Dusty Baker is getting crucified in the media for taking out Max Scherzer after 98 pitches on Monday. He had just given up his first hit, after six and a third innings of no-hit baseball. Scherzer committed the unpardonable sin of giving up a base runner after the sixth inning. He committed the unpardonable sin of getting near 100 pitches.
While Dusty Baker deserves all the blame for pulling his starter that was totally dominating, you can’t blame Dusty for pulling his starter that was totally dominating. That’s the way baseball works.
It’s all about pitch counts. And during the playoffs, even more so.
In the corner of every screen of every game on every TV is the pitch count. Coming out of the mouth of every announcer after every pitch from every pitcher is his pitch count. Pitch count dictates all decision-making in baseball.
If a pitcher throws one single pitch over the 100 count, his agent files a grievance with the union. Even worse, if it happens on the Washington Nationals, agent Scott Boras files a criminal negligence suit against the team. You think I am joking, but that is not far from the truth.
Back when they shut Stephan Strasburg down in 2012 at the insistence on Scott Boras, contributing to the Nationals losing the first round of the playoff, Boras threatened just that: that pitching Strasburg would be ruinous to his career. “Certainly, when you run afoul to medical recommendations with any player, there most likely are ethical and legal considerations.” He later hinted that those legal considerations would be in the $300 million range because Strasburg was a $30 million a year pitcher and had at least ten years of earning power in him.
The Nationals bought it. And, ever since, losing in the first round is in the team’s DNA. But at least their pitchers are fresh for the next season.
Dusty did what managers do in the playoffs. They panic. They over-manage. They lose because they mishandle their pitching. Never mind he compounded the problem by bringing in his seventh inning guy, rather than bringing in one of his dominating relievers.
The Rangers see that every day with Jeff Banister, and fans are incensed. But the reality is, he’s no different than most managers. We just happen to see him being a lemming day in and day out. He follows convention as good as anyone else.
And should the Rangers make the playoffs again in the Jeff Banister era, we will see that again. Starter Matt Bush is perfect through seven innings of Game 7 in the World Series with the Rangers up 10-0. He hits pitch number 99. Banister trembles. He calls Tanner Scheppers in to relieve. The Rangers lose 11-10. All because of pitch counts.
The sad truth is, if a starter goes past four innings in a post-season game, he has really accomplished something.
98 pitches? What, is he Superman?
Tanner Roarke (13-11, 4.67) vs Jake Arrieta (14-10, 3.535)
Game time: 3:08 on TBS
CC Sabathia (14-5, 3.69) vs Corey Kluber (18-4, 2.25)
Game time: 7:08 on FS1