Luke Graham: Ubaldo’s right arm |

Luke Graham: Ubaldo’s right arm

Luke Graham

Luke Graham.

— Baseball is a stat geek's dream. It's the perfect fit for over-thinkers whose minds never quit.

There are endless scenarios, endless numbers, endless statistics and endless amounts of second-guessing.

I've always loved the statistical side of anything. I still read box scores daily.

You can make yourself believe anything with statistics. Nudge them, finagle them and use them the right way, and you can come away with what you want.

Of course, statistics in baseball already have revolutionized the game. There are so many numbers in baseball now that it can be dizzying.

But I understand why. It's easy to spend half a day breaking down numbers to understand the game.

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Wednesday night was that night. Colorado Rockies pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez threw 101 pitches in eight innings of shutout ball.

It was his pitch count that concerned me. Jimenez throws a high number of pitches. This season, he's topped 120 pitches three times, his highest being a 128-pitch, no-hit effort against the Atlanta Braves.

But through seven innings Wednesday, with a 7-0 lead, he'd thrown only 88. Seemed like the perfect time to get him out and save the arm a little. But he trotted out there for the eighth.

When the game ended, I couldn't stop thinking about his pitch count. One name kept coming to mind: Mark Prior.

The former Chicago Cubs pitcher was the "it" pitcher in 2002-03. He was the next best thing. Perfect mechanics, great stuff and great control.

But in 2003, the Cubs manager at the time, Dusty Baker, pitched Prior in excess. Prior threw 113 pitches per start that year. He threw 120 or more pitches nine times, 130 or more three times and topped out with a 133-pitch game.

Prior was never the same. He battled injuries the next couple of years and eventually dropped out of baseball.

I was immensely worried Jimenez could be on the same path.

In 2009, Jimenez averaged 108 pitches per game. He threw 115 or more 15 times and topped out at 127. This season, Jimenez is averaging 109 pitches a start. Throwing 120-plus pitches in three of his 10 starts puts him right on pace with Prior's 2003 season.

But that's the beauty of statistics. Looking at Jimenez's track record, he might be better built for a high-pitch scenario than Prior.

For comparison, I looked at the other top pitcher in the National League West. The San Francisco Giants' Tim Lincecum is a two-time Cy Young award winner and arguably has been the best pitcher in baseball the past two seasons. Lincecum and Jimenez square off in San Francisco today.

Lincecum's a strikingly better comparison to Prior.

Jimenez, for what it's worth, spent five-plus seasons in the minor leagues, throwing more than 550 innings. He threw seven Major League innings in 2006, 82 in 2007 and 189 in 2008.

He was stretched out and acclimated to professional baseball.

Prior and Lincecum were drafted in the first round out of college. Prior threw 267 innings in college and just 50 in the minors. Lincecum threw 341 innings in college and 62 in the minors.

Both broke into the majors and threw at least 116 innings their first year. The next, each topped 210 innings.

That can be testing on an arm.

In 2002-03, Prior topped 120 pitches 11 times. In 2008-09, Lincecum did it 10 times.

Each touched the dangerous 130-pitch count several times. That's a very dangerous mark for a pitcher.

Prior wasn't the same pitcher from 2004 to 2006. He broke down. He was rushed to the big club, then overworked.

Lincecum could be on the same path. Sure he's 5-1 this season with a 3.00 ERA, but he's struggled in back-to-back starts. He hasn't given up five runs in consecutive starts since 2007.

Maybe it's just an aberration. Maybe just a little rough spot. But maybe it's something more.

After all, you can make yourself believe anything — and feel much better — with statistics.

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