he was likely one of the five greatest leadoff hitters in baseball history if not one of the three best. And Martinez does well with modern-day numbers like OPS, though his inability to stay healthy and lack of time spent doing anything other than DH-ing hurts him. He probably never will get in.

But I think Raines will. He got only 30 percent of the vote last year. But I’ve noticed a lot of the voters on MLB Network have given him the nod this year, and the early returns have him at 52 percent. So things are looking up for him.

One other link worth checking out is the ZiPS projects for the 2011 Minnesota Twins. Some interesting projections:

  • Japanese import second baseman Tsuyoshi Nishioka is picked to hit .281 and steal 38 bases. Twins would probably take that. He’s also picked to get caught stealing 17 times though.
  • Closer Joe Nathan, who missed all of last season after Tommy John surgery, is projected to post an ERA of 3.00 for 2011.

Legends of the fall play one more game

Bert Blyleven throwing batting practice. Gary Gaetti hitting a line drive off pitcher Juan Berenguer and over the head of Dan Gladden. Kent Hrbek tumbling and creating a huge divot in foul territory.

Nothing breaks the tension of pennant races like an old-timers game.

I attended Sunday’s Twins-Rangers game, but as wild as the finish was, nothing was more thrilling than seeing the players I watched growing up take the field one more time.

The three-inning Legends Game was part of the team’s 50th anniversary weekend that saw one of my favorite players as a kid – Greg Gagne – get inducted into the Twins Hall of Fame.

There were just as many punchlines among my friends as there were base hits. “I wonder if Blyleven is on a pitch count” or “Does Blyleven know stats from this game won’t count toward his Hall of Fame candidacy?”

Watching the guys take batting practice before the exhibition game was fun too. The first pitcher to throw was Blyleven, and when Hrbek stepped into the cage, he squared to bunt the first pitch. Later on, he lofted a home run into the seats of the overhang in right field.

And when the game started, nothing could beat Hrbek falling down – and hopefully not hurting himself – chasing a pop fly in foul territory near first base. Hrbek fell as he approached the ball, tearing up a Hrbek-sized chunk of the sod as one of his knees gave out from under him. Hrbek pointed at, surprising even himself.

It was nice to see Brad Radke pitching, and it was nice to see Corey Koskie at least healthy enough to participate in a three-inning game like this after seeing his career end due to a concussion.

I hope it’s an annual event.

And for a few Labor Day links:

A gut-wrenching good day for Blyleven

Though he came up five votes short of induction, former Minnesota Twins pitcher Bert Blyleven made a huge stride Wednesday toward reaching the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Blyleven finished at 74.2 percent of the votes, with 75 percent needed for induction.

The highest percentage any player has ever gotten without eventually reaching the Hall of Fame is 62 percent by Gil Hodges in 1983. This was a big push for Blyleven, who gained little ground in 2009 voting when compared to the year before that.

Basically, Blyleven is a lock for 2011, when Jeff Bagwell and Rafael Palmeiro headline the first-ballot crop. Or in 2012, when Bernie Williams is the best of the new group. He’ll get there eventually, along with second baseman Roberto Alomar, who inexplicably came up eight votes shy of induction this year.

The reason Alomar has to wait a year is because of ridiculous logic such as this take. Even though I think he’s a Hall of Famer, he’s not first-ballot worthy? That’s your rationale?

ESPN’s John Kruk has a good take on it. He seems befuddled.

Can’t write this without mentioning that Andre Dawson did make it. He’s very deserving. I don’t think a poor on-base percentage alone should keep a guy out of the Hall when he basically did everything else well. Eight Gold Gloves. Over 400 homers. Over 300 steals. NL MVP in 1987. Former NL Rookie of the Year. My guess is he’ll be sporting that since-disappeared Montreal Expos cap on his plaque.

Very good to see Dawson’s former Expos teammate Tim Raines made up some ground too. I made a case for him on my phantom ballot. I think Raines will go the route of Blyleven, where voters will realize 10 years from now they’ve made a horrible mistake with him. So see you in 2020, Raines!

I really thought Mark McGwire, who I wouldn’t vote for, would gain ground this year. Seemed like I was finding a lot of writers had changed their minds on him. Like I said in my comments section, when McGwire is ready to talk about the past, I would be ready to revisit his past. Until then, I would never vote for him.

