Back in June, the Giants shut out the Dodgers for 27 consecutive innings. You might have read about it. It will surely make my offseason list of "10 Swell Moments." And at the time, the Giants rotation was something to be giddy about. Matt Cain was starting the All-Star Game. Ryan Vogelsong was leading the league in ERA. Tim Lincecum was … well, his xFIP was awesome, and those are sort of real numbers!
Now, though, it looks like the Giants have some tired arms. Look at Bumgarner's release point in his one-hit shutout against the Reds compared to his last outing:
Now, I don't have the biomechanical wherewithal, aptitude, or derring-do to make too much sense of that. But I do know those are different, with his latest release point being lower and slingier. Don't flag that, autocorrect. Slingier. It's a word now.
Here's something that might surprise you, though:
Most pitches thrown, 2012
1. That guy from the commercials
2. Aaron Rowand's cousin
3. Bunch of other guys …
6. … wait, where are all the Giants?
A Giants pitcher doesn't show up until #12, and that's Tim Lincecum. He's thrown 3,024 pitches this year in 30 starts. That's about 124 pitches for his one-pitch innings, and 2,900 pitches allocated toward 30 separate 96-pitch innings. So he's an outlier on the Giants' staff.
Madison Bumgarner is 14th, Matt Cain is 15th, Ryan Vogelsong is 45th, and Barry Zito is 53rd. If you include 2011 in the total, Lincecum moves up to sixth, and everyone moves up a couple of spots, but nothing dramatic. The Giants have good starting pitchers. Good starting pitchers stick around for the middle-to-late innings. They haven't been egregiously pushed, at least from a pitches-thrown standpoint.
This comes up now because it seems to be in vogue to blame Bruce Bochy for running the rotation into the ground through overuse. And I get that. Because while I respect Bochy's NBFA* score, he really has been master of the one-more-inning-for-no-good-reason gambit. In 10 of Bumgarner's starts, he was pulled in the middle of an inning. By my rough count, about five of those came when there really wasn't a compelling reason for Bumgarner to be out there in the first place, though I might be missing contextual things like tired bullpens.
The one-more-inning-for-no-good-reason thing drives me nuts. And Bochy does it a lot.
But the overwork issue almost feels like the debates over who's clutch and who isn't. It's totally different from a data standpoint -- we can look at velocity, pitch movement, and release points now like never before -- don't get me wrong. Where it's similar though, is that it's easy to make up your mind first about who's been overworked, and how damaging those extra innings are, just like it's easy to say this guy is clutch, and this guy is a hella choker. The evidence and the data comes second, if at all.
In retrospect, it would have been wise to err on the side of fewer pitches earlier in the season, wherever they could have been shaved off. Big lead? Rested bullpen? Take Cain or Bumgarner out an inning earlier. There isn't a special trophy that's awarded to the World Series winner with the most horses. I was vocal about this at the time, so I don't feel like this is hindsight.
I'm also wary, though, of blaming those extra five, 10, or 15 innings for everything that's wrong with Bumgarner (or Vogelsong, or Cain, when there was something wrong) right now. Heck, it might just be a mechanical thing that's mostly unrelated to fatigue. Could be overwork. But I'm not certain enough to get righteous.
The main point: Pitching is hard, y'all. It's hard on the body and the arm, and there will always be a chance of a pitcher getting tired in September. There are things I would have done differently. And the one-more-inning thing really, really, really gets my goat, especially when it comes an inning after the pitcher hits for himself. I could be convinced to blame Bochy with a strong argument and some evidence! So if you're sitting on a thesis, have at it.
But if I had to blame someone right now, I'd probably blame Alexander Cartwright before Bochy.
* Not Being Felipe Alou score -- a proprietary metric I devised. Bochy grades out as a "1" on a scale of "Alou to 1."