FanPost

Changes in the Use of Pitching Staffs in My Lifetime

I have been actively following baseball since I was 8 years old in 1960. There have been a multitude of changes in how pitching staffs are built and used in the ensuing 60+ years. Here is my reflection on the changes I have seen and my prediction of where things might be heading. I will look at the World Series teams in first year of each decade starting in 1961 as examples.

Back in the 60s, a team used a set rotation with "spot" starters filling in from time to time. Injuries, doubleheaders, etc. would be handled by having a bullpen guy start the game. The expectation was for him to pitch the "usual" 7 plus innings. A pitcher might give up a bunch of runs early but still be kept in for 6 innings. If a team had a lead, the SP would try to complete the game. There were "closers" who would pitch more than 1 inning quite frequently. Elroy Face's 18-1 1959 season comes to mind.

The first team I looked at was the 1961 NYY. They used 9 pitchers as starters with 7 having 10 or more starts. These SPs had a total of 47 complete games. Whitey Ford only pitched as a SP and he averaged over 7 innings per start with over 200 innings pitched. They had 47 saves with 29 being by a single pitcher. Their main save pitcher averaged over an inning pitched. The concept of a "hold" or "setup" man was not a thing. 14 of the 16 on the staff either started on finished a game. The two who didn't only pitched 1.2 innings all season. Only 1 pitcher made 50 or more appearances.

Into the 70's, the closer became a standard. However the closer was still expected to pitch over an inning. The 1971 WS winning Pirates used 8 pitchers to start games with 43 complete games. Steve Blass and Dock Ellis were exclusively SPers and averaged over 7 innings per start with over 200 innings pitched each. These two combined for 23 complete games. The staff had 48 saves with Guisti having 30 of those. He averaged over an inning per appearance. They used various members of the bullpen more as situationally pitchers like lefty on lefty. 13 of the 15 on the staff either started on finished a game. The two who didn't only pitched 6 innings all season. Only 1 pitcher made 50 or more appearances.

In 1973 the DH was implemented in the AL only. While the intent was to add more run scoring, it also had an effect on the pitching staff. No longer did a manager have to take into account when the pitcher would be batting in the next inning. He could bring a RP at any time without impact on his batting order. The "double switch" was no longer needed in the AL. The DH allowed the use of more pitchers (and less pinch hitters). Until the "3 batter" rule came into being in 2020, things remained the same.

Skipping to the 80's, The Dodgers won the World Series in 1981. They used 8 pitchers as starters with 26 complete games. Four pitchers were used exclusively as SPs. They averaged over 6 innings per start but none had 200 IPs (however it was a strike shortened season). They only had 24 saves with Steve Howe leading the team with 8. He averaged over an inning per appearance. All 13 pitchers on the staff either started a game or finished one. No pitchers made 50 or more appearances with the top being 41.

In the AL (now with the DH), the NYY (the Dodger's WS opponent) used 4 main SPs. They had 16 complete games. Five pitchers were basically SPs. They averaged over 6 innings per start. Goose Gossage was their closer with 20 saves and averaged over an inning per appearance. All 16 on the staff but 1 pitcher (only 7 innings for the season) either started or finished a game. No pitchers made 50 or more appearances with the top being 43.

In 1991, the Twins won the WS. They used 10 pitchers as starters with 21 complete games. Their top 3 SPs were exclusively SP and averaged close to 7 innings per start with over 200 IP each. Their closer had 42 saves and averaged over an inning per appearance. All 16 pitchers on the staff either started a game or finished one. Three pitchers made 50 or more appearances.

Over in the NL in 1991, the Braves used 4 pitchers as just SP. They got 18 complete games and an average of over 6 innings per start with all 4 pitching over 200 innings. Their closer had 17 saves and averaged over an inning per appearance. All 20 pitchers on the staff either started a game or finished one. Three pitchers made 50 or more appearances.

In 2001, the Arizona and the NYY met in the WS. During the season, Arizona used 5 pitchers almost exclusively as SP and had 12 complete games. Their top 5 SPs averaged well over 6 innings per start with 2 having over 200 IPs. Their closer had 19 saves and averaged over 1 innings per appearance. . All 22 pitchers but 1 (only 9 innings for the season) either started or finished a game. Three pitchers made 50 or more appearances.

