Daniel Norris and His 54-Pitch Inning

Daniel Norris began this season fighting for a rotation spot with the Toronto Blue Jays. At just 21 years of age to start the season, the Blue Jays prospect, who made news in Spring Training for living in a van, made the rotation. After struggling through a dead arm period, however, he was sent back down to the minor leagues while the big-league club struggled through the first half of the season. When David Price moved from the Detroit Tigers to the Blue Jays at the trade deadline, Norris was the headlining prospect heading back to Detroit. Both Toronto and Detroit have managed the left-hander’s innings this season — he’s recorded just 145.2 of them between the minors and majors this season — but on Tuesday, Norris suffered through three innings’ worth of pitches in just a single frame, requiring 54 pitches to get through the first inning against Texas.

The pitching scouting reports that local broadcasts put up on the screen are not always illuminating, but the final point in the graphic for Norris’ start was rather ominous.

Screenshot 2015-10-02 at 8.15.02 AM

The outing for Norris didn’t start well, although it was through no fault of his own: an error by Ian Kinsler allowed Delino DeShields to reach base. The next batter, Shin-Soo Choo — perhaps going against the plan to make Norris get deeper into his pitch count, as well as to run contrary to his own scouting report as a batter (swinging on under 22% of first pitches on the season) — took Norris deep on a 94 mph four-seam fastball on the inner-half of the plate.

Adrian Beltre worked a 2-2 count before fisting a ball to shallow right-center field that fell for a hit. Prince Fielder followed with a five-pitch walk. Norris appeared to get a tough break with the strike zone based on this plot of pitches from Brooks Baseball.

NorrisFielderplot

However, looking at the where the pitch ended up in the catcher’s glove, the ball call was understandable (both balls in the strike zone were caught in roughly the same spot):

Screenshot 2015-10-02 at 10.09.34 AM

After 18 pitches and four batters, Norris had reached the end of a typical inning. The average number of pitches per inning this season in MLB is just over 16 and the average number of batters faced is 4.2 for all pitchers. For Norris, his averages were a bit higher at 17.5 pitches and 4.3 batters faced per inning. As a result, this appeared to be a good time for a visit to the mound, and a mound visit did occur, providing Norris with a one minute break.

The table below details some points regarding Norris’ performance, including his time on the mound (although not including the mound visit), over those first 18 pitches. Fastball velocity includes both the four-seam and sinking fastball, as Norris throws both pitches at roughly the same velocity, per Brooks Baseball.

Daniel Norris’ First 18 Pitches vs. the Rangers
Pitches Batters Time Time/Pitch FB Velocity Avg
1-18 4 7:09 23.8 seconds 95.2 mph
SOURCE: Velocity c/o Brooks Baseball

Norris’ next hitter proved a difficult one as Mike Napoli saw ten pitches in the at-bat. On Norris’ 27th pitch of the inning, this one on a 2-2 count to Mike Napoli, he threw a wild pitch, up beyond the glove of the catcher. He got Napoli to pop up on the next pitch, but an error by Jefry Marte allowed Napoli to reach. After five batters, including two errors, Norris had compiled 28 pitches and been on the mound for more than 13 minutes without recording an out.

Like Napoli before him, Mitch Moreland went to a 3-2 count before Norris was able to record the first out of the inning on a weak ground ball. With a little help from his fielders, Norris should have been out of the inning — with perhaps only Choo’s solo home run on the board. Instead, three runs had scored and there were runners on second and third with only one out. After a first-pitch slider was fouled off by Elvis Andrus, Norris had doubled his pitch count to 36 while seeing just barely over two hitters. Like above, the time listed in the table below does not include the mound visit.

Daniel Norris’ Pitches 19-36 vs. the Rangers
Pitches Batters Time Time/Pitch FB Velocity Avg
19-36 2.1 9:36 32.0 seconds 94.9 mph
SOURCE: Velocity c/o Brooks Baseball

Norris’ velocity remained pretty close to stable, although the deep counts and wild pitch provided some indication that he was laboring. Despite pitching to fewer hitters and no home runs, Norris spent considerably more time on the mound to get through Napoli and Moreland. Andrus eventually hit a sacrifice fly on Norris’ 39th pitch, and with two outs, Brad Ausmus and the Tigers let Norris try to finish the inning. In a plate appearance that saw seven pitches, Rougned Odor fouled off three of them before tripling to the gap in right-center field. Having given up five runs to eight hitters on 46 pitches and spening roughly 25 straight minutes on the mound, Norris stayed in.

