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Thursday, May 26, 2022

Gammons: While outsiders wonder about the ball, MLB’s pitching coaches fret about finding enough innings

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There are many factors in play, between making velocity programs more important than learning to pitch, leading to multiple operations by the age of 22, to misguided deliveries. Fractured seasons, beginning with 2020, stretching to the HO-scaled 2021 season, and this abbreviated spring training necessitated by the lockout and the belief that playing close to 162 was more important than the physical ramifications of building up pitchers. And, remember, players can only be optioned to the minors five times in a season, which will further add to the physical stress. In mid-May, several stories were justifiably written about how the Padres would utilize the depth of their starting pitching depth; on May 22, Mike Clevinger went on the injured list.

That same day the Brewers’ Freddy Peralta was put on the IL with shoulder weakness.

Coming off the 60-game 2020 season, Matthew Baker of MLB Network Research found that in 2021, 489 pitchers went on the IL — 424 for injuries, 65 for COVID-19. As of May 20, 2022, 196 pitchers had been on the injured list, 170 to injuries, 26 to COVID. Stretch this year’s numbers to a full-season schedule and at the present rate 764 pitchers will go on the injured list, 663 for injuries, 101 for COVID. Add that by May 20 there were 102 pitchers who’d been on the injured list both seasons. It doesn’t take Dr. James Andrews to figure that there will be postseason slots determined by days on the IL. Perhaps next to ERA+, FIP, WHIP and SO/BB on Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs pitching stats line, we have DIL (Days on the Injured List).

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: May 26, 2022 at 04:24 PM | 19 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: injuries

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   1. Walt Davis Posted: May 26, 2022 at 06:08 PM (#6078566)
Pitcher days on the IL has always been an important factor. Perhaps especially, when you looked at teams that did surprisingly well, you'd see a rotation that stayed healthy. I'm not sure it's any more important now, if anything it should be slightly less important -- one advantage of the AAA shuttle and 35 relievers is that it minimises the innings needed from starters #5 through 8. And of course all that shuttling incentivizes a (shall we say) more aggressive use of the IL for minor injuries.

But sure "give me everything you've got for 4-5 innings" might be as/more damaging than "get through 6," maybe especially in this short-term way. And who knows what the effect is of telling a bunch of guys who wouldn't have made it to the majors in the old days that if they can get it up to 95 for an inning or two at a time, they can make the majors?
   2. Walt Davis Posted: May 26, 2022 at 07:07 PM (#6078570)
Some basic numbers for 2022

SP 242/308/394, 3.99 ERA, 4.31 RA9, 1.25 WHIP, 8.2 K/9, 2.73 K/BB, 2.8% HR/PA, 21.1 BF/start
RP 231/310/365, 3.75 ERA, 4.24 RA9, 1.25 WHIP, 9.0 K/9, 2.54 K/BB, 2.45% HR/PA, 16.1 BF/game, 4.7 BF/app

Interesting that most of that ERA difference disappears in RA9. The WHIPs are the same and the K/BB lower for relievers mainly due to IBBs. The HR rate difference is probably the big thing. SP BF/start numbers reduced somewhat by openers and bullpen days so a "real" SP is probably facing about 22-23 batters per start. As I put that all together, I conclude that RPs are doing a bit better on average than SPs but it's not a huge gap.

That's not quite the question though. The 7th through 9th innings have been top reliever territory for a while, at least any time the team has a lead. The high-leverage specialists easily outperform the SPs. So to get the overall averages close, the rest of the relievers much be performing collectively worse than the starters and that's really where our focus is on this question.

But that's not quite the right question either. We know SPs do worse the 3rd time through so even if that relievers brought out in the 5th and 6th innings are worse than the average SP, the question is whether he'd be better than the SP on his 3rd time through.

