Traditionalists will not like this, but the wave of the future could be starting pitchers going fewer innings than they currently do. MLB.com columnist Mike Petriello presents a very compelling argument in favor of this titled Game changers: No more starter or reliever labels. Check it out.
As most of you are aware, for most starting pitchers, the third time through the line-up can be a difficult time in a young man’s life. His voice starts getting deeper and he starts growing hair–um, wrong time. Pardon me. As Petriello points out, on average, a starter’s .OPS the 3rd time through the batting order climbs to .771, compared to .705 the first time through the batting order. An RP’s .OPS 1st time through is .699. It makes sense to take the starter out before he gets into trouble.
Petriello uses the Rays as an example. Last year, they had the AL’s best rotation ERA at 3.63 despite suffering injuries to front line starters Alex Cobb, Matt Moore, Drew Smyly, Jake Odorizzi, and Alex Colome. They did this by using less effective pitchers for two turns through the batting order, then turning to the bullpen earlier, and maintaining a constant shuffle of AAA pitchers throughout the season to avoid overworking the bullpen. The more experienced bullpen staff was saved for higher leverage situations. Yay Designatedhitterball League strategy!
The Rays are onto something. This is data from MLB Network:
Most Starts with 18 or Fewer Batters Faced:
STARTS SP ERA
Tigers 20 10.46
Rockies 20 8.79
Athletics 18 9.88
Indians 18 13.69
Reds 18 13.86
Rays 17 4.57
Twins 17 14.01
Royals 17 13.40
If baseball were designed today, would we design it with one starter who would pitch the entire the game? Would it make more sense to have one guy go out there and pitch full effort for a few innings and then bring in another fresh arm. Exceptional pitchers are exempt from this requirement. Yes, it changes the game as we know it. It obliterates the pitcher win and loss. It may have contract and pay implications, although effective pitchers will always command a healthy paycheck regardless of their title. In addition, baseball players are notoriously resistant to change, as are some of their fans. Players like routine, and they like a title. (Put a ring on it!) The Rays had to get buy-in from their pitchers. Some pitchers must be the “9th inning” guy because the 9th inning is magic, as we all know. This obviously won’t work with a player with that kind of mindset. We also lose the no-hitter or rare perfect game from that nobody pitcher you’ve never heard of, and will likely hear about again. That’ll be reserved for the elite pitcher who has earned the right to pitch the 3rd time through the line-up.
My counter-argument to Petriello is that the Rays did this not out of desire, but out of necessity. Having a starting pitching staff decimated with injuries meant they were relying on the likes of Nathan Karns and Erasmo Ramirez. Superficially, they had good years, but the Rays put them in position to succeed by employing this strategy. I think they would have rather have Alex Cobb pitching 7 innings.