Major League Baseball and Middle Relievers: Friend or Foe to the Game?

Craig TurnerCorrespondent IMay 13, 2009

NEW YORK - MAY 12:  Jeff Bennett #30 of the Atlanta Braves wipes his forehead during the tenth inning against the New York Mets on May 12, 2009 at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. The Mets defeated the Braves 4-3 in ten innings.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Over the last 20 years of Major League Baseball, the game has changed in so many ways and on every platform, from players growing in size to the number of uniforms one team has to market.

Fans of our national pastime have grown and adapted with this change.  There's one that's been hard to swallow, and it might be causing more of an issue than any name that surfaces in positive drug test.  I'm speaking of the state of relief pitching in MLB.

The middle relievers are the main cause why starters are struggling to win 20 games.  It can easily be done with a five-man rotation and starters getting 30-35 starts per season.

Games are now won or lost in the 6-7-8 innings.  In no way it that fair to a starter who has given up 1 or 2 runs over 6 and then have to sweat it out on the bench to watch his lead or hard work disappear as quick he was pulled out of the game.

Walk after walk, ball after ball, hit after hit, the mid-relievers are killing the game. Opposing teams are gaining so much confidence in seeing a starter pulled in favor of a "failed" starter.

The problem does not exist with only a handful of teams,  this is a growing problem throughout the sport.  The number of "walk-off walks" outweighs the number of "walk-off hits."

Just ask Bobby Cox of Atlanta Braves, who's team leads the league in walk off walks.  Most recently Monday evening which he saw Mike Gonzalez blow a save and then saw Jeff Bennett with two outs in the 10th give up a stolen base to Jose Reyes.

Cora was intentionally walked and Ramon Castro walked to load the bases. Beltran then took a 3-2 pitch for ball four, pushing across Reyes with the winning run. Bennett's line: 0.2 IP, 1 H, 3 BB, 22 pitches (14 of them balls).

During the 70's and 80's, relievers earned their save or win.  Most would pitch 2-3 innings in doing so.  The big three of Fingers, Goose, and Sutter all have a career average of throwing over 105 and up innings per season. 

Compare that to another Hall of Famer, Dennis Eckersley, averaged 61 innings per season during his 11 years of a dominating closer during the late 80s and 90s.

From Fingers to Papelbon, the innings per season have decreased and have giving way to awful pitching during the 6-7-8 innings.  If your closer is the best pitcher in your bullpen, why isn't he closing out 7-8-9 innings or 8-9 innings?

Nolan Ryan, Hall of Famer and current Texas Rangers' President, has issued an all around change throughout the Rangers system.  From Rookie to the Majors, his pitchers are going deeper into games.

This training and theory is going to take awhile to take affect, especially since every player is seen as a business investment. 

Ryan is making the right move, because starters should be given the option to win or loss the game they started. 

Only time will tell if the game will once again change, this type of change will be for the good of the game.