And, when allowed to face batters for the 3rd time, SPs are still doing much worse:

1st: 235/305/376 (11,619 PA)
2nd: 238/303/390 (10,909 PA)
3rd: 269/328/445 (4,893 PA)

The SP faces a batter for the 3rd time in only 79% of games although that too is affected by bullpen days and openers. Those numbers are surely worse than they already look assuming it is primarily the better SPs or guys who cruised through the first 18 batters who get the opportunity. So it's obvious why teams would want to replace as many of those 3rd time PAs as possible.

There's at least one more twist though. At about 22 batters per start, those 3rd time PAs are mostly among the top 4 batters. I can't find a precise split but the top 4 batters have an average OPS around 726 while the last 5 average about 658. The 773 OPS allowed the 3rd time through (which of course includes some PAs from batters 5 and below) is still worse than the average 726 but not as bad as the earlier numbers suggest. Still, that 3rd-time sample is probably biased towards better pitchers -- so it's probably still the average #2 starter is giving up that 773 OPS.

What's missing is the reliever split we'd like to compare that to ... how are the relievers actually used to face batters 19-27 performing relative to what the SPs are (could be) doing? One bullpen strategy seems to be to use a solid reliever (say the #4-5 guy if available) if trouble arises in the 5th (if the game is close) then use one of the fodder relievers in the 6th then, if you've got the lead, use #1-3 for the 7th-9th. But most of those guys pitching the 5th-6th are not top relievers.

Fangraphs allows you to split splits but it doesn't offer a batting order posiiton split. Still, relievers in the 5th and 6th innings are giving up a 654 OPS while SPs in those innings are giving up a 735 OPS. That 654 allowed by the relievers is in line with the average for batters 5-9 but obviously includes a fair number of batters 1-4.

(Yes, innings 5-6 aren't necessarily the 3rd time through. But facing an average of 4.2 bf/inning, the 3rd time through usually starts in the 5th. SPs this year are averaging almost exactly 5 ip/start.)
   3. Brian C Posted: May 26, 2022 at 08:25 PM (#6078579)
This is really neither here nor there, and it's no doubt mostly the result of me living in a cave, on Mars, with my eyes closed and fingers in my ears ... but somehow this is the first I've noticed that Gammons has a regular Athletic column. I've seen very little of him since he left ESPN and I honestly didn't know he was still working at all; I figured he'd retired long ago. And Mike Crudale.
   4. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: May 26, 2022 at 10:16 PM (#6078601)
HO-scaled 2021 season


A long time ago I made a snarky tweet about Billy Beane, and Gammons - who didn't follow me on Twitter - responded by blasting me as an "HO-scaled misanthrope", which is probably the most bizarre insult I've ever received.

Anyway, it was just funny to see him bring out that phrase again. I guess he is a model train enthusiast?
   5. Walt Davis Posted: May 27, 2022 at 12:28 AM (#6078630)
That's a good question ... is your misanthropy HO-scaled or is your body HO-scaled?

By the way, per a quick google, HO scale is 1:87 so an HO-scaled season would be about 2 games. (I'm not picking on Gammons, I was just curious. A 2020-scale railroad might be kinda neat ... bigger I think than one of those kiddie railroads. Probably get $2000 a week for a 40% Pullman car in NYC. Maybe Ringo or Neil Young have one of those ... I think Rod Stewart is also a major model RR guy.)
   6. The Honorable Ardo Posted: May 27, 2022 at 04:01 AM (#6078635)
Dave Stewart, in his run of 20-win seasons from 1987 to 1990, averaged 36 starts, 265 innings pitched, and 10 complete games per year. And those A's had peak Dennis Eckersley and an array of solid setup men!

What's changed so radically in the past 30 years that nobody approaches these figures anymore?
   7. Rally Posted: May 27, 2022 at 09:18 AM (#6078645)
Interesting that most of that ERA difference disappears in RA9.


Probably because of the extra inning undead runner.
   8. Pat Rapper's Delight (as quoted on MLB Network) Posted: May 27, 2022 at 09:51 AM (#6078646)
What's changed so radically in the past 30 years that nobody approaches these figures anymore?

