When it looked like Jake Peavy might pursue other opportunities, the prospect of his departure didn't trouble me too much. He certainly worked hard for the White Sox in 2012, but it didn't always seem like working smart.
Peavy averaged 109 pitches per start in 2012, the highest official average of any White Sox pitcher since 2000, the most recent year B-Ref has complete pitch data. To find a pitcher who worked harder per start, you'd probably have to go back to 1996. Seven of Alex Fernandez's 35 starts don't have a pitch count, but he averaged 116 pitches over the 28 starts with pitch data -- including 142 over eight innings in his final start as a White Sox.
So Peavy isn't quite at that territory, but the Sox definitely pushed the repaired lat to the limits by current standards. He threw 120 or more pitches in six starts. For comparison, Mark Buehrle had eight 120-pitch starts ... over 12 years.
But it wasn't always the best idea to let the bulldog run on a long leash. In a couple cases, he was able to send Robin Ventura back from whence he came, bringing to mind a line from a Lifter Puller song:
And Jake's a magician
He gets sensible people making terrible decisions
If Peavy left, he would have created a void. However, chances are the Sox would have replaced him with a pitcher they were more willing to manage, which might offset some of the disparity in pure workload value. But then Peavy stayed with the Sox to render that scenario moot, so now that he's back for another two years, I figured I'd look back and better assess the problems Peavy's tenacity actually presented.
Looking through his game log, I found a baker's dozen worth of starts where his hook seemed longer than most. In most cases, there was some combination of a high pitch count and trouble a-brewin', if not full blown a-happenin'.
What's funny is just how different Ventura handled Peavy in his first two chances to extract him from a slippery slope:
April 13 vs. Detroit: Peavy gives up a two-run homer to Delmon Young on his 94th pitch, narrowing the White Sox's lead from 3-0 to 3-2. Ventura exercises his authority, and Peavy tramps off to the dugout in search of food, if I'm lip-reading correctly.
Verdict: There's a new sheriff in town! The Sox won, Peavy threw 94 pitches ... what's not to like?
... yup, even the broadcast crew doesn't expect Peavy to stay in the game. But he lobbies successfully, and not for the better.
Peavy gets ahead 1-2 with three sliders, but his high fastball isn't high enough, and Cabrera strokes a single to left-center to cut the lead to one.
Verdict: Same as the old boss.
This single, which was part of a comeback and a 5-4 Detroit victory, burned itself into a lot of memories. But Ventura didn't pull this kind of egregious about-face all that often. His slow hooks tended to be more ordinary in nature, save for a couple other memorable cases.
Running through the 11 other tough calls...
May 15 vs. Detroit: The Sox lead 6-0, and Peavy has thrown 78 pitches through five innings. The game unravels in a hurry, though -- single, home run, double, groundout, and a hit-by-pitch before Cooper visits the mound. Only Will Ohman is warming, so Peavy faces Ryan Raburn, and Raburn hits the first pitch for a three-run homer, cutting the lead to 6-5. Ohman takes over, and when the dust settles, the Tigers lead 8-6.
Verdict: Nothing wrong with the timing of Peavy's hook, since it all happened so suddenly. Using Ohman in an obvious pinch-hitting trap set by Jim Leyland was the bigger crime.
June 1 vs. Seattle: Peavy takes a 4-0 lead into the seventh with 87 pitches. He gives up a double to Dustin Ackley, rolls a full-count slider to Kyle Seager for a two-run homer, and then walks Justin Smoak on four pitches two batters later to bring the tying run to the plate. Ventura calls for Matt Thornton without discussion.
Verdict: Good timing. Thornton got out of the inning with no further damage, although he and Jesse Crain teamed up to blow the lead in the eighth.
June 7 vs. Toronto: After the Sox tie it up at 3 in the bottom of the sixth, Peavy -- starting the inning with 109 pitches -- issues his fifth walk of the game on eight pitches to Brett Lawrie. Ventura again makes the quick call for Thornton, and Thornton finishes the inning while preserving the tie.
Verdict: OK timing. Peavy probably shouldn't have started the inning, but first-sign-of-trouble managing isn't a bad choice.
June 19 vs. Cubs: Peavy opens the ninth at 104 pitches with the Sox trailing 2-1, and hangs a changeup to David DeJesus, resulting in a leadoff triple. Peavy gets a couple of grounders -- one back to the mound, one to a drawn-in Alexei Ramirez -- to keep DeJesus at third with two outs. The first requires a visit from Herm Schneider and Ventura, since he knocked the ball down and threw from a funny angle, but Peavy stays. He then walks Alfonso Soriano on five pitches, bringing his pitch count to 119. Nobody comes out to visit Peavy (I don't know if the first one qualified as a mound visit), but Peavy finishes the inning by freezing Steve Clevenger on a 2-2 slider.
