Evolv­ing role of the pitcher

The Welland Tribune - - SPORTS - Sstin­son@post­media.com

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.

GETTY IM­AGES

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.

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