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Inside the Phillies: Too much worry over pitch counts

At some point in Roy Halladay's career, all the pitches he has thrown and all the innings he has logged are going to sap the life from his high-powered right arm.

Is all the debate over Roy Halladay's pitch counts much ado about nothing? (Ron Cortes / Staff Photographer)
Is all the debate over Roy Halladay's pitch counts much ado about nothing? (Ron Cortes / Staff Photographer)Read more

At some point in Roy Halladay's career, all the pitches he has thrown and all the innings he has logged are going to sap the life from his high-powered right arm.

And for all of you worried about this issue, remember this: That doesn't make the Phillies' $60 million ace different from any other man who throws a baseball for a living.

All of this brings us to the subject of the week - pitch counts.

When Halladay threw 132 pitches during his complete-game loss to Pittsburgh on Tuesday, the alarms sounded at Citizens Bank Park. Suddenly it was in vogue to wonder if manager Charlie Manuel was hell-bent on burning out his best pitcher in May.

Speculation arose that the manager didn't have the forcefulness to tell Halladay when it was time to vacate the mound. If Halladay could talk his way into staying atop the hill when he had already thrown 126 pitches in the ninth inning, he could surely sell his manager some swamp land in central Florida. Halladay struck out the next batter and got out of the inning.

The notion that Halladay, who will make his 10th start of the season Sunday against the Boston Red Sox, is dictating to Manuel when he will come out of games is ridiculous. Manuel has benched Jim Thome, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard in the past. He's certainly not worried about ruffling Halladay's feathers.

It does, however, make for wonderful debates.

The truth is, none of us, including Manuel and Halladay, knows exactly what impact the 132-pitch outing had on the Phillies righthander Tuesday night. The only thing pitch counts tell us for sure is how many pitches were thrown.

Everything else is as speculative as the stock market.

Pitch counts did not carry much weight during Steve Carlton's career, but if you look at the innings pitched each year by the Phillies' Hall of Fame lefthander, it's a safe bet that in most seasons he threw a lot more than the career-high 3,627 unfurled by Halladay in 2003. Despite all those pitches, Carlton's decline didn't start until the age of 40.

Nolan Ryan, who pitched in the same era as Carlton, did stick around long enough that his pitch counts were logged in the latter stages of his career. According to, Ryan started 32 games at the age of 42 in 1989. The website had pitch counts for 31 of those starts. Ryan's average pitch count in those 31 starts was 127. In one four-game stretch late in the season, he averaged 152.

Hard to imagine a 42-year-old Ryan being in better condition than a 33-year-old Halladay, a fitness freak who, by all accounts, physically and mentally prepares to finish what he starts better than anyone in the big leagues.

In a recent Sports Illustrated article, Ryan railed against pitch counts and the way young pitchers are prepared for the big leagues.

"Pitchers have been pampered," the Hall of Fame strikeout king told the magazine. "Our expectations of them have been lowered. There's no reason why kids today can't pitch as many innings as people did in my era. Today a quality start is six innings. What's quality about that?"

What's great about Halladay is that he thinks exactly the same way as Ryan, and that's the same way that Manuel thinks. In an era when six and seven innings is considered good, Halladay is considered great. That's why he cost so much in terms of dollars and players. That's why he should be able to throw 132 pitches without it becoming an issue.

It's a matter of trust between the manager and his ace. Both Halladay and fellow veteran Jamie Moyer believe that pitch counts don't mean nearly as much as how a pitcher feels. Manuel made the point that the degree of difficulty in getting outs is every bit as important as how many pitches it takes.

After throwing a combined 5051/3 innings in 2002 and 2003, a shoulder injury limited Halladay to 133 innings in 2004. Halladay said the shoulder problem was a result of how he prepared in the off-season rather than being overworked the previous two seasons in Toronto. He believes he threw too many bullpens leading into spring training before the 2004 season.

Halladay said he could not remember his pitch count ever having any impact on his ability to pitch the following game because he tailors his work between starts based on what happened in the previous outing. He also believes that he has learned how to prepare based on what he did during his previous start and previous season.

Thursday, for example, Halladay decided to long-toss off flat ground rather than go through his usual bullpen session.

"I felt good," he said. "But you know sometimes you have to go by what you did the outing before rather than what you feel like."

Halladay believes that young pitchers should be monitored in terms of pitch counts and innings, but veterans should be trusted to do the right thing in terms of preparation. His way has worked pretty well so far for both Toronto and the Phillies.

After nine games this season, he has thrown a major-league leading 1,006 pitches, an average of 111.8 per outing. That's a little less than four more pitches than he averaged about this same time last season with the Blue Jays. Do four pitches per game make that big a difference?

No one really knows.

Inside the Phillies:

Read The Inquirer's Phillies blog, The Phillies Zone, by Bob Brookover and Matt Gelb, at

Blog response of the week

Subject: Interleague play

Response from NickEeee at 4:25 p.m. Friday

Interleague play is to this decade what AstroTurf was to the 1970s.

Inside the Phillies: Halladay's Pitch Count

Phillies ace Roy Halladay triggered debate about his workload Tuesday in a complete-game loss to Pittsburgh. The 132 pitches were the second-most he's ever thrown in a start. Through nine starts this season, he has thrown a career-high 1,006 pitches, an average of 111.8 per game.

Here's a look at his career pitch-count numbers by season before this year, according to

            First 9 games          Season

Year         Total      Avg./start      Total         Avg./start

*1999       636       70.7         2,480       68.9

*2000       800       88.9          1,366       71.9

*2001      823       91.4          1,552       91.3

2002          934       103.8       3,511       103.3

2003         898       99.8          3,627       100.8

2004          982       109.1       2,053       97.8

2005          945       105          1,912       100.6

2006          853       94.8          3,041       95

2007          923       102.6       3,330       107.4

2008          964       107.1       3,557       104.6

2009          974       108.2       3,392       106

2010         1,006      111.8         TBD         TBD

* Seasons in which he also pitched in relief.