CC Sabathia Rails Against Pitch Count, Innings Limits

Strong Words from New York Yankee Ace a Reminder How Starting Pitching Has Changed

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CC Sabathia Rails Against Pitch Count, Innings Limits
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CC Sabathia of the New York Yankees told Newsday on Wednesday, Nov. 7, that he expects to be 100 percent …

COMMENTARY | Newsday reported on Wednesday, Nov. 7, that New York Yankee pitcher CC Sabathia is progressing well in his rehabilitation after having a bone spur surgically removed from his left elbow two weeks ago.

Sabathia said he plans to start throwing after Christmas, which would be his normal preseason routine, and that he expects to be 100 percent by spring training.

One notion Sabathia was vehemently against, however, is the idea that he needs to be protected in 2013.

"I don't know what we get out of that," Sabathia said. "I think everybody talks about me being on the (disabled list) twice and would that help? … But I don't think cutting back innings or obviously putting me on a pitch count at my age would do any good for me."

Sabathia is 32 and is signed for another five year. New York still owes him another $119 million through 2017.

The big left-hander pitched 200 innings in 2012, his lowest total since 2006, but ran his streak of consecutive seasons with at least 200 innings pitched to six. His career high is 253 innings in 2008, when he pitched for the Cleveland Indians and Milwaukee Brewers.

That Sabathia would feel compelled to argue against being over-protected speaks volumes about the state of pitching in the 21st century.

Between five-man rotations, innings limitations and pitch counts, 200 innings is suddenly the mark of pitchers who are considered to be workhorses, ironmen.

It's now been 32 years since the last time a pitcher worked at least 300 innings in a season. Steve Carlton pitched 304 innings for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1980. Bert Blyleven was the last pitcher to top 290 innings when he logged 293.2 for the Cleveland Indians and Minnesota Twins in 1985. Charlie Hough and Roger Clemens in 1987 were the last over the 280-inning barrier. Hough logged 285.1 innings for the Texas Rangers that season while Clemens pitched 281.2 for the Boston Red Sox.

The last time a pitcher threw more than 270 innings? That would be Randy Johnson for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 1999 with 271.2. You have to go back to Roy Halladay in 2003 to find the last pitcher to log more than 260 innings. Halladay pitched 266 for the Toronto Blue Jays that year.

Justin Verlander threw 251 innings for the Detroit Tigers in 2011, the last to clear that milestone. Verlander led the major leagues in 2012 with 238.1 innings.

Complete games? That's another question entirely. Once upon a time, as recently as 30 years ago, starting pitchers took it as an insult when they were lifted. The mentality was always to finish what you had started.

But now in the age of specialty relief pitchers, the era of closers, seventh-inning guys, eighth-inning guys and LOOGYs (short for Lefty One Out GuY), teams are pretty much thrilled if their starter can get them through six innings.

A starting pitcher receives credit for a "quality start" if he works six innings and allows three earned runs or fewer. An ERA of 4.50 is now considered quality? Once upon a time, an ERA of 4.50 earned a starter a ticket to the bullpen or Triple-A.

James Shields of the Tampa Bay Rays bucked convention when he completed 11 starts. He was the first to reach double figures in complete games since Johnson recorded 12 in 1999.

Curt Schilling was the last pitcher with 15 complete games for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1998. You have to go back to Clemens in 1987 to find a pitcher who completed at least half his starts. Clemens had 18 CGs in 36 starts for the Red Sox that season.

Fernando Valenzuela of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1986 was the last pitcher to have at least 20 complete games. Rick Langford completed 28 for the Oakland Athletics in 1980. The last pitcher with at least 30 complete games was Catfish Hunter of the Yankees in 1975.

That season, working in a four-man rotation for New York, Hunter started 39 games, tossed seven shutouts and pitched 328 innings to lead the American League. Twice in his career, Hunter started at least 40 games. He got the ball 40 times in 1970 for the Athletics and 41 times for Oakland in 1974.

So it's great that Sabathia doesn't want to be limited next season. It gives him a better chance to keep that streak of 200-inning seasons alive.

That sort of durability in 21st century baseball is about as close as the modern game will get to a Catfish Hunter.

Phil Watson was a writer and editor for several daily newspapers for more than 20 years and is a longtime New York Yankee fan.

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