Norris made eight pitches to Chris Gimenez to get out of the first inning. In total, he spent more than 27 minutes on the mound during the inning. Repeating the same chart from above we see the following results.

Daniel Norris’ Pitches 37-54 vs. the Rangers
Pitches Batters Time Time/Pitch FB Velocity Avg
37-54 3 9:27 31.5 seconds 94.3 mph
SOURCE: Velocity c/o Brooks Baseball

And combining the charts into one:

Daniel Norris’ First Inning vs. the Rangers
Pitches Batters Time Time/Pitch FB Velocity Avg
1-18 4 7:09 23.8 seconds 95.2 mph
19-36 2.1 9:36 32.0 seconds 94.9 mph
37-54 3 9:27 31.5 seconds 94.3 mph
SOURCE: Velocity c/o Brooks Baseball

Norris kept most of his velocity during the first inning, but against the last batter of the inning, he exhibited a dropoff. Here are the velocities on the six fastball he threw to Gimenez (in mph): 94, 94, 96, 95, 92, 90. After this, Norris was allowed to pitch to four batters in the second inning, during which time his average fastball velocity was 92.5 mph, a drop of two mph from the first inning. For his part, Ausmus did not seem worried about Norris.

Cliff Corcoran of Sports Illustrated, along with the help of Harry Pavlidis, wrote about Norris and the history of players allowed to make more than 50 pitches in a single inning. Given the fragile nature of pitching and limited number of times it has happened, there is no predictive link between pitching 50 pitches in an inning and getting hurt. However, given that same fragile nature of pitching, letting a 22-year-old top prospect recording more than 50 pitches in the first inning of a relatively meaningless game seems (at a minimum) careless, if not also reckless. Corcoran addressed this point in his piece:

[G]iven the association made between pitching arm injuries and pitches thrown while fatigued in studies such as those by former Baseball Prospectus analyst and current Indians director of baseball analytics Keith Woolner, it made very little sense to take the chance that Ausmus did on Tuesday with as valuable a young arm as Norris’s.

Norris did catch a few bad breaks in the first inning both with his defense and the strike zone. Given the left-hander’s fastball velocities up until the final batter of the first inning, Ausmus was reasonable to conclude that Norris was still strong, but it was unreasonable for Ausmus to think that Norris would remain strong. We can assume that, given the way Norris ended the first inning, he was experiencing signs of fatigue against Gimenez — a point became even more evident when Norris pitched in the second. Having the benefit of hindsight, we know that Norris’ velocity did tail off after giving up the Odor double — although, given the number of pitches Norris threw, this was not a matter of if, but when. Ausmus waited until after Norris tired, and then let him continue to pitch after an obvious drop in velocity.

There’s an argument to be made about the potential benefits of allowing a young pitcher to record a 100 pitches, perhaps up to 120, so that the pitcher is stretched out and can perhaps finish a game when called upon. There is not a similar situation for that same pitcher recording 50 pitches in an inning. There is rarely a positive scenario in which a pitcher throws 50 pitches in a single innings other than to save a bullpen — and, even then, any savings are minimal given the output of pitches already used. A young prospect is not ideally ever to be used in that situation. Even if there is no direct link between these big innings and injuries, the potential benefit is so far outweighed by the very high potential cost as to render the move entirely irresponsible.

We hoped you liked reading Daniel Norris and His 54-Pitch Inning by Craig Edwards!

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Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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Damaso
Member
Damaso

surprising seeing that velo from him. seems he was always sitting 90-92 in toronto.

i’d love to see some analysis on his release point – anecdotally i got the impression that he had a very hard time maintaining a consistent one.

Powder Blues
Guest
Powder Blues

You’re right – in 2014 and early 2015, Norris was around the 91 MPH mark. You can probably chalk it up to a long 2014 season, and some early season dead arm in 2015. I think the more relevant data point is the relative drop from 95 to 90-92 in yesterday’s game. Ausmus was playing with fire.

Nice article, Craig.

Baron Samedi
Member
Baron Samedi

See: “dead arm period”

He was throwing 96 in ST.