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The Evolution of Pitching in Baseball

There have been big changes in the way pitching staffs look and function over the last 50 or so years. Fixed Pitch counts on starting pitchers are now the norm and it’s frowned upon if any team is not going with a five-man rotation.

The change from a four-man to a five-man rotation really took hold in the 70’s and the reasoning was to keep starters healthier by cutting down on their innings pitched and therefore their total number of pitches. In reality, when using a four-man rotation with an occasional fifth starter, the four starters in the rotation only get one to three more games than they normally would have over the course of an entire season. For my money, I would utilize my 4 best starters as much as possible. God only blessed so many arms with major league “stuff”. When you consider the extension of the season from 154 to 162 games in the early 1960’s, and most importantly, team expansion from 16 teams in the early 1960’s to 30 teams by 1998, there are simply not enough durable and talented arms to fill out a five-man starting rotation for 30 major league teams.

Another thing teams are doing is to keep up to 13 pitchers on their 25 man rosters. That leaves 12 position players; eight who start the game and four reserves on the bench. Extra inning games can become a real challenge, especially in the National League, when a manager has only four offensive bench players, with one of those players being a backup catcher.

It is impossible to quantify on an individual basis how many pitches a player has in his arm. The concern about pitcher injuries is so great that managers are now pulling starters during no-hitters. Marlins starter Adam Conley and the Dodgers’ Ross Stripling were recent targets of this ideology. Yanking Stripling was actually understandable, considering his history of Tommy John surgery, and that it was his first start of the season. But the idea of pulling a guy in the middle of throwing a no-no, not too long ago, was unheard of. Pitch counts nowadays make those decisions much easier for managers to pull off. These counts are pre-determined and regardless of what inning or the situation, starters will get the hook.

So how was it possible that 100 years ago, with no physical training to speak of, pitchers we able to throw close to 400 pitches in a season?

Some people are just blessed with healthier, more durable bodies. Considering that fact, I can’t wrap my head around why organizations would want to change an arm slot on a pitcher. I realize that the worry here is that poor mechanics will lead to unnecessary injuries by putting more stress on tendons and joints. However, if a guy has been pitching with the same motion his whole life, doesn’t it make sense that changing what his body is comfortable with will be more likely to cause an injury?

One thing that might help to accommodate these philosophical changes in Major League Baseball, would be to add one or two extra roster spots to every team until September call-ups. It would certainly make sense, considering the way the game has evolved.

I am just saying that baseball people should be looking at the big picture. Neither the pitch count trend, nor the five-man rotation are going anywhere. Complete games and 20-game winners are becoming scarce in baseball with the dwindling number of innings being thrown by starting pitchers. Giving teams a couple of extra bodies to work with seems an easy way to help teams with this transition.

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Patrick is an avid Milwaukee Brewer and Green Bay Packer fan, and is a former bench warmer on his high school football team. With an interest in writing since his grade-school days, his accomplishments have included doing proof-reading/editing services, and writing several published letters to the editor for the sports section in his local newspaper. A Milwaukee Wisconsin native, Patrick also enjoys watching and playing golf, bowling, and several other sports. He is also very grateful for marrying into a 20-game season ticket package for the Brewers.