There was a time when there was no such thing as bullpens and closers. In fact saves! weren’t even an official statistic until 1969. Starting pitchers were expected to pitch the whole game, and relief pitchers were used for spot starts and multi-inning relief appearances when a starter would struggle or get injured. Things changed however… starters went from pitching to contact and only trying to get strikeouts in dangerous situations, to always throwing hard and no longer being able to last the whole game. This created a need for relief pitchers and eventually closers. Is it time for change again?
Studies show that starters are less successful each successive time that they pitch through the opposing team’s batting order. It makes sense as batters get more used to the pitcher and are better prepared by their next at-bat. Naturally this is an area that we can now improve thanks to sabermetrics. So is it time for another innovation? I think so.
It’s time to get rid of pitcher distinctions completely. Back when I was a kid, I used to wonder why a manager wouldn’t trick the opposing team by making them prepare for a starter who would only pitch one inning, and then replacing him with the “real starter”. Was my idea really that bad? Imagine a team being stacked with righty hitters expecting to face a lefty, only to end up facing a righty for most of the game? Imagine a fresh Clayton Kershaw coming in to pitch innings 6 through 9 of a close game? What about Cody Allen coming in in the 5’th inning with bases loaded and 0 outs, and striking out the next 3 batters?
No more “starting pitchers”, “relief pitchers”, and “closers”. The manager can choose a middle reliever type to start the game and face the top of the opposing team’s order. After an inning or two, he would replace him with a long reliever type for a few innings to face the middle and bottom of the order. The middle innings is when top of the rotation starters and closers begin to come into play. The time when a team needs their best pitchers the most. What would you prefer? A tired ace pitching a third time through the batting order? Or a fresh ace coming in to finish the last few innings while only pitching through the batting order once?
Look at the advantages for the team using this strategy:
1. No pitcher faces the batting order twice in one game. This means that the opposing team will almost certainly get on base less.
2. Aces pitch in more games. An elite starting pitcher can pitch 3 innings on Monday and then 3 innings on Wednesday, before finishing with 2 innings on Saturday. This means that they can help in more games.
3. Better pitchers pitch during crucial situations.
4. Opposing managers can no longer build lineups to their advantage before the game, which is an obvious advantage.
5. Less injuries to starting pitchers due to lesser workloads.
6. No more inning limit limitations for young and returning from injury pitchers.
So what do you think? Do you think that this can work?
Update: As of 05/19/2018 the Tampa Bay Rays are using a similar system.
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Thank you for the kind words. I wrote this a month or so before this strategy began to be used and while I don’t think that I came up with it, it’s nice to know that I predicted it.
For years I have thought the “tandem starting” strategy was a good one. Particularly if you have two “starters” that have different styles of pitching and/or pitch from a different side, enter a game back-to-back. So start with a knuckleballer or slow curve artist for 3-4 innings, then come in with a flamethrower, or vice versa. Or have a lefty start and go 3-4 innings, and then have a righty take the next 3-4. If you’re pitching only 3+ innings an appearance and not approx 7, then you are probably not taxing your arm as much (reduced injury risk, maybe we’ll see less Tommy John surgeries), plus you can just take 2 days off and come back 3 games later. Now you have basically a 6-man rotation, with pitchers A and B doing the tandem in game 1, then pitchers C and D doing the tandem in game 2, then pitchers E and F doing the tandem in game 3, then come back to the A/B tandem in game 4. I really think this will work better overall, although one drawback is your ace might pitch less innings in this arrangement than he would in the traditional one. Also, in the NL, when the pitcher’s spot comes up could influence when to switch to the other half of the tandem, and that might affect how the second pitcher preps with warm-ups. I’d love to see a team try this for a full season, athough it might be hard to know what would have happened had they gone the traditional route, so it would be hard to evaluate if it really worked or not.
I like this idea a lot. I think that in the current era with pitchers throwing as hard as they do, we need to protect their arms and also utilize matchups and times through the batting order. I would like to see something as you suggest attempted in the near future.
I think what would work better is to have a 12-man staff where each pitcher works 3 innings every 4 days. Plus, have a 13th pitcher in case a guy is getting rocked.
That’s a good idea. I do think that the worser pitchers should pitch less but the overall strategy makes sense.