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Saturday, August 08, 2020

Starting Pitcher Workloads Have Been Significantly Reduced in 2020

Already what sticks out is that this year, for the first time, starters are averaging fewer than five innings per turn, and their per-start average is down more than one full inning since 2015. What’s more, if this trend continues, it would be the biggest year-to-year drop in innings per start in the span, more than double the drop from 2018-19, and more than triple the other year-to-year drops within that span.

Over the years, a number of factors have driven that decrease, starting with deeper pitch counts, which are a byproduct of higher strikeout rates, as you can see in the table. There’s also the increased understanding of a few sabermetric concepts: starters are generally less effective facing batters for the third time in the game than prior; relievers are generally more effective facing batters for the first time than starters are in any of those appearances; and batters are less effective when they lack the platoon advantage. As starters’ workloads have decreased to account for those factors, their run prevention relative to the league has improved ever so slightly.

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: August 08, 2020 at 12:10 AM | 4 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: starting pitchers

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   1. Walt Davis Posted: August 08, 2020 at 03:47 AM (#5968415)
Of course to this point they've been working with 30-man rosters featuring, what, 17 pitchers. Also that pitchers haven't had as much prep time as usual plus who wants to risk a SP's arm in a 60-game season? So there are lots of reasons this trend would be exaggerated so far this year. When they're back to a 13-pitcher limit next year, I suspect we'll see something closer to last year. Assuming there is a next year.
   2. JRVJ Posted: August 08, 2020 at 03:18 PM (#5968486)
As terrible as 2020 is, for all the obvious reasons, it's actually proving to a bit of a long-term boon for MLB, in that it will give us some interesting data about how much of a ramp up pitchers prior to a MLB season.

Is it possible that pitchers could begin a MLB season with a shorter spring training than they did up to 2019? Perhaps, but it would require a number of structural changes in their preparations that MLB (and by and large, the medical sciences) do not understand as yet.

In an abundance of caution, it's better to continue with the current structure of spring training going forward.


A second thing that 2020 is proving is that MLB seasons need to have some cushion. You can read the events leading up to the start of the season differently, but to me, neither MLB nor MLBPA planned the shortened 2020 season with enough cushion to deal with the usual delays in a season (rain, hurricanes, etc.) plus the huge problems which COVID-19 could create.

Unless the world has completely gone back to normal in February 2021, I would strongly suggest that MLB build-in a lot of cushion into the 2021 schedule.
   3. puck Posted: August 08, 2020 at 03:41 PM (#5968494)
Have there been more openers this season, or with the gazillion relievers are teams finally willing to pull a starter who doesn't have it?

Starts with fewer than 80 pitches are way up this season.

Year IP/GS  P  %GS <80
2020  4.7  78   45.1
2019  5.2  84   24.2
2018  5.4  88   22.0
2017  5.5  92   17.0
2016  5.6  93   15.0
2015  5.8  93   14.7 
   4. Walt Davis Posted: August 08, 2020 at 06:35 PM (#5968534)
#2 ... Agreed on your 2nd point. Adding the extra playoff round was not such a good idea, that could have been "cushion" time. They seem to have prepared for a few teams not getting past, say, 55 games and going by winning percentage -- as they did in 81 -- and I suspect they'll manage to force enough DH's, etc. to get teams to that line. But the idea of teams being 7+ games behind after a couple of weeks doesn't seem to be something they planned for. All of this is evident in the late decision on the playoffs, not deciding to play 7-inning DHs until after the season started, etc.

#3 ... also made a lot easeier with a 30-man roster (and a 28-man one). I do think (nearly) every team would switch to a bullpen day in place of 5th and maybe 4th starters if they thought they could fill those innings with their 8 (10) relief slots. If your top 3 SPs are only going to pitch about 540 innings, that means you need 900 more. With 13 pitchers, that leaves 10 slots to cover 90 innings each slot. Even with AAA shuttling, last year teams managed to cover only an average of 608 relief IP or 76 per relief slot. So you need to increse by 20% per slot to do it ... but complicated by the fact that the great-rate-stat relievers generally only pitch about 60 innings per year and it's not clear you can push them any farther without killing those great rate stats. So if you're getting only 250 innings from the top 4-5 spots in your pen, they've already pretty much maxed out the last 3-4 slots.

That said, we clearly need to do something about start/relief splits to adjust for openers.

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