Friday, April 3, 2020

Pitching Questions (If We Actually Play Baseball This Year)

I saw an article in the New York Post today that cites Brodie Van Wagenen as still being confident about the Mets' rotation despite the loss of Noah Syndergaard for the season. That's pretty much what you would expect any GM to say, but it got me to thinking about pitching in general if baseball does come back in 2020.

Assuming that what we've been reading about a potential 2020 season is true, MLB and the Players Union will work together to attempt to play as many games as possible even if a season doesn't start until June or July.  They talk about playing doubleheaders as a way of doing this with a compressed schedule, along with fewer off days and playing later into the year at warm weather sites.

If you're close to as ancient as I am you can remember back to a time when there were a fair amount of doubleheaders on the schedule, primarily on holidays and Sundays during the summer months, but also some makeups for rainouts.  You had to have guys on your pitching staff that were primarily long relief but could give you 5 innings when one of those doubleheaders popped up on your schedule, the classic bullpen swingman.  Back in the day these were older pitchers who no longer were good enough to keep a regular rotation spot or maybe a young guy you were working into a starting role slowly.

Baseball has changed a lot since then.  Even though there were more doubleheaders there were also more days off.  I remember a time when there were few games on Mondays.  Starting pitchers went a lot deeper into games, and teams relied much less on the bullpen.  The classic swingman is mostly a thing of the past.

Which makes me wonder, if I was tasked with managing a team, how would I plan for a season that featured doubleheaders and few off days?   I assume if this goes forward teams will have some flexibility in roster management, and the new bullpen rules should at least somewhat cut down on how many pitchers get into a typical game, it seems likely that it will be much more challenging to handle this kind of schedule.

The vast majority of starting pitchers are pitching 5 - 6 innings these days, and you're unlikely to get much more out of them.  Still, I think managers might have a little more incentive to try to get another inning out of them if it's a 50-50 call.  I also would expect to see more teams using openers and even trying to coax an entire game out of their bullpen.

Still, most teams have a limited number of relief pitchers on their rosters that they can turn to that are actually effective, and most of these guys are trained to pitch an inning at a time.  Even with roster flexibility to roll fresh arms onto your roster, how many are you really going to be able to trust in a close game that you're actually trying to win?

It strikes me that grooming guys to be able to pitch that second inning of relief will be crucial in a compressed season.  A pitcher that can be effective in multiple innings consistently would seem to me more valuable than the typical solid but not elite one inning closer.  Of course, if you ask a guy to pitch more innings you can't keep rolling him out there day after day.  So many managers fall back on running the same guy out there over and over again, and you'd wear out a guy pretty quickly like that.

This will be an interesting season strategically if it still comes to be.  Games and rosters will be managed differently by necessity, and it's likely that we'll see some changes that would linger past this season.  I'd be grateful for the chance to see that.

As one final aside, if we do play a season with doubleheaders and few days off, can we maybe use a little more common sense when ESPN wants to move a game to Sunday might?  If a team has to travel cross country for a game the next day can that be off limits, finally?  Unlikely I guess, but there is always hope.

See you tomorrow.  Stay well.

I'm not sure if anyone who read the old blog will find their way here after all these many years, but if you do please drop me an email or comment if you'd prefer. I'd honestly love to hear from you. Also, I will be posting here regularly if you're inclined to come back.

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