The quants have codified "StArTeR CaN't DaRe FaCe A BaTtEr ThReE TiMeS" into rigid dogma.
   9. Cris E Posted: May 27, 2022 at 11:01 AM (#6078652)
That's probably a lot of what's tripping everyone up, but I'm not certain the quants are always to blame for the conversion of observed trends to massive concrete barriers. They'd know better than anyone that error bars exist to accommodate the guys that can adapt from the ones who have things to learn. A couple weeks ago I watched old man Verlander baffle a young Twins lineup that had no chance of hitting him. He came out when he was tired, not because they figured him out, so I think managers are aware of this but they tend to be more conservative than the numbers would indicate.

Another less obvious thing that I think makes a big difference is the injury avoidance mindset that's entered the game. I watch Rocco Baldelli resting guys every night, which I thought was rooted in his own experiences as an oft-injured player. But the more I look around the more I see a broader trend towards avoiding trouble by not pushing guys at all. I wonder if Ripkin could have run his streak in today's game with weekly rest periods and using the bench and whatnot. In MN we're running through pitchers like kleenex in flu season, but I'd still say it was a fine idea if it kept Buxton on the field more. Alas he's trying to play through a bad knee again and stuck in an 0-27 so it's not really working. Correa seems to be coming along though, so who knows.
   10. vortex of dissipation Posted: May 27, 2022 at 01:02 PM (#6078675)
The 2003 Mariners used only five starting pitchers all season. Jamie Moyer, Freddy Garcia, Joel Pineiro, Ryan Franklin, and Gil Meche all made either 33 or 32 starts. No other pitcher started a game for Seattle all season. The Mariners announcers made a big deal about the starting pitchers' durability at the time, but it looks even more impressive now.
   11. SoSH U at work Posted: May 27, 2022 at 01:25 PM (#6078683)
I wonder if Ripkin could have run his streak in today's game with weekly rest periods and using the bench and whatnot.


If I were a skipper, I would never allow anyone to play every game, let alone rack up year after year of 162-game campaigns. It always seemed quite foolish on multiple levels.
   12. SoSH U at work Posted: May 27, 2022 at 01:28 PM (#6078685)

The 2003 Mariners used only five starting pitchers all season. Jamie Moyer, Freddy Garcia, Joel Pineiro, Ryan Franklin, and Gil Meche all made either 33 or 32 starts. No other pitcher started a game for Seattle all season. The Mariners announcers made a big deal about the starting pitchers' durability at the time, but it looks even more impressive now.


It's interesting that each one still had another seven or seasons in him, including the 40-year-old.
   13. Graham & the 15-win "ARod Vortex of suck" Posted: May 27, 2022 at 01:59 PM (#6078692)
The 2003 Mariners used only five starting pitchers all season. Jamie Moyer, Freddy Garcia, Joel Pineiro, Ryan Franklin, and Gil Meche all made either 33 or 32 starts. No other pitcher started a game for Seattle all season. The Mariners announcers made a big deal about the starting pitchers' durability at the time, but it looks even more impressive now.


This reminds me of the 2012 Reds. The top five starting pitchers combined for 161 starts. Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, and Homer Bailey all started 33 games. Bronson Arroyo started 32 games, and Mike Leake started 30 games.

Todd Redmond started the sole remaining game; it was the second game of a doubleheader that was making up for a previous rain-out.

I doubt we will ever see anything like the 2003 Mariners or 2012 Reds again in terms of their starters' durability.
   14. Walt Davis Posted: May 27, 2022 at 04:04 PM (#6078706)
The White Sox did it for several years ... # starts from their top 5

2005 152 (21-yo McCarthy replaced 39-yo El Duque)
2006 159
2007 150
2008 153 (36-yo Contreras missed some)
2009 130 (Contreras again plus a mid-season Garcia pickup)
2010 141 (Jake Peavy broke down surprise!)
   15. Brian C Posted: May 27, 2022 at 11:16 PM (#6078771)
Even as recently as 2016, the Cubs got 152 starts from their top 5. Mike Montgomery had 5 starts and was the only Cubs pitcher with >1 but <29 ... their distribution of starts was 32, 31, 30, 30, 29, 5, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1.

