Suc­cess of Nats, Astros puts at­ten­tion on starters

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - SPORTS - AP Base­ball Writer

By Ron­ald Blum

SCOTTSDALE, ARIZ. (AP) >> Washington went against base­ball’s trend to­ward bulked-up bullpens, ded­i­cat­ing 39% of its pay­roll to three start­ing pitch­ers: Max Scherzer, Stephen Stras­burg and Patrick Corbin. The trio tri­umphed, lift­ing the Na­tion­als to the first World Se­ries ti­tle in the team’s 51-sea­son his­tory.

Hous­ton came within one win of its sec­ond cham­pi­onship in three sea­sons, led by a ro­ta­tion headed by Ger­rit Cole, Justin Ver­lan­der and Zack Greinke.

In a sport of copy­cats, will ro­ta­tion arms re­gain promi­nence through­out the ma­jor leagues?

“That’s my fa­vorite ques­tion of ev­ery GM meet­ings. It is the nar­ra­tive of who­ever won the World Se­ries,” Los An­ge­les Dodgers pres­i­dent of base­ball oper­a­tions An­drew Fried­man said Tues­day. “I think as you look back at the World Se­ries cham­pi­ons the last five, 10 years, they’re all great teams and they all get there in slightly dif­fer­ent ways.”

Start­ing pitch­ers av­er­aged 5.2 in­nings this year, the low­est since Base­bal­lRef­er­ence.com’s fig­ures be­gan in 1925. The av­er­age ranged from 5.8 and 6.1 in ev­ery sea­son from 1993 through 2015 but has dropped for five straight sea­sons.

The New York Mets and Washington led with an av­er­age of 5.8 this year, fol­lowed by Cleve­land at 5.7 and Hous­ton at 5.6.

“If peo­ple are copy­ing us, then we must be do­ing some­thing right,” Na­tion­als gen­eral man­ager Mike Rizzo said. “Start­ing pitch­ing has been our phi­los­o­phy. Hope­fully we’re go­ing to con­tinue to uti­lize that for­mula for con­tin­ued suc­cess.”

Cole and Stras­burg are on the free-agent mar­ket along with Zack Wheeler, Madi­son Bum­gar­ner, HyunJin Ryu and Jake Odorizzi. Cole, a 29-year-old righthande­r who is 35-10 over the past two sea­sons, is ex­pected to get a record con­tract for a pitcher, top­ping David Price’s $217 mil­lion, seven-year deal with Bos­ton be­fore the 2016 sea­son and Ver­lan­der’s $31.33 mil­lion av­er­age salary un­der a three-year deal with the Astros that started in 2019.

Astros gen­eral man­ager Jeff Luh­now de­scribed elite start­ing pitch­ers in the same way bil­lion­aires covet lux­ury yachts.

“They’re dif­fi­cult to ac­quire. They’re ex­pen­sive to keep. And there’s not that many of them around,” he said.

Washington se­lected Stras­burg with the top pick in the 2009 am­a­teur draft and kept him with a $175 mil­lion, seven-year deal he opted out of this month with four sea­sons and $100 mil­lion re­main­ing. Scherzer signed a $210 mil­lion, seven-year agree­ment as a free agent be­fore the 2015 sea­son and Corbin reached a $140 mil­lion six-year deal on the open mar­ket last De­cem­ber.

Hous­ton went a dif­fer­ent route, ac­quir­ing its aces in trades and es­chew­ing long-term con­tracts for pitch­ers. Ver­lan­der was ob­tained from Detroit on Aug. 31, 2017, for three prospects and agreed last March to a deal adding $66 mil­lion and two years through 2021.

Cole was landed from Pitts­burgh in Jan­uary 2018 for four play­ers and had two years of club con­trol that cost the Astros $20.25 mil­lion. Greinke ar­rived from Ari­zona at this year’s July 31 trade dead­line for a quar­tet of prospects and will cost Hous­ton roughly $50 mil­lion for 2 1/3 sea­sons.

MATT YORK - THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Washington Na­tion­als gen­eral man­ager Mike Rizzo speaks dur­ing a me­dia avail­abil­ity dur­ing the Ma­jor League Base­ball gen­eral man­agers an­nual meet­ings Tues­day, Nov. 12, 2019, in Scottsdale, Ariz.

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