The Yankees and the Continuing Demise of Starting Pitching


There is one area that the Yankees fall in line with the rest of baseball and that’s the demise of the emphasis placed on starting pitching, along with a corresponding move that accents relievers and closers.

As proof of this, one only needs to look at the starter like contract given to Aroldis Chapman to be the closer for the team over the next five year. How far will the new trend take us and what are the implications for the Yankees and the sport in general if it continues.

Baseball is a very fickle sport. Things come, and then they go. Sometimes the Yankees participate and sometimes they don’t. They haven’t chosen to be, for example, a big part of the landslide towards employing shifts, but they have been a forerunner in the buildup of bullpens as the primary piece of arms in the team’s pitching arsenal.

It began even as far back as the era of Joe Torre when the team relied heavily on the tandem of Wettland, Nelson, and Rivera to close out games one-two-three in the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings. And as the team builds its bullpen for the 2017 season, the practice is continuing with the leveling of the Bettances and Chapman bomb on teams that think they can pull a fast one late in the game. And based on what has been rumored, they’re  still concentrating on adding to their strength in the bullpen.

Which is fine, because the game needs to change the flavor of what it presents to its fans. But at the same time, it becomes an intriguing question to wonder if $20-25 million starting pitchers are earning their keep. Because if they almost automatically get the hook from a bullpen fanatic like Joe Girardi, and others like Bruce Bochy of the Giants and Joe Maddon of the Cubs after pitching five innings before turning things over to the bullpen.

In 2015, major league starting pitchers averaged only 87 pitches per start. 87 pitches, not every day but every fifth day. Quality Starts (in which they pitch at least six or more innings and do not allow more than three earned runs), we see the same thing.

In 2016 for example, the list on the leaderboard in that department rapidly dwindles once you get past names like Lester, Kershaw, and Sales. In fact, you have to go all the way down to number 24 to find Masahiro Tanaka and even further down to find C C Sabathia (No. 42).

John Smoltz Would Say To The Yankees: Let ’em Pitch!

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John Smoltz, a recent inductee to the Baseball Hall of Fame as a starter and reliever, is a big believer in pitching more and not less. He argues quite eloquently that it stands to reason that the more you exercise a muscle, the stronger it will become. And yet teams that include the Yankees continue to defy that logic at the same time that, not too long ago starting pitchers weren’t even considered for a starting role if they couldn’t manage a minimum of 250 innings a season.

It’s always difficult to swim against the tide, but the overuse of bullpens has become quite noticeable and is contributing heavily to the length of time it takes to play a normal nine-inning game. In fact, recently the Commissioner indicated that he had been severely considering invoking limits on the use of relievers to combat what is noticeably “dead time” (except for the organist) during a game. And while that would require the input of the Player’s Association, it certainly gives credence to the impact bullpen use is having on baseball.

Next: The Yankees Have A Job Opening Next Year: Is Girardi the Right Man For The Job

So again as fans of the game, it’s something we might want to give our attention towards. And when we see Brian Mitchell (for example) removed from a game after four 1/3 innings with a pitch count of 82 and behind by 2-0, maybe we should be asking ourselves, why? And especially in a league with the DH. And if it’s something that MLB indeed wants to fix, it had better do so sooner rather than later when the trend firmly gets set in………..