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Could Shorter Starts Be Beneficial in the Long Run?

Any time someone does the same task over and over again then odds are, they will be better at it the next time around. This could be said for an array of tasks, including hitting off a certain pitcher. With more familiarity of a pitcher’s trends during games, hitters tend to have an advantage — hence why in Major League Baseball, the league-wide OPS goes up every time around the lineup when facing the same pitcher.

While the batters might become more familiar with the pitchers with each at bat, the increased emphasis on plate discipline might also have something to do with this trend.

Those two factors, combined with increasing concerns about maintaining a healthy arm, help explain why Dorchester (Massachusetts) Little League coach Craig Johnson advocates for shorter starts among his pitchers.

“These kids are working counts and taking pitches,” Johnson said. “Kids also throw harder than they did before, so there’s more stress on their arms. This isn’t the 1970s — when I was a kid — and it was all grip and rip and nobody knew much about potential arm trouble.

“They’re also not major leaguers,” he continued. “I don’t think they should really be throwing 100 pitches in an average day. I mean, that’s a lot of work. How can you expect a kid to get out of a jam if from pitches 75-100 he can’t feel his arm or his arm is in excruciating pain?”

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Johnson added as a Little League coach, he cannot see why any one of his kids should be throwing more than four or five innings — even if they are throwing well.

Speaking of major leaguers, the average length of an outing by an MLB starting pitcher has consistently been dropping. Now, they are pitching less innings than ever. And keep in mind this is with a five-man rotation — something not popularized until the 1970s.

“If you have some quality relievers, you might as well use them,” Johnson said. “Just think: Would I rather have an average starting pitcher in when they’re hurting, or a quality relief pitcher? The answer should be obvious: I’d take the reliever for an inning or two. A good reliever in amateur baseball tends to have much better numbers than an average starter, so you might as well.”

Remember, Johnson is talking average and below-average pitchers. Most teams have an ace, who might have to go a little deeper sometimes.

“If I need to, I let my No. 1 go deeper,” he said. “But if we’re up, you know, 6-2 or 5-0 after five innings, I’m not going to try to push him. If I have a kid who can finish the game from there, your best bet would be that I’m going to use him.

“The key to this though is you need some decent bullpen guys. If you’re a travel team and you give everyone a chance to throw in practice, you’ll be surprised. You might find a decent arm somewhere you didn’t expect.”

From GameChanger and Tom Joyce. 

Baseball, Baseball Player Development