Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The 6-Inning Pitcher

There is no shortage of baseball pundits that will spout off about today's pitchers being pansies for not being able to go more than 6 innings and needing 4 days rest between starts. They will tell you about Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax, Tom Seaver, et al., regularly going nine.

Of course, with the possible exception of Johan Santana, there is no pitcher currently in his prime that can even hope to get within sniper distance of the above mentioned troika. But, on the whole, I'd argue that today's pitchers are at least as good as those of 30-50 years ago to go six in today's hitting-dominated environment.

Most of the following is anecdotal evidence, with yours truly providing the anecdote. The story probably isn't as clean as I'll present it. I'm not poring over numbers to prove my point; I've seen enough that I know what I see.

My perspective is from 1987 because it is my belief that the major shift towards offenses began in that year. As it was the first year of the Bash Brothers, it marks the beginning of the Steroid Era.

It used to be- meaning pre-1987- that a lineup that had three viable HR threats (I'll loosely define it as someone capable of a 20-HR season) would be considered a very strong lineup. In the '70s, you were hard-pressed to find shortstops that could hold up a bat long enough to swing it.

Without taking into account- for now- all the advantages hitters are afforded by modern resources and a lower strike zone, today's hitters, on the whole, are much more powerful. In this day an age, a team can't compete without having at least five (maybe you can get away with 4 in the NL). The Yankees' entire starting lineup is a HR threat.

It is my contention that, today, because more hitters are capable of hitting HRs (and many of them are HR happy), they are much more willing to strike out in the hopes of hitting one out.

I won't discuss why that is here; it'll give y'all something to do.

Since the hitters are much more willing to strike out, this is means that the pitcher has to throw a greater amount of pitches to each batter. If a pitcher has to throw one more pitch to each batter than he did in (pick: 1966, 1976, 1986) over 27 batters (3 times through the line-up), that's almost 2 innings chopped off a start. If 9 of these 27 batters reach base (assume no double plays), that's 6IP.

I'll look at it two ways.

  • If having those 27 extra pitches would buy you 2 extra innings, it would make a 6-inning pitcher an 8-inning pitcher.
  • If what used to be 3 pitches per batter has turned into 4 pitches per batter, 81 pitches through six innings has turned into 108 pitches through six innings. Unless you're CC Sebathia, at that point, you're in the shower.

Aside- All those extra pitches per batter and all the pitching changes lengthen the game. So do all the extra commercials, but game length is another fight.

Once again, this is a simplified analysis. Maybe some egghead can go find the numbers to support this.

This analysis doesn't even factor in the stress of throwing to today's line-up. That can't be done with such a simple argument. Further, I don't think Bill James & Co. have gotten around to quantifying this. For now, suffice it to say that today's pitchers can't just throw 92-mph fastballs on the outside black and expect half the line up to eventually roll over.

Aside- Let me qualify that. You can if you're Tom Glavine, just substitute 86-MPH meatballs and 8 inches off the black, if the umps will call that for you.

The deeper into a count the pitcher gets, the more he's going to want something to show for it. More bluntly, it's going to fuck with his head and he's going to want to strike this motherfucker out. The pitcher will place an increased emphasis on getting the batter to swing and miss. In their quest, too many pitchers use sliders and curves for that purpose. I'd have to say that at least 40%-50% of today's pitch selection is something other than a fastball.

Sliders and curves, boys and girls, fuck up your elbow and shoulder big time. If you're going to snap off 40 of those per game, you'll need rest, a lot of rest. Even with rest, you will eventually blow out one, if not both. As an example, I'm no doctor, but I'm pretty sure Kerry Wood (remember how nasty he was- throwing sliders that started at your head and broke across the plate- as nasty as anyone, ever) didn't wreck both throwing 75% heat.

Getting everybody off the sauce won't help much. That analysis is also for another time.

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