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Roy Halladay's Pitch Counts: Backing Us Off a Ledge

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If you're like me, you're a whee bit concerned about the number of pitches Roy Halladay has been throwing lately.  I was sitting in the cold mist last night watching the game from the right field stands, and I was growing increasingly incensed with each batter he faced in the eighth and ninth innings last night.  When his pitch count topped 130, I was stunned.

Was a May game against the Pirates really worth 132 pitches?  Charlie Manuel sure thought so, but I was not convinced at all.  After all, Halladay is a pitching deity, but his arm is still human, right?

Well, after spending some time this morning looking at his game logs over his career, maybe not.  Of course, past performance is no guarantee of future returns, but we can get some comfort from the fact that Halladay has been worked this hard in the past and come out relatively unscathed.

So far this year, Halladay has pitched in 9 games.  In all but the first game, he's thrown over 100 pitches.  Since that first game, his pitch counts have been 111, 100, 113, 104, 118, 119, 121, 132.  Over those 8 games, he's thrown 918 pitches, for an average of 114.75 pitches per game.  Just over the last 4 games, he's thrown a whopping 490 with an amazing 122.5 pitches per game.

What should make those of us concerned about pitch counts back away from the ledge though is that Halladay has done this before in his career and continued to pitch quite well.  Let's start with the 8 game stretch of 918 pitches.  Halladay has topped 900 pitches over 8 consecutive games 11 times in his career, and in 3 of those stretches, he's thrown more than 918 pitches - 921, 924, and 934.

The 11 figure overstates how frequently he's had this high a workload though, as the 11 instances really occurred over two stretches.  One stretch occurred in the second half of 2007, when Halladay had 15 starts from July 12 to the end of the season and averaged just a tick under 114 pitches per start.  He threw 115 pitches in his last start of the season, giving him 934 for his last 8 starts, the highest amount of that stretch and his highest 8-game total in his career.

It's hard to compare before and after, as this occurred at the end of the season.  In terms of carrying over into the next year, the effort he expended at the end of 2007 did not affect him in 2008, as he was stellar in 2008, posting a 2.78 ERA with a 1.05 WHIP for the year.  And, if you look at his other high water 8-game stretch in 2007, he was somewhat comparable immediately after it as before it.  In the 8 games prior to and including September 4, 2007, Halladay threw 924 pitches and had a 2.93 ERA with a 1.14 WHIP.  In his last 4 games of the season, the only games that year following September 4, he had a 2.37 ERA with a 1.28 WHIP.  The numbers show he was more hittable in those last four games.  And, his lower ERA is deceptive, as he gave up 5 unearned runs, compared to only 8 earned runs.  But, even though he pitched worse following September 4, he was still a very effective pitcher.

The second stretch of extreme usage over 8 game periods came toward the end of 2008.  That year, in the 8 starts leading up to and including August 9, Halladay threw 911 pitches.  In fact, in the 10 starts prior to and including August 16, Halladay averaged just over 114 pitches per game.  This extreme workload seems to have taken a bit of a toll on Halladay.  In the 8 starts up to and including August 9, 2008, he had a 1.94 ERA and a 0.98 WHIP.  In the 8 starts following August 9, he had a 3.11 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP.

In both of these stretches, it's clear that Halladay suffered a bit following the intense workload.  However, he hardly imploded, as he still pitched like a top of the rotation starter, if not his normal one-of-the-best-in-baseball self.  Thus, if history tells us anything, it's that we shouldn't be too worried about Halladay's pitch counts over his last 8 starts.

The same goes with his recent 4 game pitch count.  Over his past 4 games, he's thrown 490 pitches.  That total is the highest pitch count for 4 consecutive games in Halladay's career.  Only two other times has he thrown 480 or more pitches over the course of 4 games, both times corresponding with the stretches discussed above.  From August 24 to September 10, 2007, he threw 484 pitches, and from July 24 to August 9, 2008, he threw 480 pitches.  As discussed above, he was worse after those 4 games, but he was still quite good by any measure.

Of course, Halladay's huge workload in 2010 might be different than his comparably heavy workloads in 2007 and 2008.  For one, his body is older.  Also, the workload this year has come at the beginning of the season rather than toward the end when he's stretched out and has an end in sight.  Moreover, his workload in 2010 comes with that many more pitches on his arm's odometer, including the heavy stretches of 2007 and 2008.  For these reasons, Charlie Manuel shouldn't risk Halladay's arm too much more.

But, Manuel can point to the past to justify Halladay's current use, as Halladay has done this before and lived up to his staff-ace billing afterwards.  And there's no need for us fans to hover near the ledge over Halladay's pitch counts . . . yet.