Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Pitching Quandry

Today on the radio and in print I've been hearing and reading a lot about last night's All-Star Game, and the fact that both managers used up both of their available pitchers and there would have been a serious problem had the game gone further than 15 innings.

There's an easy way to avoid that in the future. And it isn't what most so-called "experts" are suggesting.

The knee jerk response to what happened with the pitchers last night is "add more pitchers to the roster." Wrong, wrong, wrong. Expanding the rosters isn't the solution.

The solution is to better use the pitchers who go in the beginning of the game. The teams carry 12 pitchers, and that is plenty. I believe that the managers should go with just three pitchers for the first six innings. Let three starters pitch two innings apiece, and turn the final three innings over to the closers, or even more starters. You will have as many as six pitchers left should the game go to extra innings and that is fine. (Clint Hurdle actually went this route on Tuesday night, using three starters over the first six innings. But he was hamstrung near the end, as both Tim Lincecum and Kerry Wood were unavailable at the last minute due to illness and injury.)

Managers should make an effort to get all the position players in the game, but they must have a corral of pitchers left should the game go to overtime. This fetish of letting the starter go two innings and then bringing in a pitcher an inning has to stop (and I was dismayed to see Terry Francona doing that last night). As much blame Bud Selig took for the travesty of the 2002 All-Star Game that ended in a tie after 11 innings, it really should have gone to Joe Torre and Bob Brenly, who felt compelled to get EVERYONE in the game. It was a recipe for trouble, and it simply can't happen again.

Hey, if you have five or six pitchers who don't get into the game, so be it. These guys are major leaguers, not Little Leaguers. What will they do, go home and cry to their mommies? Many of them have incentives in their contracts if they make the All-Star team, which is fine, so even if they don't play, it's been worth it for them. And believe me, most of their managers wouldn't mind seeing them not used anyway.

I looked at the 1987 All-Star Game, and that is the perfect way to use pitchers in the game. It was an extra-inning game that went 13 innings in Oakland, and it was a 2-0 NL win. The NL used just 8 pitchers, and the AL just 7 (both squads did have fewer pitchers than yesterday). The first three pitchers on both teams went 2 innings apiece, except AL starter Bret Saberhagen (pictured), who pitched three innings.

I also took a look at the 1967 All-Star Game, which also went 15 innings. Granted this was in a different era, but the AL used only five pitchers the entire game, and still had three pitchers who were never used. Catfish Hunter, who was the losing pitcher, pitched the last five innings for the AL. I'm not suggesting that baseball go back to using pitchers like that, but it is interesting that there wasn't the paranoia back then about pitchers getting hurt, and there wasn't the World Series advantage on the line back then. Just league pride was at stake.

So adding more pitchers isn't the way to go. If a game with even more pitchers goes just nine innings, you'd have even more pitchers who won't get into the game. You just have to better utilize those pitchers who pitch early in the game, and stop worrying about injuries, and especially about getting every pitcher into the game.

Smarter managing will make for a better contest, and give the so-called experts one less thing to run their mouths off about. And that's always a good thing.

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