The whole problem with "injury avoidance," at least as we're seeing it playing out now, is that there's no sign it really works. It sure seems like regular rest ought to be important, but I don't see a ton of evidence for it. In fact, we seem to have reached a semi-absurd situation where guys routinely get shuffled on and off the DL with minor injuries ... in order to avoid missing time due to injuries. And the net result is virtually all good players playing less than ever, with a bunch of guys picking up the slack who would have never made an MLB roster back in the day, all so that we can better avoid injuries so that guys don't miss time.

Seems absurd. An actually effective "injury avoidance" system should lead to guys playing more games - or pitchers throwing more innings - while still staying healthy, not missing more time than ever. And maybe now that we've discovered that practically any jackass can be taught to throw 95+, the league's braintrust can try figuring out a conditioning routine that actually works and keeps guys on the field, instead of putting a guy on the DL with a strained something or the other anytime they have to twist a funny way to try and catch a throw or avoid a tag, or watching gassed pitchers begging out of a game whenever they get up around 100 pitches.
   16. Walt Davis Posted: May 28, 2022 at 12:30 AM (#6078782)
Well, there are various ways that "injury avoidance" could work. Would you trade 25 starts averaging 7 innings (175 total) for 30 starts averaging just under 6 (175 innings). From the pitcher's perspective, would you rather have 5 seasons totalling 145 starts then miss 1.5 years due to injury and end up pitching just 3 more partial years ... or would your rather have 12 healthy seasons of 150 innings? If thanks to clairvoyance you know this pitcher has 175 innings in his arm this season or 642 for his career, how would you optimize those innings?

But I'm not convinced teams are doing any of this for injury avoidance. They are avoiding as many 3rd time effects as they can. They are (ab?)using AAA fodder to eat up lower leverage innings. They are deciding that (at least for the situation facing them this minute) that they are better off with two relievers for one inning each than the starter for 2 innings. If the strategically correct decision also helps avoid injury then all the better but I suspect their key motivation is the strategic/tactical advantage.

But for sure, this is much more a "last 5 years" thing than a "last 30 years" thing. (The pit/PA stat is for MLB overall, not just SPs)

1990 6.1 IP/GS, 93 pit/GS, 3.61 pit/PA, 87 pitchers >= 25 GS
1996 6.0 IP/GS, 96 pit/GS, 3.71 pit/PA, 91 pitchers
2000 5.9 IP/GS, 97 pit/GS, 3.75 pit/PA, 93 pitchers
2005 6.0 IP/GS, 95 pit/GS, 3.73 pit/PA, 108 pitchers
2010 6.0 IP/GS, 97 pit/GS, 3.82 pit/PA, 106 pitchers
2015 5.8 IP/GS, 93 pit/GS, 3.82 pit/PA, 93 pitchers
2016 5.6 IP/GS, 93 pit/GS, 3.87 pit/PA, 92 pitchers
2017 5.5 IP/GS, 92 pit/GS, 3.88 pit/PA, 91 pitchers
2018 5.4 IP/GS, 88 pit/GS, 3.89 pit/PA, 92 pitchers
2019 5.2 IP/GS, 82 pit/GS, 3.92 pit/PA, 90 pitchers
2021 5.0 IP/GS, 83 pit/GS, 3.90 pit/PA, 78 pitchers (maybe covid-related)

So the main thing that was changing up to 2015-17 was pit/PA. Raise your hand if you knew SPs in 1990 were averaging the same pit/GS as in 2016. (I am not raising my hand.) The drop in IP is largely that difference -- 93/3.61 is 25.8 BF; 93/3.87 is 24.0. Again note that the pit/PA is overall ... possibly with more Ks and more desire to avoid HRs, SPs might have had a greater increase in pit/PA (a bit more digging can turn up BF/GS). Two batters is 1.3-1.4 outs or nearly half an inning, the different in IP/GS between 1990 and 2016.