A few more Blyleven links:

ESPN’s Jim Caple. The Star Tribune’s La Velle E. Neal. Minnpost’s Steve Aschburner.

TWINS SIGN CONDREY AND DITCH KEPPEL

The Minnesota Twins picked up relief pitcher Clay Condrey on Wednesday, while fellow reliever Bobby Keppel will pitch in Japan in 2010.

Not a real earth-shaker here. Condrey is 34 years old and coming off the best season of his career though, posting a 3.00 ERA in 45 games and a solid WHIP (big stat for relievers – walks and hits per innings pitched). His career WHIP is much higher. He’s a contact pitcher who was among the big league leaders in ground ball rate for relievers.

Condrey will compete in a bullpen that already boasts Joe Nathan, Matt Guerrier, Jon Rauch and Jose Mijares. They’re also expecting to have Pat Neshek back from multiple surgeries on his arm. Should be plenty of depth in this area.

In Keppel, the Twins lose a guy that they won’t miss much. The 27-year-old posted a 4.83 ERA in 37 games with a 1.56 WHIP.

He heads to Japan with his only major league victory coming in that thrilling one-game playoff, which still bring a smile to yours truly’s face every time he thinks of that game.

WASHBURN UPDATE

The Star Tribune’s La Velle E. Neal also says that there’s no indication that the Twins offered a contract to veteran free-agent pitcher Jarrod Washburn. That was reported by CBSsports.com on Monday.

Twins fans should breathe a sigh of relief after reading that. As Neal puts it, one team official said that he/she wasn’t sure if Brian Duensing wasn’t better than Washburn anyway. And considering how high the Twins payroll has gotten, I can’t believe they’d throw money at another starter right now. It’s simply not worth it.

The Twins must re-sign Joe Mauer, and they must find a better infield option to keep Brendan Harris out of the everyday lineup. At least Nick Punto, who provides no offense, has a great glove. Harris doesn’t even give them that.

Former Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver once said everyone in your lineup has to be about something (like, so-and-so is a good on-base guy, or he’s a good power bat, etc.). I know what Punto is about. I’m not sure what Harris is about.

Alomar will get call today, while Dawson and Blyleven among those deserving

The Baseball Hall of Fame 2010 voting is announced today at 12:30 p.m. (I think). Roberto Alomar will most definitely be gaining induction, at least according to preliminary vote totals.

Andre Dawson and Bert Blyleven – a former Minnesota Twins pitcher – are in pretty good shape too. If they don’t get elected this year, they will likely be elected some time.

Those three seem to be the only likely candidates for "the call" today. I think Dawson’s chances were buoyed by Jim Rice‘s induction last year. Dawson and Rice played in the same era, and without question I think Dawson was the superior player. Rice was a hitter’s hitter who provided little defensively. Dawson was an eight-time Gold Glove winner who eclipsed 400 homers and 300 steals, and also won an NL MVP, albeit on a last-place Chicago Cubs team.

I’m convinced Blyleven will make it eventually too. He’s in his 13th year on the writers’ ballot, with all players spending no more than 15 years on it. He might need all 15 years, though today could be his big day too.

Blyleven’s career numbers are impressive. He’s got 287 wins and ranks in the top five in strikeouts all-time. His postseason numbers en route to two World Series titles are impressive.

If I had a vote – and, of course, I don’t – there are three other guys I would vote for this year who don’t appear to be close to getting in for 2010.

