Few topics in baseball inspire as much fiery debate these days as the notion of pitch counts. On one side of the issue, you have the Old School proponents who contend that pitchers used to toss upwards of 120 to 140 pitches per game without feeling so much as twinge so that’s how today’s Charmin-soft youngsters should be taught how to do it, by gawd. And on the other side is the statistically-inclined crowd, with spreadsheet after spreadsheet of data showing that excessive pitch counts wreak havoc on hurlers’ arms, regardless of how they used to do things back in Old Hoss Radbourn’s day.
Whichever side of the issue you come down on, there’s certainly an argument to be made for keeping track of how many times a pitcher hurls a ball in anger, especially if you happen to be the coach of a Little League, Babe Ruth, high school, or youth team. Tracking pitch counts down to the balls and strikes can help you gauge a pitcher’s effectiveness, whether he’s tiring down the stretch or lost command of the strike zone. (Looking up to see the basepaths clogged with runners would also be a helpful indicator.) Developer Keld Sperry brings the task of tracking pitcher workloads to the iPhone and iPod touch with Baseball Pitch Count, a simple, though largely effective pitch counter.
Baseball Pitch Count lets you track the pitches for up to four pitchers on two teams (presumably the visiting and home squads). The interface is effectively plain. You enter the pitcher’s name at the top of the screen and you’ve got two oversized plus buttons just below the name—one for tabulating balls and the other for pitches in the strike zone. The app also shows the total number of pitches thrown and automatically calculates the percentage of strikes tossed by the pitcher. In a particularly nice touch, Baseball Pitch Count also breaks down how many strikes and balls the pitcher has thrown over the last 10 pitches—a nice indicator of whether the pitcher’s control is starting to slip.
While I found myself occasionally sneaking a peak at my iPhone to make sure I was hitting the right button, the oversized plus buttons make it pretty easy to correctly tabulate balls and strikes. Baseball Pitch Count also offers helpful audio cues—tapping the strike button produces a distinctive clicking noise, while the ball button produces a more mournful thunk. If you tap the wrong button, don’t despair—the app offers minus buttons to delete erroneously tabulated balls and strikes. In another clever touch, you have to tap the minus button twice—once to delete the pitch, and another time to confirm the move—so that you don’t inadvertently cancel out correctly-calculated pitches.
So what to do with these numbers? Baseball Pitch Count lets you send an e-mail that includes the balls, strikes, and total pitches thrown by each pitcher. It’s a plain text e-mail, so if you’d like to add those figures to a spreadsheet, you’ll have to do that on your own.
In the App Store, the developer promises a number of additional features are in the works, such as tabulating hits, runs, walks, strikeouts, and other pitcher stats. A planned advanced mode will let coaches track the kinds of pitches thrown.
But here’s a change I’d like to see—flip the order that balls and strikes are shown on Baseball Pitch Count’s screen (or, at least, give me the ability to customize it). Right now, strikes appear on the left and balls on the right—the opposite of how pitch counts are customarily given in games. More than once, when the umpire called a pitch out of the strike zone, my thumb hovered over the left side button ready to tabulate another ball when I realized I was about to tap the strike button. Thank goodness for that minus button. To that end, if you’re tracking pitch counts for two teams, it’s disappointingly easy to get the teams mixed up, as the only way to tell you’re on one team’s screen is a small tab at the top. A little splash of color would go a long way toward stopping you from confusing one team with another.
Baseball Pitch Count has one other flaw, but it’s an annoying one. Say Team Two lifts its pitcher for a reliever—you can use the tabs at the bottom of the screen to add a new pitcher and start tracking his pitch count. But when the inning ends, and you flip back to Team One to continue tabulating that pitcher’s totals, the app assumes that Team One has also changed pitchers and takes you to a new pitcher tab. Tapping on the proper tab fixes the problem, but it’s an annoyance you shouldn’t have to deal with.
One final note: while Baseball Pitch Count is by no means a power hog, keeping the app open and running for the two to three hours that it takes to play a nine-inning baseball game can consume a fair amount of battery life for your iPhone or iPod touch. And I don’t know of too many dugouts that come equipped with power jacks should your pitch counter start to run out of juice.
That said, Baseball Pitch Count is a useful app for coaches, scouts, and Little League parents looking for a way to keep a close watch on how much a pitcher is throwing.
Baseball Pitch Count is compatible with any iPhone or iPod touch running the iPhone 2.2.1 software update.
[Macworld.com executive editor Philip Michaels throws a heck of a fastball… in Wii Sports.]