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Dodgers: The Future of Starting Pitchers Looks Cloudy

Dodgers
Jul 13, 2018; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Walker Buehler (21) pitches against the Los Angeles Angels in the first inning at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

As many of you were, I was shocked when the Brewers pulled starting pitcher Wade Miley out of the game after one batter in game 5 of the NLCS.

https://twitter.com/MrBrianKenny/status/1052671028902674432

It turns out that after a small rough start Brandon Woodruff, the new reliever, got out of the first inning with no harm done. We later found out that it was all part of a plan and that Miley would start game 6 of the NLCS. Many of us have said that Dave Roberts over-manages sometimes but Craig Counsell seems to have taken the cake.

The Issue

The game is constantly evolving and it seems we are in the middle of some very quick and monumental changes. This year the Tampa Bay Rays used an “opener” for many games with some amount of success. An “opener” is loosely defined as a pitcher whose role is to start the game and face a few key batters before the actual “starter” comes in. It is mostly the case that the “starter” coming in relief isn’t a stud starter. The Rays have Cy Young favorite Blake Snell and they never used an opener for him nor for Chris Archer, before he was traded.

The Dodgers used an opener once for Dennis Santana’s first “start” as they had Scott Alexander start the game to get through some tough Rockies lefties. They’ve also had bullpen games in the past and the Oakland A’s had a bullpen game for the Wild Card game this year. Those are games where nobody really goes more than an inning or two and are planned that way.

The use of an opener is a strategy that is used for trying to win baseball games and I have no problem with that idea. Where I start to get concerned is that the starter is kind of a headliner. Many of us will choose our games to attend by who is starting. If someone like Clayton Kershaw or Walker Buehler is pitching then a lot of us want to get to that game.

In the Miley case, it was a playoff game. However, is this something that is going to happen in the regular season? Do we want the teams to be using deception so we don’t know who is going to pitch at all? Personally, my time is valuable and I like to know who’s pitching before I attend a game.

What The Future Might Hold

Dodges
Oct 17, 2018; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw (22) throws in the sixth inning against the Milwaukee Brewers in game five of the 2018 NLCS playoff baseball series at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The only thing that will hold back an avalanche of this behavior is current roster limits and keeping the DH out of the National League. If some of the General Managers had their way we’d have even more pitchers on the roster and we’d have even more pitching changes than we have now. Imagine those September games with 40 man rosters going on all year long. No thank you!

Another problem lurking on the horizon for these 25 man rosters, where 13 are pitchers, is that position players now have less spots. It also means that less versatile players will have their careers ending earlier.  Teams will fill their rosters with minimum wage relief pitchers to help keep the payroll down. Remember, most relief pitchers are still failed starters. The product on the field will be more pitching changes and less starting pitchers being developed. Are we ready for a baseball world without Clayton Kershaw type pitchers?

The Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) could offer some solutions when it is negotiated in 2021. Maybe they can have roster limits on pitchers. I can see the position players almost at war with pitchers as they negotiate the future of their careers. Just a few years ago 25 man rosters were 11 pitchers and 14 position players. Now is is usually 13 pitchers and 12 position players.

Final Thoughts

The future of the starting pitcher is, at best, clouded, given the current trends. Great starting pitching is one of my favorite parts of the game. A marquee matchup of starters is something that can get people in the seats. Frequent pitching changes are not something I enjoy and the flow of the game is disrupted too much.

If nothing changes managers and front offices will continue to trend towards minimizing expensive (and great) starting pitchers. If a team feels they can win by “bullpenning” they will and should. I want some rules in place to make it not so advantageous to “bullpen” games too much. I want to help keep good starting pitchers relevant.

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Written by Tim Rogers

A fan of the Dodgers since 1973 since I got my first baseball cards while living in Long Beach. I came to San Diego for college and never left nor did I ever switch my Dodgers' allegiance. Some know me as the "sweater guy". #ProspectHugger

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  1. The current “standard” of a quality starts is part of the problem- 3 earned runs in six complete innings. That equates to an ERA of 4.5 per nine innings. here aren’t (m)any megabuck pitchers with that high an EWRA unless a long term contract gone bad Gone are the (old) days when a failed starter wallowed in the bullpen. Gone also are the complete game pitchers. Baseball which thrives on tradition and records has morphed into seemingly minor things with great impact. How do you compare a six inning starter with the likes of Mathewson, Alexander of a century ago or the Roberts, Palmers, Koufax’ etc of more recent yesterdays? How do you compare a 330 hitter with Hornsby, Cobb, Sisler, Williams of yesterday?

    yesterdays? with Hornsby, Sisler,

  2. In today’s game what’s the difference? An opener going 2 innings or Kershaw going 5 innings. The fact is hitters are a little better and starters are babied to the point where they can only pitch 5 innings . And the babying has only resulted in an epidemic of season ending injuries and surgery. Can’t think of this happening before the 90’s. Tommy John was a 1 off in the 70’s.

  3. You are right JimC. Now we compare the ERA of 200 inning pitchers to 350 inning pitchers and think they are comparible? Ive said before that if you told palmer, roberts, koufax, gibson and many many more, they only had to pitch 6 innings and they would get an extra days rest to boot they might not even have an era.

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