Rob Manfred is attacking MLB’s pitching ‘problem’ from the wrong angle

Rob Manfred is attacking MLB’s pitching ‘problem’ from the wrong angle

The World Series also acts as a platform for Rob Manfred to have whatever drivel has used the inattentive guards as a means to escape his mind and leap for freedom out of his mouth, which usually borders on cringe. Rob Manfred in front of a microphone is generally in the same folder as “toddler with a zippo,” if that toddler also hates baseball players and fans.

But sometimes, when something weird is in retrograde, even the most sniveling booger of a person can make a good point. Which is where we found Manfred the other day, remarking that fans hadn’t really warmed up to bullpen usage these days, the opener, and the lack of time getting to watch starting pitchers.

There are certainly those in the weeds who enjoy the strategy of using an opener, or how a manager sets up his pen, and the matchups they are chasing, especially when those things are heightened in October. But for the most part, you’ll see a majority of rolled eyeballs when seeing a team will use an opener that day, or a lot of sighs when managers are cycling through reliever after reliever. It does not capture the imagination of most fans the way a 7-inning shutdown from someone they’ve heard of does. Just check out the lamentations on social media today as both the Diamondbacks and Rangers are diving headlong into a bullpen game tonight for Game 4.

The problem for Manfred is that this horse very well may have left the barn and has set up shop on the Riviera. He’s probably not coming back.

Even if in some dream world Manfred and the powers that be could come up with some rule changes that would force starters to throw more innings, there’s a definite ceiling on what that increase could be. Teams are so protective of starters, which hasn’t slowed injuries in the least but they’re still doing it, that even with a couple years heads up it is unlikely that teams could shift their systems to prep their pitchers to regularly throw six or seven innings every five days, and for 220-230 innings per season. They could try, but given how hard pitchers throw now and how wicked their stuff is, there might not just be any level of preparation and development that can keep the human elbow, and shoulder from breaking down. Throw 98 MPH long enough and something is going to go TWANG!

Certainly Manfred and MLB could downshift teams to only being allowed 12 pitchers, and he’s definitely hinting that’s what will happen in 2025. Maybe we’d see more six-man rotations, but what Manfred really should be aiming for is more guys out of the pen who can throw multiple innings. Perhaps a limit on the amount of pitching changes a manager can make in a game?

One factor in fans’ fatigue or indifference to the proliferation of relievers they watch per game and per season is that they’re all kind of faceless. They’re a collection of guys who come in, throw 102, and mix in a couple sweepers for 17 pitches, and then give way to the next guy. Fans may know the closers because they have their own special stat attached to them, but even that’s fading as the save becomes rightly devalued. And even when these guys get hurt and go on the IL, a lot of teams have the Hydra-esque of three heads taking its place from their system.

That would change, maybe, if in most games teams had to use one or two guys who have to go two, or three innings to finish out games. It’s simply more exposure to a pitcher getting nine or 12 outs instead of three. It might equal out, as fans would only see multi-inning relievers twice a week instead of three, or four that relievers show up, but it would be more attachable for fans.

Obviously, limiting changes in a game gets complicated should a team’s starter get lit up and then every pitcher after that has to go two to three innings, but then again that’s life. The idea of tandem or handcuffed starters has been used in the minors while young pitchers build up stamina, such as it is these days, though hasn’t really gotten much of a hold in the majors. It would certainly be different, and would provide more familiarity for every team’s pen when watching most all of them having to get six or nine outs.

It would also limit the amount of anomalies we see. Recent MLB history is rife with guys who come out of nowhere to have a 38 percent K-rate for a season and then are left behind in the woods somewhere for the rest of their career until they discover a new pitch and then do it again for one more season before heading to the reliever farm upstate for good. Guys who can consistently provide multi-inning outings, in theory, have more staying power, and would be around for multiple seasons.

Shrinking rosters down to 12 pitchers may have that effect anyway. Limiting pitching changes per game is at least worth kicking around, though harder to experiment with in the minors given the terror every team has about letting their pitchers throw one more pitch than what they’ve mapped out. But less pitchers doing more that fans can get more familiar with is probably the way to go.

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About the Author

Anthony Barnett
Anthony is the author of the Science & Technology section of ANH.