  • Barry Larkin: Undoubtedly, he’ll get in one day. He made 12 All-Star appearances and spent his entire career with the Cincinnati Reds. He won an NL MVP award in 1995 and led the Reds to a big upset of the Oakland A’s in the 1990 World Series, hitting .353 during the four-game sweep. He won nine Silver Slugger awards and three Gold Gloves, which may not seem like much, but considering his career intersected that of Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith, I’d say three is pretty darned good.
  • Edgar Martinez: I’ll admit, when I saw the name, I didn’t think Hall of Famer. But his stats are just too good to ignore. During his 18-year career, Martinez hit .312 with a .418 on-base percentage and .515 slugging percentage. His career OBP ranks 22nd all-time, one spot ahead of Stan Musial. His career OPS ranks 33rd all-time. Only Lefty O’Doul ranks ahead of him in OPS among guys not in the Hall of Fame who are eligible. And yes, he spent most of his career as a designated hitter. But it’s safe to say anyone with his ability would have played first base in a non-DH world, and even if he was a poor first baseman, no one would care, because it’s first base.
  • Tim Raines: Most underrated player on the ballot year-in and year-out. In 23 seasons, he hit .295 with a .385 OBP and 808 career steals (fifth all-time — four ahead of him are in Hall). During his prime in the 1980s, he went to seven straight All-Star games. I consider him to be one of the top five leadoff hitters of all-time. His stolen base success rate is the best in major league history, even ahead of Rickey Henderson. His career 1,330 walks rank 34th all-time, and only Dwight Evans and Eddie Yost walked more than him among eligible Hall of Fame inductees not currently in the Hall. And you can be certain they didn’t have the speed that Raines brought to the table. What hurt him? Playing in Montreal, of course, and probably hanging around too long. His cocaine problems in the early 1980s hurt his image too, though the voters were more forgiving of Paul Molitor‘s early cocaine problems since he had 3,000 hits, a total considered to lead to automatic induction. 

So that’s what I would go with. Alomar, Blyleven, Dawson, Larkin, Martinez and Raines. Feel free to post who you’d vote for below.

Alomar will get call today, while Dawson and Blyleven among those deserving

The Baseball Hall of Fame 2010 voting is announced today at 12:30 p.m. (I think). Roberto Alomar will most definitely be gaining induction, at least according to preliminary vote totals.

Andre Dawson and Bert Blyleven – a former Minnesota Twins pitcher – are in pretty good shape too. If they don’t get elected this year, they will likely be elected some time.

Those three seem to be the only likely candidates for "the call" today. I think Dawson’s chances were buoyed by Jim Rice‘s induction last year. Dawson and Rice played in the same era, and without question I think Dawson was the superior player. Rice was a hitter’s hitter who provided little defensively. Dawson was an eight-time Gold Glove winner who eclipsed 400 homers and 300 steals, and also won an NL MVP, albeit on a last-place Chicago Cubs team.

I’m convinced Blyleven will make it eventually too. He’s in his 13th year on the writers’ ballot, with all players spending no more than 15 years on it. He might need all 15 years, though today could be his big day too.

Blyleven’s career numbers are impressive. He’s got 287 wins and ranks in the top five in strikeouts all-time. His postseason numbers en route to two World Series titles are impressive.

If I had a vote – and, of course, I don’t – there are three other guys I would vote for this year who don’t appear to be close to getting in for 2010.

  • Barry Larkin: Undoubtedly, he’ll get in one day. He made 12 All-Star appearances and spent his entire career with the Cincinnati Reds. He won an NL MVP award in 1995 and led the Reds to a big upset of the Oakland A’s in the 1990 World Series, hitting .353 during the four-game sweep. He won nine Silver Slugger awards and three Gold Gloves, which may not seem like much, but considering his career intersected that of Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith, I’d say three is pretty darned good.
  • Edgar Martinez: I’ll admit, when I saw the name, I didn’t think Hall of Famer. But his stats are just too good to ignore. During his 18-year career, Martinez hit .312 with a .418 on-base percentage and .515 slugging percentage. His career OBP ranks 22nd all-time, one spot ahead of Stan Musial. His career OPS ranks 33rd all-time. Only Lefty O’Doul ranks ahead of him in OPS among guys not in the Hall of Fame who are eligible. And yes, he spent most of his career as a designated hitter. But it’s safe to say anyone with his ability would have played first base in a non-DH world, and even if he was a poor first baseman, no one would care, because it’s first base.
  • Tim Raines: Most underrated player on the ballot year-in and year-out. In 23 seasons, he hit .295 with a .385 OBP and 808 career steals (fifth all-time — four ahead of him are in Hall). During his prime in the 1980s, he went to seven straight All-Star games. I consider him to be one of the top five leadoff hitters of all-time. His stolen base success rate is the best in major league history, even ahead of Rickey Henderson. His career 1,330 walks rank 34th all-time, and only Dwight Evans and Eddie Yost walked more than him among eligible Hall of Fame inductees not currently in the Hall. And you can be certain they didn’t have the speed that Raines brought to the table. What hurt him? Playing in Montreal, of course, and probably hanging around too long. His cocaine problems in the early 1980s hurt his image too, though the voters were more forgiving of Paul Molitor‘s early cocaine problems since he had 3,000 hits, a total considered to lead to automatic induction. 

