How often do teams have a pitcher for their entire career? Alright, that is far-fetched. How about a decade? Yes, that is pretty out there too. Pitchers are much more likely than hitters to fizzle out and be forced to retire/move teams because of changing performance. From year-to-year, pitchers can go from terrible to fantastic and back to terrible once more. Of course there are exceptions to the rule, there always are. However, for every Mariano Rivera or Randy Johnson, how many Joba Chamberlains are there? Too many.
Aside from a pitcher’s propensity to not last very long, is the fact that they play a different game from a position player. Position players need time to develop into their positions and to adjust to better pitching. A pitcher plays a game against himself. Toe the rubber, hit the glove. It does not matter if Mike Trout or Bartolo Colon is batting. The pitcher plays the same game.
I propose that teams accept that pitchers are not franchise players, and act as such. They cannot be as consistent over the years like a position player, they begin to fatigue much earlier in their careers, and every time on the mound may be their last. In accordance, teams need to realize that the pitchers they have will not be with the team for nearly as long as a position player, and should not be treated as if they will. How many times have we seen a pitcher with great potential stay in the minors for three or four years before coming up and then getting injured at the major league level? Also, in the last two seasons we have seen a high number of pitchers require Tommy John surgery, even with pitch counts and inning counts and pacifier counts. Pitchers have been throwing 120 pitches a game since they were 12 years old for multiple teams. Dropping his pitches down to 80 to start his pro career and giving an innings limit for multiple seasons (an absolutely ridiculous way to gauge pitching stress that is an argument all its own) isn’t going to save what has already been done to his shoulder and or elbow. The shielding of pitchers needs to relax.
Pitchers that reach the professional level have been pitching for nearly a decade if not more. Arms are already permanently damaged and years of abuse have already started a reaction that will haunt most pitchers long after their careers are over (I can attest to that). Rather than give a pitcher four years in the minors, bring him up and use that arm while he has it! I’m not saying teams should be drafting players and putting them at the major league level a week later (though I would applaud any team that does that). The number of pitchers that are treated like the next Clayton Kershaw is ridiculous. If the team has a player that is that good, he will shine through anyway.
Teams need to stop worrying about years of control and arbitration. Get the clock started and use pitchers while they are usable. Once a pitcher is at max velocity after a full stint of professional lifting he should be close to major league ready. Promising pitchers make for busts all too often. Use him or trade him. Time is ticking.