Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Pitch Count

Baseball is a game that changes only slowly. It has been years since I followed the sport, but I am assured it hasn’t changed much. The biggest change, everyone seems to agree, is pitch count. Coaches and leagues count every ball every pitcher throws. Starting pitchers at every level of play are regularly taken out of games, and on occasion may be rested for the rest of the season, just because of the statistical probability that the pitcher might do permanent damage to the joints of the arm and shoulder by throwing more pitches.

Fans grumble, but this change makes good sense if you look at it as a question of labor economics. You can easily find athletes qualified to play a valid game of baseball, so the ultimate impact of resting one athlete is minimal. Compare that to the predicament of a person whose arm stops working. That’s a long-term problem with no easy solution. This reluctance to take risks with workers’ health is part of a larger cultural shift that goes well beyond baseball. It is happening in baseball now because it reflects the consensus view of spectators. They are no longer so eager to see disproportionate risks taken for the sake of sport. As the saying goes, it is only a game.