Just because the game of baseball is morphing once again and lurching towards efficiency doesn't mean we have to like it.
Sure, bullpen games might be -- in some circumstances -- the most effective possible way to cover nine innings. A pitcher facing the lineup a third time over the course of a given game is inherently less likely to succeed. But ... that's the fun in it. The game of baseball used to include an element of danger. The baseball we grew up watching centered around the idea that this man should be tired and shouldn't be succeeding, and yet might persevere anyway, further crafting his legend.
Now, in the name of ruthless efficiency, "having five starters" has already been replaced by "having an ace with no restrictions, two or three guys who have to be exiled at the first sign of danger, and a fifth amalgamation of several quick-trigger arms." According to Yankees pitching coach Matt Blake, the leash may be tightening on even the mid-rotation arms across the game.
Blake spoke to Joel Sherman this week and told him to expect more of the Jhony Brito/Randy Vásquez-types across the league moving forward. Guys who could erase three innings out of the bullpen, sure, but who could also start and throw four (but, God forbid, NOT five). Flexibility and adaptability have always been prized throughout the game's history; that is not a recent development. But planning to enter the season with a bunch of pitchers who max out at four innings still doesn't sound optimal -- even if it's actually been ruthlessly optimized by the latest developments in sporting mathematics.
Yankees baseball is changing with MLB's trends, per Matt Blake
"It makes sense to me [to see if there are relief candidates who can start]. You can create more value by having more guys that can give you ‘length.’ It doesn’t necessarily need to be labeled starter or reliever, but stretching guys out and having hybrid roles will probably be a trend. A few teams basically ran two-, three-man rotations last year with a bunch of flex guys picking up the innings in different fashions. We used three or four of those types of hybrid roles at different points throughout the year. It allows you to utilize your personnel a little more creatively if done right."- Matt Blake
It can be the right answer, but it isn't aesthetically pleasing and we don't have to like it!
The Yankees sent Michael King into the rotation at his behest during the second half of 2023, and he managed to stretch all the way to 100 pitches. That's a bit different. But, using the Diamondbacks as an example, a team might trip into reaching the World Series using a patchwork, two-starter rotation, shouldn't be the goal. Arizona's bullpen and rotation weren't good enough during the regular season, and they ultimately weren't good enough in October, either; the D-Backs got outgunned by the Rangers, though it took a few rounds longer than we thought.
Bottom line? The Yankees have to keep up with the Joneses, but shouldn't they make the trends instead of seemingly always following suit? Better add "The Yankees' Rotation Strategies" to the list of things to avoid talking about at the Thanksgiving dinner table, right behind "The 2024 Election" and "Why Are All The Peanut Butters Organic Now?".