Evolving role of the pitcher
have thrown more than 50 per cent of the available innings. The average starter’s start is well under five innings for the first time in that span, sitting at about 41/3 innings. Roles are being rapidly redefined. It’s the product of math, and probabilities, and managers more willing to play the odds even if it’s contrary to old-timey attitudes, and front offices willing to back them up. It makes one wonder where it might end.
There is research that suggests starters should never go more than twice through a batting order, so will some team develop three-inning specialists who could bridge the gap between the fourth and seventh? Will a manager bring in his best relievers even earlier, in hopes of turning over a lead to a “starter” who could finish the last several innings? Could closers start?
I saw a research paper presented last spring that proposed visiting teams burn a reliever for the first batter of each game, allowing their starter to warm up in the bullpen and immediately enter, rather than warming up and then sitting in the dugout for the top of the first. (Visiting teams have a distinct scoring disadvantage in the first inning, which could in theory be a result of the starter cooling off in the dugout after his warmup.) This strategy would, I imagine, drive many parties crazy, and I doubt any manager would try it. But that’s probably the outer limit of where managers will be willing to change pitching strategy in the future.
The days of the starter who stares daggers at the approaching manager are nearing their end and the complete game, especially in the playoffs, is becoming obsolete.
We’ll still see the odd manager who leaves the starter in too long, who waits to see if his big guy can battle out of high-leverage trouble. “He wanted the ball,” the manager will say ruefully later. And sometime later than that, the manager will be looking for a job.
Then-Toronto starter David Price leaves Game 4 of the 2015 American League Division Series against the Texas Rangers in the eighth inning. Price had entered the game in the fourth as a reliever. At the time, the Blue Jays approach to pitching was viewed as unorthodox, but has since become commonplace, especially in the playoffs.