Handling Pitchers Has Changed, Will it Stay This Way?

7-8-21 – By Gary Morgan

Growing up in the 80’s and 90’s I remember a much different look to how pitchers were deployed from what we see today. Those of you who are a touch older probably think those guys were soft too, but the way pitching is used in today’s game is undeniably less familiar than many of us ever saw coming.

We like to blame COVID, and yes, I think that’s exacerbated the situation, but if we’re honest, we’ve been on this track for quite some time.

That doesn’t mean all teams are doing things the same way.

Derek Shelton has taken heat for his handling of the pitching staff and of course many have jumped to his defense by making sure everyone knows he doesn’t have the horses to run this race, but I wonder if his handling in and of itself creates an environment that will never open the door for players to turn into what we see as traditional pitchers.

What we’ve seen has been painted as an organizational ethos, one designed to maintain healthy arms and I can buy that, but what I fear is that this is a little more than that. Part of what I think I’m seeing is that Derek Shelton may have picked up more from his time in Tampa than his time in Minnesota.

Hey what does it matter right? We certainly could do worse than handling a pitching staff like Tampa does, it’s economical after all. Tampa has ridden their bullpen hard and while you watch Sports Center (I mean some of you probably do right), and see Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow, and whoever else they classify as starters racking up strikeouts you might miss how rarely they let those pitchers get deep into games.

This is an American League team so of course the DH eliminates needed to bat for the pitcher, and that makes is all about philosophy. A philosophy the arguably cost them the World Series last year as they pulled Blake Snell who was shutting down the Dodgers lineup throughout his start to get back to what got them there, the bullpen.

Their bullpen was and is spectacular, I’m not going to sit here and tell you they aren’t maximizing their talent. I will say the starters are rendered little more than long relievers though, and looking at what the Pirates are building in the minors, I truly wonder what we can expect moving forward.

As we watch them develop top end starters like Quinn Priester, Roansy Contreras, and Miguel Yajure, I can’t help but wonder if we as fans need to give a little thought to changing our definition of a top end starter.

Let’s look at Roansy, because he has gotten most of the press, and rightfully so he’s been incredible right?

He’s had 9 starts this season for Altoona, and that’s added up to 46 innings pitched. In those innings he’s recorded an incredible 65 strike outs and 11 walks for a WHIP of 0.91. Amazing!

Now, look a little deeper. His longest start of the season was 7 innings, and all the others save the last game he left with soreness in his arm which thankfully turned out to be non ligament, have been between 4 and 6.

He’s only allowed 20 total hits and 11 runs all season so he certainly wasn’t getting knocked around. Why such short outings? I mean if Derek Shelton sets the organizational direction as we’ve been led to believe, one has to imagine this is part of his overall philosophy right?

Oh, I know, it’s COVID again. Well, maybe, it just seems like based on so much being invested in cultivating starting pitching, you might want to, you know, have them pitch. They’ve organizationally decided to go with a 6-man rotation and recently decided during a stretch of games to do the same at the MLB level too. Add in the light usage during their starts and you wind up with starting pitchers used to throwing 5 or 6 innings once per week.

Does that ever add up to a worthy usage of such an investment?

Again, some of this can be attributed to dealing with missing a year of baseball for many of these guys and next season we could see the real Derek Shelton along with his real method for utilizing his talent on the mound.

But what if this is laying the foundation for how they want to use them? Think about this from every angle. If the Pirates are going to be the smartest guy in the room and handle pitching differently than everyone else, train their guys to pitch once a week and short outings at that, how do other teams see them when it comes time to move one of them?

I realize this is much more about asking questions than answering them but sometimes thinking things like this through can actually start to make sense of things. For me, if I’m building an arsenal of arms that can find themselves at the top of a rotation in the majors, I want to use them as such, but I also can see a future where starting pitching isn’t seen as “we need that 250 million dollar guy”, because if you’re role is minimized it stands to reason so is your paycheck right?

I’d also say when you build your team around top end starters you naturally defocus on the bullpen a bit. Maybe you have 3 or 4 guys who can really handle impact innings but if you aren’t relying on length from starters you probably have more like 5 or 6.

Look at the powerhouse Dodgers who’ve run into health and well mental health issues with their starting rotation. Now they find themselves scrambling to find replacements where a team like Tampa can lose Tyler Glasnow to Tommy John and barely miss a beat.

There are so many aspects of handling a pitching staff to think about and while we watch the team be constructed, this area fascinates me as we head into 2022. When we see how this evolves, we’ll have a better picture of what this team is really trying to do. Are they developing Starters and Relievers or are they simply developing arms who can give multiple innings and not worrying about naming them?

Interesting, yes, more importantly it could shed light on what exactly this team is working toward.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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