Pitching By Committee-no more starters?

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.

23 thoughts on “Pitching By Committee-no more starters?

  1. The major problems with this are a few.

    1) More max effort pitching = more pitcher injuries – There is growing evidence that max effort (which includes guys using more effort to try to maintain stuff/velo when they are tired) contributes to elbow injuries. Better to just throw normally and get pulled sooner.

    2) There is no data yet on whether or not only throwing 4-5 innings/start allows guys to start more often and how that would affect arms throughout the season. Good luck getting teams to volunteer to screw around with the health of their assets. The Rockies tried this sort of thing a few years ago and abandoned it because their pitchers sucked no matter how they were deployed.

    3) Holy Jeez, roster will have to be expanded to hold more pitchers. Wear and tear on reliever arms is harder per IP than for starters in part because they throw with more effort when they throw and are asked to throw on back-to-back days more often. Teams need about 1500 IP each year. Usually, they try to get about 1000 of that from their starters. If they are shifting that down to about 800, you are looking at needing about 3-4 more relievers to pick up the slack…..OR teams will have to carry more guys capable of turning over a lineup once…which will probably amount to the same effect…needing at least 15 pitchers on a roster because all teams won’t have a bunch of guys with options to shuttle back and forth.

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    • 1) Not necessary to always max effort. You’re taking a guy out before his 3rd go through in the rotation. I can actually see this reducing pitcher injuries since you’re not asking any one guy to go so many pitches.
      2) Colorado is not a good place to try any pitching experiment. As explained, the Rays did attempt a variation of this experiment last year, and it worked well.
      3) Yep, changes might be needed. The Rays had to shift guys constantly up back and forth from AAA last year.

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      • The major issues are going to be logistics and health.

        The dynamics of the logistics will make decisions made in one game affect what options are available in the following games more than the current approach. Meaning dumb managers have more opportunity to screw things up and increase stress on their pitchers.

        Health is already a giant unknown. Having pitchers change how often they pitch, their throwing programs, etc. would be prohibitive for many teams even trying this…justified or not. No team is going to risk the health of valuable assets even if the end result may be better health. It is like anyone that bucks a trend, if things go wrong everyone will blame the changes rather than acknowledging that pitcher break no matter what and that usually it takes years for the effects of over use to result in injury..

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      • I think the single issue of innings to pitch in a year will sink this idea. The only exception I would make is if the next CBA expands rosters. I doubt owners would go for that.

        But I would also agree with Paper that this is uncharted territory per injuries, frequency of pitching and general logistics of who is out there on the field.

        And pitching is already a rarer commodity than hitting in the modern MLB. I question whether the addition of the three to four pitchers needed to handle this two rotation thing might put so many AAA quality pitchers in the majors that you lose any advantage you gained from missing that third time through the order.

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        • I disagree with Paper but I also think he misinterpreted some of what I said. Gadfly summed it up perfectly. Pitchers #1 and #2 go deep, yank #3, #4, and #5 before they have a chance to face the line-up a 3rd time and get hit hard. It’s simple, and not an all or nothing proposition. (I am not anti-starters, for the record. I am for using pitchers most effectively regardless of title.) For maximum effectiveness and bullpen rest, split pitchers #1 and #2 up so they’re not pitching on back to back days. If you have a rotation full of starting pitchers able to go deeper into games, go for it. Most teams don’t have that sort of wealth. I think in the future, get accustomed to seeing certain pitchers get pulled before they get a chance for a so-called quality start as it is currently defined (6 IP) as teams wizen to this. It doesn’t make sense to pull the starter after he’s blown the game. Do it before he gets into trouble if his stats have proven he has an expiration date even if he looks like he’s cruising.

          Less proven pitchers are put in low leverage situation. Proven pitchers are placed in higher leverage situations. It worked well for the Rays but they have good pitchers. If a team has bad pitchers, nothing is going to disguise it. What the Rockies did was not what the Rays did effectively last season.

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  2. Desperate times call for creative measures. Hickey did a masterful job with what he had last year- as did Lilliquist in St Louis, but I think every team out there would prefer to have 7 or 8 inning starters. The biggest problem with that is there just aren’t that many available.

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    • Of course every team would rather have a guy that can pitch 7 or 8 quality innings, but the reality is that a lot of pitchers can’t give that. At the same time, a pitcher who can give you 5 quality innings still has value. Most guys get hit in the deeper innings. With the talented pitchers who can handle being stretched out, go for it. (I’m really not pro getting rid of ALL starters of the world.) For the Erasmos of the world, hand over the ball, son.

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  3. There is also a difference between trying to survive 162 game schedule, during which teams don’t have to win any particular game, and the playoffs. The payoff for this time of thing is probably small in the regular season, and possibly even negative if it means worse pitchers throwing more innings or leads to injuries. Only idiots (coughMikeMathenycough) manage the post season like it is the regular season….and yeah, in situations in which every single game is hugely important, you can use an optimal strategy such as the one suggested.

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  4. The biggest problem I see is that the Rays were able to do this specifically because they were able to shuffle a ton of players between AAA and MLB. Most teams are limited in this capacity due to the limited number of options on a player. Also, I could see veterans throwing a fit if they were asked to be sent down on a regular basis.

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  5. I’d like to think that we are in an era where people have come to understand that there isn’t just one way to run a team, and each needs to evaluate their potential and decide which kind of construction they want to use. I know this probably kills the pitcherwannabehitterball enthusiasts with their illusions of 9-player teams, but the reality is that BP’s make a difference and relievers aren’t just backups anymore. If a team can stock itself with aces and go that route, awesome for them, but if they can’t, they can still be effective without the stars by utilizing guys in a smart way…which is to say that player management is a factor in winning and managers of such teams have to do more than just fill out a lineup card.

    /looks at Ausmus, sobs

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