Fixing MLB Pace-of-Game: Shrinking Bullpens & Revising Pitching Change Rules Will Shave 6+ Minutes from Game
We hear a lot about length of game and payrolls, and the need for fixing MLB pace-of-game. To the point John Lackey in August states baseball’s getting “soft”. I can’t argue with that. It is; snd part of the issue is the widespread use of the bullpen. 30 years ago, starters were throwing 120 or more pitches during a game. The logic was simple: They are the start, so the onus is on them. This logic, this mentality, gave us great hurlers like Nolan Ryan and Jack Morris, guys who often went beyond 120 pitches and lead Major League Baseball in pitches, complete games and a slew of other records. They were hard and gritty. But the game is getting “soft” as Lackey points out.
We now get to see the arbitrary pitch count grow. Every network showing Major League Baseball games has a pitch count somewhere. Every stadium advertises the pitch count. It’s become a staple for predicting when a pitching change will occur. We’d see a softening of the game on pitchers. Baseball has created an arbitrary number, the century mark, as the delineating point between continuing to pitch and stopping.
I still recall Jim Leyland and Brad Ausmus taking out starters who were into the 8th inning, even the 9th inning, because they hit 100-110 pitches. Then seeing the bullpen choke up the game. Tigers fans are still smarting from the 2013 ALCS Game 2 debacle caused by Jim Leyland. Ironman Max Scherzer had 108 pitches through the 7th inning. He had a lead of 5-1 over the Red Sox. Jim removed Max, much to the astonishment of fans. Had it been Verlander, he’d have kept him in. The result was catastrophic. The Tigers bullpen choked up five runs in only two innings, and wound up losing 6-5. Ausmus pulled the same stunt on Scherzer in 2014 during the ALDS Game 1 against teh Baltimore Orioles. With Max at 98 pitches after 7.1 innings Ausmus yanked him. Granted, Max was credited with giving up five runs, but he wasn’t given the opportunity to redeem himself as he’s so great at doing. He’s a clutch pitcher. The result of being pulled? The Orioles buried the bullpen, scoring seven runs beyond the five Scherzer gave up. Essentially, by pulling Max at 98 pitches, Ausmus guaranteed the loss, relying on three relievers over 2-2/3rds innings. Instead of a two-run game, it became a blowout.
Stories like these are common throughout baseball. Coaches are so stuck on 100 pitches they no longer thing in terms of the big picture.
BULLPEN PITCHERS OVERPAID AND INEFFECTIVE
Today, it’s not uncommon to see a pitcher be brought in for one batter. We saw this during the Mets-Marlins series July 22-14, 2016 when the Mets brought in a pitcher specifically for Ichiro Suzuki. Despite coming in for one batter, these relievers are guaranteed the MLB minimum salary of $507,000. In some instance, they are paid just to be a specialty pitcher.
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