So that’s what I would go with. Alomar, Blyleven, Dawson, Larkin, Martinez and Raines. Feel free to post who you’d vote for below.

Blyleven update

Former Minnesota Twins pitcher Bert Blyleven might be getting that call tomorrow that he’s been waiting for during the last 13 years that he’s been on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot.

Blyleven, who is pretty outspoken regarding his own candidacy, has dropped some in the voting since baseballthinkfactory.org started tracking writers’ ballots that have been posted online.

Through 87 ballots found online, the Web site has Blyleven and fellow ballot veteran Andre Dawson at 81.6 percent of the votes. First-timer Roberto Alomar appears to be a lock at 88.5 percent.

The balloting is announced at 12:30 p.m. tomorrow (Wednesday), I believe. That works out great for our "Sports Talk" radio show on WDAY 970-AM from 1-2 p.m. tomorrow. I’ll be on, and no doubt we’ll be talking Hall of Fame, which is one of my favorite subjects to debate.

Sometime late tonight I’ll post who I think should be elected and why.

Twins have plenty of rotation options, but no defined ace

The starting rotation was unquestionably the most disappointing unit on the Minnesota Twins last season.

The Twins entered the 2009 season hoping a very young rotation could build on the success it had in 2008, when many of the starters were rookies and Francisco Liriano was coming back from Tommy John surgery.

Fast forward to today, and the Twins are hoping a Jekyll and Hyde pitching staff can find some consistency next season.

Scott Baker was great in the second half of 2009 but brutal in the first half. It was vice versa for Nick Blackburn. Kevin Slowey struggled before missing the final three months of the season with an elbow problem. And Liriano, who pitched well in his first year back from Tommy John surgery in 2008, struggled in 2009 and was eventually demoted to the bullpen.

The Twins decided to offer veteran Carl Pavano arbitration, and he accepted. But the fact remains that this team has no ace and very few candidates for such a role.

Baker has been the de facto ace, and he’s a fine pitcher, but not the kind of guy who matches up real well with the other aces of the American League, especially among the contending teams.

Pavano provides a veteran presence, but he remains a starting pitcher that posted an ERA of 5.10 last season.

Blackburn is the team’s best big-game pitcher, having fared very well in the 2008 one-game playoff against the Chicago White Sox and pitching well in his final four starts of 2009 when the team could ill afford a loss.

I still believe Slowey has the highest ceiling of any of the Twins’ potential starters for next season. He’s a K/BB rate machine who I have spoken glowingly of in the past.

He drew comparisons to Greg Maddux while dominating the minors, and I think there’s still a chance he can be that guy, but as I’ve said before, maybe he’ll just be another Brad Radke. Nothing wrong with that. Maddux didn’t really become Maddux – as in, the Maddux that regularly allowed less than one baserunner per inning in a season – until his sixth season. And pitching as a youngster in the National League in the 1980s is a little different than today’s American League, which is what Slowey’s forced to develop in.

Liriano will have to compete with Brian Duensing and Glen Perkins for that fifth and final rotation spot.

There are plenty of candidates for the rotation. But the Twins must find someone that can stand above the rest as the team’s ace.

BASEBALL HALL OF FAME UPDATE

Baseball Think Factory’s Web site is updated to include 68 Hall of Fame ballots. As I mentioned before, last year there were roughly 550 ballots, so the ones found on the Internet represent a little more than 10 percent now.

Bert Blyleven continues to be in good position to make the Hall of Fame in this his 13th year on the ballot. Players are given 15 years on the writers’ ballot. Blyleven has 85.3 percent of the votes in the 68 ballots found on various Web sites. Andre Dawson and Roberto Alomar are also above the 75 percent threshold for induction.

Hall of Fame voting is announced at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday.

ESPN has a lot of great Hall of Fame stories on its Web site. Definitely worth reading.