The 2001 NYY used 11 SPs with only 7 complete games. Their top 3 SP (who only started) averaged over 6 innings per start and all had over 200 innings pitched. Mario Rivera was the closer with 50 saves and just over an inning pitched per appearance. All 20 pitchers on the staff either started a game or finished one. Three pitchers made 50 or more appearances.

Then in 2011, Texas and St. Louis squared off in the WS. For the season, the Texans used 7 pitchers as SP with 10 complete games, but only 5 pitchers did the bulk of the starts. Three of those 5 pitched over 200 innings or more and averaged a little over 6 innings per start. Their closer had 32 saves and averaged just over an inning per appearance. They used 25 pitchers thru the season and all either started or finished a game. Three pitchers made 50 or more appearances.

Meanwhile the 2011 St. Louis team used 5 pitchers just as SPs with only 1 pitching over 200 innings. All 5 averaged just over 6 innings per start. They had 7 complete games. Their closer had 24 saves and averaged just over an inning per appearance. They used 24 pitchers thru the season and all either started or finished a game. Three pitchers made 50 or more appearances.

Thru the 2010's, we began to see the "hold man" and the "setup man" begin to appear. Also, we occasionally saw the "opener" being used. In fact, a hold now became an unofficial stat.

Jumping to this past season (2021), the Astros and Braves were the WS matchup. The Astros used 8 (6 primarily) as SP with just 2 complete games but none pitched close to 200 innings. The SPs averaged under 6 innings per start. Their closer had 26 saves and averaged just over an inning per appearance. They used 31 pitchers thru the season with all making a start or finished a game. Four pitchers made 50 or more appearances.

The Braves used 11 (5 primarily) as SP with only 2 complete games but none pitched 200 innings. The SPs averaged under 6 innings per start. Their closer had 37 saves and averaged just over an inning per appearance. They used 30 pitchers thru the season with all but 4 (6 IP for season) making a start or finished a game. Four pitchers made 60 or more appearances!

My observations are that thru the years we are seeing less SP innings, way less complete games, more pitchers on the staff thru the season, but still one primary closer per team that rarely pitches over an inning per appearance. There was an increase in pitchers making 50 or more appearances (starters usually get no more than 33 or so). This probably is the "setup" and "hold" pitchers coming into vogue.

While 2021 might be an abnormality due the shortened 2020 season resulting in teams not usually letting their SP go past 100 pitches, I think this trend is here to stay. Managers are now not letting their SP go thru the opposing lineup more than twice, even if they are below 100 pitches. With most pitcher's having a WHIP over 1, this means by the 6th inning the opposing lineup probably has gotten to their 3rd time thru.

Teams seem to have a group designated as the 6, 7, and 8th inning specialists followed by the closer. Since teams only seem to be able to establish 1 closer, they instead gather a group of pitchers to cover from the SP to the closer. Generally the closer seems to be needed 60 times a season. The other 102 games are not save situations.

We might see more "openers" or "bullpen games". The Braves and Astros did this in the 2021 WS with some success. It works especially well if a team is loaded at the top with LH hitters and the opposing team can start a LHer. Also, stats seems to show if you can get out of the 1st inning without being behind, you increase you chances of winning - especially on the road.

Managers also seem to be using their closer in situations earlier in the game when things are at a critical juncture. This trend might continue. However it opens up the situation where in the 9th as to who to come in to save the game if the closer can't pitch over an inning. Any team who can establish 2 closers could really succeed.

The need for a "number 1" SP seems to be diminishing. With about 1400 innings to cover in a season, a SP going 5 innings in 33 starts (165 innings) only covers 11% of the innings. Blass pitched 17% of the Bucs innings in 1971. In fact, the combination of Blass and Ellis covered 33% of the innings themselves! Instead the approach seems to be to have a number of SPs who can achieve a 5 inning Quality Start is a trend. Since a team now can have 13 pitchers on their staff and go thru 25 or more pitchers in a season, this approach is a real possibility. Keeping a stock of pitchers in AAA who can swapped on and off the roster might be a winning strategy.

The strategies for getting around the 3 batter rule as still being formulated. I think in 2022 we will see some approaches to mitigate this rules impact. If the NL gets the DH (god forbid!), neither league has to worry about when the pitcher needs to bat. Hence rolling over to a new inning is not an issue.

Just my ideas. What is your view? Thanks for reading!



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