I wrote this about a year ago for another site, but it summarizes something I have been pondering lately. I wanted to write something better on the subject, but, well, sometimes you just have to re-run things (aka, I'm lazy).
There has been a disturbing trend in Major League Baseball the last few years: The structure of teams pitching staffs.
We are long removed from the days of four man pitching rotations, and guys pitching up to 300 innings. This isn't automatically a bad thing; however, it is disturbing how many teams are shying away from an 11 man pitching staff and moving towards 12 or 13 man staffs.
And they are doing it in the name of “protection.”
Not to go all Bert-tastic on you, but this is absurd. Pitches aren't becoming bigger pansys, they are just being brought up in a culture that breeds lower pitch counts, with plenty of bullpen help to fallback on.
The problem with this situation is that there just aren't enough quality arms for every team to have seven or eight solid options out of the bullpen. Instead of having five starting pitchers who are trained to pitch seven innings on a given night, there are five starting pitchers who are trained to pitch 5-7 innings – assuming they can get that far on in 100 pitches. That can leave up to four innings to get through with relief pitchers. Couple this with the fact that most relievers are trained to only go one inning, sometimes even less (see Reyes, Denys) and your pitching deep pitching staff turns shallow very quickly.
The fundamental flaw with this thinking is that it's a lot harder for a relief pitcher to warm up, throw 25 pitches, sit down, and try and do that again the next day then an already warm starter to throw 125 pitchces. And this is where the change needs to take place.
The pitching staff needs to be set up as follows:
Five starters: Trained not by pitch counts, but to make it through seven innings. This won't always work, but I'm not advocating demolishing the bullpen, just tweaking it.
Closer: Trained to pitch 1 – 3 innings. If you need this guy for a two inning, or even three inning save, he should be able to do that. Why leave the best reliever on the bench during the most important time in the game? And sometimes that comes in the 8th inning.
Setup: This could be a lefty or righty, but is essentially your "number two closer." He's the guy you are most confident in getting some outs in the seventh or eighth inning on days when you don't want to overwork your closer. Guys would still need some rest.
Middle relievers: One lefty, and one righty. These are the guys would come in on days when your starter struggles; or, if they pitched a stressful five or six innings (a lot of baserunners, tough situations, etc.) you can go to one of these guys in the sixth or seventh. These guys would also be available for specific righty-righty, or lefty-lefty matchups.
Long reliever: The one "mop-up" guy. There will be days when your starting pitcher just doesn't have it. That happens. If your starter gets lit up like Glen Perkins, you need another option. Now, this doesn't mean you necessarily pull a guy after two innings and five runs, but sometimes even Tim Lincecum pitches like crap. Pitchers need to have some resiliency, but if your starter is having one of those days where he can’t get anyone out, you need someone to come in and pitch.
That would equate to five starters and five relievers and, if a team chooses, you could add in an extra lefty just in case you want both a lefty and right setup guy. The key, of course, to all this working is rethinking how starting staffs operate.
It would not take that long to change the mentality of a starting pitcher. Once an arm is warmed up, there isn't a big difference between throwing 100 pitches and 125 pitches. Often times, that is the difference between going five or six innings, or going seven innings. If teams rethink how they train pitchers in the minor leagues, it would add depth to the roster at the Major League leve.
The way it is now, teams complain about the lack of pitching. The fact is, however, that the problem isn't too little pitching, it is too much pitching. If you train your quality pitchers to pitch more innings, it will alleviate the concerns of an untrustworthy, and overworked, bullpen.