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05/17/2013

Yu + 130 pitches = certain death

4jZsf.St.58ARLINGTON, Texas - Yu Darvish's brilliant start to his Major League Baseball career ended on Thursday, May 16 when he threw 130 pitches. The Texas Rangers cemented themselves as a team that will never win a World Series as a result.

At a minimum, Yu's career will be cut short by two seasons because of his 130-pitch outing against the Detroit Tigers, and the Texas Rangers will not win the 2013 American League West. That is more reasonable.

For the love of God, enough of this pitch-count madness. This has totally gotten out of hand with the panic-attack, number nerds equating Yu's 130 pitches meaning he will suffer the same fate as Mark Prior and Johan Santana, both guys who suffered major arm injuries.

Sometimes guys get hurt. The Washington Nationals treated Stephen Strasburg's arm like an infant and they still couldn't avoid an arm injury. 

Somtimes guys don't get hurt.

There are just some guys for whom the numbers do not apply, and Yu may be one of those in the same category as David Cone, Nolan Ryan, and others who could just go forever.

Prior"Yu is a stud," Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington said after Yu defeated the Tigers.

Yu is only 26, is a big man, and appears to be committed to conditioning. He looks like he is at the top of the food chain. Some guys just don't get hurt no matter how much they throw.

The last time a Rangers pitcher went this long was R.A. Dickey in early 2004 when he threw 131 pitches. Manager Buck Showalter was desperately trying to get Dickey a complete game, and Dickey was not the same after that night.

The reason he wasn't the same after that game wasn't because of a pitch count. It was because he was R.A. Dickey, before he learned the career-saving knuckleball.

The pitch count craze began in earnest in the late '80s and early '90s as a medical device to possibly find a link with arm injuries, or poor production. The clicker counter changed the entire culture of the sport to the point where managers are closely watched for how they watch a pitcher's pitch count.

Washington was knocked for leaving Yu in a game that was well in hand in the eighth inning. Leave the man alone. Yu was fine, and said after the game he had plenty of gas left in the tank and he wanted to stay out.

"I averaged 120 pitches per game in Japan," he said.

DarvIt will get to a point where we will follow a pitcher's warmup throws before the game, pitches between innings, times he exerts his pitching arm during the game to activities up to and including flushing the toilet.

Baseball has become a safe harbor for numbers geeks, which is fine. But it’s still a sport, and not an equation.

"Remember, math is about the past," former major league pitcher, Rangers pitching coach and current ESPN analyst Orel Hershisher told me in a phone interview. "There are so many situations and how everything affects those situations can be everything from was the wind blowing out, was the starter still in or was it a specialist, and on and on in how a guy's average is in 'clutch situations'.

"The mathematician will tell you that those situations will balance out. I'm not sure there are enough events in the world to balance it all out."

I asked Orel what he thought of this pitch count craze, whether it's too much, and if you really can't avoid injury.

"Not every pitch is as strenuous as the last pitch or the next pitch," he said. "There are sometimes 130 pitches can be easier than 60. If you throw one or two pitches with bad mechanics and tweak your back, the wear and tear on your next 30 pitches isn't even close. 

"You said, 'If someone is going to get hurt, they are going to get hurt' - there is some validity to that. But all of these things have validity, too. The weather, the inning, the ballpark, the lineup he is facing, mechanics, all of these things have validity but none of them are the reason."

Sounds like a good reason to panic.

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