Verdict: Batsh*t Bulldoggin'. Hawk Harrelson and Steve Stone said they couldn't see Peavy coming out of the game, as he stomped around the mound snarling and snorting. It worked, but the Sox still lost.
July 6 vs. Toronto: Peavy and the Sox hold a 4-1 lead heading into the eighth inning, and after a stressful start, Peavy eases into the late innings with just 22 pitches over the sixth and seventh inning combined. He gets Lawrie to fly out to center on the second pitch. He's feeling pretty good. He's going about his business. And then it all comes to a screeching halt ...
... Ventura pops out of the dugout to call for Thornton.
Verdict: Well played, Robin.
July 14 vs. Royals: Peavy starts the eighth with the Sox trailing 4-3, and he's at 110 pitches. He's comes off the mound three batters and 10 pitches later, having allowed three singles, leading to one run. Another runner comes home on a sac fly, and the Sox lose 6-3.
Verdict: Too slow. He gave up a go-ahead homer an inning earlier, so he wasn't on any kind of roll. He probably shouldn't have started the inning, and should've been a first-sign-of-trouble hook at the longest.
July 20 vs. Tigers: Peavy starts the seventhy at 95 pitches and the Sox trailing 3-2. He gives up a one-out single to Jhonny Peralta. Peavy balks Peralta to second, and Peralta goes to third on Ramon Santiago's groundout. Up comes Austin Jackson, who lines a get-me-over full-count slider on Peavy's 115th pitch to stretch Detroit's lead to 4-2.
Verdict: One batter too long. Peavy had retired 11 in a row before the Peralta single, and he only got to third because of the balk, so Peavy was fine through Jackson. Jackson, like Cabrera, is too good to face a guy four times in a game, past the 110-pitch mark. Then again, Brian Omogrosso took over in the eighth, though, and he gave up two straight hits to start the inning, so the other choice Ventura had in mind might have failed, too.
Aug. 1 vs. Twins: Peavy is staked to a one-run lead as he starts the eighth with exactly 100 pitches. He retires the first two batters without a problem, but Denard Span reaches on a single, and Ben Revere forces an error by Kevin Youkilis to put runners on the corners. Nobody comes out to visit Peavy, who is set to face Joe Mauer at 112 pitches with the game on the line. Peavy gets a fastball in on Mauer's hands on the second pitch, resulting in a popout to shallow left.
Verdict: Batsh*t Bulldoggin'. Like Cabrera, but it actually worked.
Aug. 7 vs. Royals: Peavy opens the seventh at 93 with the Sox leading 2-1. He gives up a bunt single to Jeff Francoeur to start the inning, but gets his footing with a Brayan Pena. Then he dies by soft singles -- four over the course of six pitches -- that allows the Royals to tie the game. Leyson Septimo finishes the inning by getting Chris Getz to line out to Gordon Beckham.
Verdict: Unlucky. The Sox's bullpen was overworked, and Peavy had pitched well before descending into BABIP hell.
Sept. 11 vs. Tigers: It's a laborious outing for Peavy, who gave up a 2-0 lead with three fifth-inning runs. He opens the sixth at 96 pitches, and gets two seven-pitch strikeouts before a seven-pitch walk to Jhonny Peralta. Ventura takes a long walk to the mound, but calls to the bullpen before he's in talking range.
Verdict: Only bad if you're worried about the pitch count. The damage was already done before any manager could consider pulling Peavy, and he didn't get cute trying to get Peavy a win, or at least a no-decision.
Sept. 27 vs. Rays: Peavy pitches his red ass off into the eighth inning, keeping the Sox within striking distance at 2-1 by retiring 10 in a row. But he walks Sam Fuld with his 118th pitch with one out, and Ventura goes to the bullpen, much to Peavy's chagrin.
Verdict: A great compromise. Peavy showed his mettle, and Ventura didn't let him get carried away.
If you've gotten to this point, I'll keep the rest brief. There's no right answer, and you might come to a different conclusion.
No. 1: Peavy could stand to throw fewer pitches. The workload itself didn't kill Peavy, but he was decidedly less effective in the second half (.741 OPS allowed, compared to .610 in the first half). Part of that is regression, but his stuff lost a bit of life. Full-season stamina may still be an issue, since he hasn't thrown back-to-back full seasons since 2006-07, and there were many opportunities to cut pitches here and there.
No. 2: The Sox could stand to score more runs for Peavy. Peavy pitched in an awful lot of close games -- even when he got a nice run total at the end, the runs didn't always show up while Peavy was in the game. Given the way he's wired, he's probably the most motivated when he gets the chance to see things through, and that may not be a behavior Ventura could change, even with a season full of appropriate hooks. More restraint by Ventura here and there would be welcome, but it would also benefit everybody if the offense gave Peavy a decent cushion on a more regular basis. That way, when Ventura startles him with an early hook, everybody can laugh about it after the adrenaline wears off.