And the number of pitchers making at least 25 starts was also pretty stable, clearly peaking in 2005 and 2010 in that table but still little difference even in 2019 relative to 1990. It will be interesting to see if 2021 was just a covid blip.

Of course going along with those increases in pit/PA are increases in K and HR rates. The K-rate didn't REALLY take off until about 2010.

So BF/GS from the league splits table for role, for 2019, 2015 (to avoid openers) and 1990: 22.1, 24.5, 25.8. The difference between 2015 and 1990 is basically nothing but pit/PA. Clearly all the freaking out about pitch counts was a bit over the top.

There were of course other changes -- the complete game disappeared although this mainly means those earlier CGs must have been balanced by earlier exits when not doing well (i.e. if SPs were ocassonally throwing 120 pitch starts but still ending up at a 93 pitch average, they had to be throwing a good number of 60 or fewer pitch starts; similarly if the 2015 guys were almost never throwing over 105 then they were rarely throwing fewer than 80. The 5-day rotation is long gone in favor of a pretty strict 5-game rotation (and occasional 6th starter).

For sure, big changes over the last few years. It would be nice to be able to seperate out the top starters from the riff raff (and the openers and bullpen games which could be wreaking havoc with those averages) but when I've taken quick looks at it, it seems they are restricting the top guys too (which doesn't make much sense to me).

But I'm not convinced (yet) they're limiting the number of starts a pitcher gets. Depends on how much those 2021 numbers may have been affected by guys missing turns due to covid along with extra care being taken given the pandemic, the freaky 2020, etc. A long way to go but so far this year, there are 102 guys with 8+ starts (in about 44 games), another 20 at 7 and another 11 at 6 so 133 guys on pace for 25+ starts. Many of them will fall off that pace although a few guys behind them will catch up as well.

Yanks 43 of 45 GS
Mets 38 of 46 (4 guys with 6+)
Twins 34 of 45 (4 guys, Paddack to 60-day)
Brewers 41 of 45
Astros 40 of 45 (Odorizzi on IL)
Dodgers 37 of 44 (4 guys, Kershaw on IL)

From my informal poking around back in the day, a team typically got about 115-120 starts out of their intended rotation; somewhere around 135 is pretty good; 150 is excellent. All of those teams but the Twins are on pace for at least 80% (although I didn't bother with intended 5, just top 5).
   17. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: May 28, 2022 at 12:46 PM (#6078805)
Almost in seeming defiance of this article, Cortes and Taillon just gave the Yankees the most back-to-back innings for any two starting pitchers since 2013. And given what's happened to their bullpen over the last few days, it couldn't have come at a better time.
   18. Starring Bradley Scotchman as RMc Posted: May 28, 2022 at 09:43 PM (#6078900)
The whole problem with "injury avoidance," at least as we're seeing it playing out now, is that there's no sign it really works.

But everybody thinks it works, or thinks it should work, or something. If you're the pitching coach for an MLB team and your million-dollar pitcher suddenly comes up lame, you'd better be able to say, "Hey, I did what everybody else is doing!", or else you'll have to go get a real job for a fraction of the money.
   19. Slivers of Maranville descends into chaos (SdeB) Posted: May 29, 2022 at 01:49 AM (#6078915)

Dave Stewart, in his run of 20-win seasons from 1987 to 1990, averaged 36 starts, 265 innings pitched, and 10 complete games per year. And those A's had peak Dennis Eckersley and an array of solid setup men!


Cy Young from 1901 - 1904 averaged 42 starts, 354 innings pitched, and 38 complete games per year. And those teams had George Cuppy, Bill Dineen, Jesse Tannehill and Ted Winters who ... were no Dennis Eckersley, but had some decent years.

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