Innings Limits Are Stupid

July 16, 2012 | Thyrl Nelson

With each passing day that the Washington Nationals continue to look like a more and more legitimate playoff contender the debate around Stephen Strasburg and when he’ll be shut down becomes more interesting, contentious and high-stakes. What started out as a passing “what if” has become the hot topic in baseball and has the team in Washington in a most precarious situation.

By all accounts so far, the Nats are playing coy and have not officially stated that Strasburg will be shut down after 160 innings. They have however stated a desire to monitor his innings and most seem resigned to the notion that the 160 innings prescribed for Nats’ starter Jordan Zimmerman last year is a pretty reliable barometer.


Honestly, limiting Strasburg to 160 innings is patently stupid, and that any team subscribing to that logic should be ashamed of themselves.


Lately the popular talk has become more about pitches than about innings, and rightfully so. I’m not saying that the Nationals shouldn’t have designs shutting down Strasburg, or any pitcher at some point. I am however saying that with the recent trend of statistical evolution in baseball, to measure something as important as prescribed pitching limits by a stat as inexact as innings is like counting your money based on the size of the stack you can make with it.


It’s absolutely embarrassing that Major League baseball teams, with the wealth of statistical data available to them and the emphasis, game-by-game, on pitch counts hasn’t refined their process for measuring a pitcher’s work.


How many pitches equal an inning? How many warm-ups and side sessions are required of a pitcher to complete 160 innings of work? Obviously the answers to these questions varies widely depending on the pitcher, his specific between starts regimen, and how effectively he pitches from start to start.


The output of a pitcher should be measured in pitches first, but not alone. Next, someone smarter than I needs to decide how much the 8 warm up pitches prior to each inning further exert the pitcher and add that to his workload. My guess here would be 2 or 3, so I’d add 2 or 3 pitches to the total for each inning pitched. And lastly, and probably most importantly, a value would have to be assigned to the cold start and the side work that a pitcher does between starts. This number could be worth as many 50 pitches per start I’d suppose; again I’d leave that to someone more learned at these types of things than I. And there you have a formula.


Pitcher Exertion = Total number of pitches + (innings x3) + (appearances x 35)


Surely that formula needs some tweaking, and a different value would likely have to be assigned for relief appearances. But there’s years and years of statistical data waiting to be analyzed and applied with the formula which would likely give teams a much better gauge of when a pitcher is entering the danger zone or might need to be shut down. Baseball will surely get there eventually, but will it be in time to save Strasburg’s season?