MLB: Some Teams Are Cautious With Young Arms, But Why?

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MLB: Some Teams Are Cautious With Young Arms, But Why?
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Perusing the internet as I do, I came across the latest piece by Sports Illustrated‘s Tom Verducci, which was a very interesting read.

The best-selling author discussed young pitchers in the major leagues and claimed many have been overworked by their teams.

The game of baseball has changed drastically since the early 1900′s. Instant replay is part of the game, albeit minimally, steroids have been injected and the average salary is over a million dollars.

But pitchers haven’t changed. Way back when, if starters didn’t throw 200-plus innings they must have missed time due to injury. Rotations have expanded since the days two pitchers pitched a majority of the games, as five now make up every staff, but there are still 200 innings out there for young pitchers especially to throw.

Verducci notes that “Last year … 29-and-younger pitchers made 3,497 starts, the second most in the 13 seasons with 30 teams and a 21 percent increase from 1999.”

There is nothing wrong with this. Pitchers are paid to pitch, pitch effectively, and pitch deep into ballgames. Yet, only eight pitchers 25 or younger threw over 200 innings, while only 31 made 25 or more starts. So, despite the vast increase in the amount of starts made by pitchers considered young by baseball’s standards, overprotection is a big part of the game.

Despite giving many examples of young pitchers who increased their workload from the previous season and succeeded, Verducci “developed a rule of thumb that pitchers 25 and younger should not increase their workload by more than 30 innings.”

Why not? Building upon the previous season is called progress. Pitching more means they can handle more—that they are ready for an increased role. There were finesse pitchers and power pitchers in the early to mid-20th century, just as is the case now.

Pitchers are throwing the same speeds they did back then, twirling the same curveballs and baffling opposing hitters with the same changeups.

A pitcher’s goal every time he takes the mound should be to finish what he started. If it isn’t, why pitch? The emergence of the bullpen in the last 30 years has shortened the game drastically to the point that some pitchers may go into an outing thinking six or seven innings would be sufficient.

Nine would be better though, and even a solid bullpen shouldn’t keep this from happening at a prolific rate.

Young pitchers want to show what they are made of. They all want to be aces. They all want to make the Hall of Fame. How can they do that if they are held back?

The way they are treated by team’s is the same reason why some MLB-ready prospects are kept on the farm to control their future salaries and keep them under team control longer.

MLB Trade Rumors’ Ben Nicholson Smith wrote about this in April of 2010:

“If teams wait until late April to call on a player without major league service time, they can save considerably. Players who make their big league debuts after April 19th (that’s Monday) this year won’t spend enough time on a major league roster to earn a full year’s service time, so their free agency will be pushed back a year.”

Some teams abide by this, and some don’t. Top prospects excelling in the minors have been called up prior to April 19th before, with Atlanta’s slugging outfielder Jayson Heyward being a prime example.

Those teams chose not to wait, just like some teams let their young pitchers pitch without any restrictions. Split between the minor leagues and San Francisco Giants, 21 year old Madison Bumgarner increased his inning total by 73 this past season.

Verducci noted ten other pitchers 25 and younger who had increases of 38 innings or more.

Just as there is the hope that prospects will be promoted based on their readiness, I hope more teams let their young arms loose. After all, it was the norm in the 1920s.

There’s no reason it shouldn’t be again, no matter how much the game has transformed since then.

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