A Revolutionary Idea for MLB Starting Pitchers

Perry ArnoldSenior Analyst IMay 21, 2009

NEW YORK - MAY 19:  CC Sabathia #52 of the New York Yankees pitches against the Baltimore Orioles at Yankee Stadium May 19, 2009 in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

In the course of major league baseball, there have been great changes in the way pitchers are used.

In the early days of professional baseball, teams did not have more than one or two quality pitchers, and they were expected to pitch every other day or so.

Cy Young won 511 games. There are very few starting pitchers in baseball today who will have as many starts as Cy Young had wins.

A pitcher would have to start 30 games for 17 years to get that many starts.

For many, many years, major league teams went with four-man rotations.

The Milwaukee Braves' pitching of the early '50s was known for the saying, "Spahn and Sain, then pray for rain."

Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain were the only real pitchers the Braves had and they pitched more than any team would dare trot out their starters today.

Pitchers have pitch limits and inning limits. Everyone is afraid of breakdowns and career-ending injuries.

But some of this is money driven, also. Agents don't want their young pitchers overused before they have a chance to board the money train that will come with the player's first big free agent contract.

Then, when a pitcher, like Johan Santana of the New York Mets, signs the really big contract for six or seven years, owners and general managers get really nervous and want to conserve that arm.

No way does a team want to invest that much money in an arm and see it hanging limply from a worn out body before the contract is halfway over.

The management wants to recoup their investment that puts butts in the seats, and if they think fans are going to come and pay to see the Big Hoss pitch, they want that to continue the life of his contract.

As it is now, all major league teams use a five-man rotation and keep a clicker in the pitching coach's hand to make certain the starters are not overused.

So, here is a revolutionary idea.

I propose going with a six-man rotation, but use the pitchers in an entirely different way.

Pair them into two-man teams and send each team out to pitch every third game.

There are a few off days worked into the schedule, so it is not going to work out to exactly every third day, but every third game.

Have one member of the team begin the game and go four innings. He will use up between 60-80 pitches.

Then, he would be replaced by his "teammate"—another starting pitcher who would pitch four more innings, bringing you to your closer.

Of course there are going to be days your "starter" may only go three and your second man may only go three, so you have to have a few more arms in the pen.

If a typical starter in the bigs starts 34 games and averages six innings per start, he is going to pitch 204 innings. 

If you use the new system, each of your starters would get into 54 games. If they average 3.5 innings per game, they are only at 189 innings for the season.

The other advantage to this system is that with each change, the opposition is going to be facing a new set of problems.

For instance, using the Yankees as an example:  If C.C. Sabathia comes out and fires four innings and is then replaced by Chien Ming-Wang, the hitters have to adjust to something completely different, rather than seeing CC for the third or fourth time and getting the chance to adjust.

With this system, you could also reduce the number of pitchers used overall by keeping only four pitchers in the pen.

That would allow a team to keep 10 pitchers and have 15 position players.

The argument that is going to come up against this system is that there are not enough quality pitchers now.

Most teams cannot come up with even four first-rate starters, much less six.

I understand that argument, and there is merit to it.

But you would not be asking any of these guys to give you six quality innings per start.

Alfredo Aceves, Jonathan Albaladejo, Jose Veras, and even Phil Coke would be able to pitch very well for three or four innings if they were trained to do that.

This system is not going to be implemented. But if it were, it would do away with fear of injuries and would allow better performances for the time that each pitcher is in the game.


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