Is Strasburg's pitch count too low?

WASHINGTON - JUNE 08: Stephen Strasburg #37 of the Washington Nationals pitches against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Nationals Park on June 8, 2010 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

When Stephen Strasburg makes the second start of his career this afternoon, he'll be under the same usage limits that he ran into on Tuesday: either six innings or 95 pitches per game. Even with the dominant performance he gave us against the Pirates, manager Jim Riggleman only extended those limits to include a seventh inning, and that's only because he threw only 94 pitches. I know I was among many who were hoping Riggleman would let Strasburg come out for another inning or two, pitch counts or not. After all, how much can one game at 110 or 115 pitches really hurt the kid?

That's not how the world works when it comes to young pitchers, though. They're just too important to the future - franchises are going to do their best to protect the young arms. But are the pitch limits that we're seeing these days lower than they have been in recent history? It seems that once a pitcher gets past 100 pitches anymore, people all over - including smart people I respect - start complaining of over-use, whereas, in years past, that 100 pitch mark was merely considered the point to start worrying.

Of course, I could be very wrong. Maybe that 100-pitch mark has been a more solid ceiling than I remember. I decided to look into it. After the jump, you'll find a table looking at the average number of pitches per start for young pitchers (age 24 and younger) since 2001.

Average Number of Pitches Per Start for Young Pitchers

Year Num
Num Pitches
2001 61 91.9 8.3
2002 69 90.4 9.2
2003 51 91.5 12.6
2004 58 89.1 10.5
2005 49 92.9 8.4
2006 60 91.0 8.1
2007 67 90.4 7.9
2008 65 91.9 8.2
2009 62 92.1 7.6


As you may notice, the average number of pitches per start fluctuates a bit, from 89.1 pitcher/start in 2004 to92.1 pitches/start last year. The standard deviation, however, adjusts right along with it, keeping the upper bound at almost exactly 99 pitches/start each year. It's only the 2003 season, when Mark Prior, Joel Piniero, Carlos Zambrano, Brandon Claussen, and CC Sabathia all averaged 105 or more pitches/start (Prior averaged 113.4 pitches/start that year and Piniero averaged 109.2), that the upper bound gets significantly over 99 pitches/start. 

When it comes to young pitchers then, there's no doubt that this 100 pitch limit has been a pretty hard ceiling for at least a decade. As sad as this makes me when it comes to Strasburg and my desire to see him whiff 21 Indians today, it's understandable. Fifteen to twenty years of Strasburg dominance is much more preferable than four or five, even if it ruins my need for instant gratification. 

It might be interesting, though, to see if this 100 pitch ceiling for young pitchers has started to bleed over into older, more mature pitchers. 

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