The Future of Pitching


Mandatory Credit: Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

Have no fear, for I have seen the future. 

Or maybe, I was just having a Twilight Zone moment, but really, the thought that popped into my mind is going to change baseball…forever. 

A fortnight ago, I found myself watching the University of New Mexico take on Arizona State in a division I collegiate matchup.  It became blatantly apparent from the opening pitch that for the Lobos (that would be New Mexico), their starting pitcher was in no shape or form in the game for the long haul.  After two innings, he was yanked for another pitcher.

Then after two more solid innings from that pitcher, he was pulled.  Three innings later, the games winning pitcher was pulled, and one last guy finished off the job, striking out five of the six batters he faced to end the game. 

Where is all of this going you may ask?

It dawned on me that with the way a majority of young, hard-throwing pitchers are handled on their way up through the system, this may not be such an extreme gameplan. 

We all can understand that the human body has been maximized by what pitchers are currently doing to their arms, and that a baseball can physically not be propelled any faster than what we are already seeing.  There are chances that one day someone may graze 110 MPH, but that’s comparable to sitting outside with your telescope and waiting for a nuclear missile to fly by.

All of this thinking dislodged a memory in my brain that I was unaware I even had.  In an interview last season, Houston Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow talked about how his plan for rebuilding possibly the worst collection of talent in Major League history was to of course, start down in the minors.  They could have gone about things conventionally, but when a team has so many gaping holes as the Astros do, it would take nearly 5-7 years just to see who can play and who can’t.  So, their minor league teams developed a system that allowed their pitchers to maximize their capabilities and attempt to expedite them to the big leagues.

Instead of being told one pitcher is the starter and running him out for six, seven, even eight innings, each pitcher is to receive either four or five innings (depending on being at home or not).  Guys work in tandems.  Then, halfway through the season, they flip-flop.  Player B who was once pitching innings 5-8 let’s say, now gets to start and pitch innings 1-4. 

The benefits to such a system are endless. 

As the arm’s capacity to sling a ball towards home plate at maximum velocity is hitting a road block, it does not continue to make sense to have a pitcher throw in the upper 90s for 6+ innings every night, as his arm will eventually become prone to fatigue, and more fatally, injury.  If the pitch counts and innings are corralled, pitchers will last longer with their effective stuff.

Discussions have been on-going about Aroldis Chapman’s role on this roster since the day he arrived.  Rather than making him a “starter” or a “reliever,” just use him as a pitcher.  Every 3-4 days, Chapman may pitch anywhere from 3-5 innings, being used as far as his effectiveness takes him.  That is maximizing the game’s biggest weapon.

Traditionalists have gone nutty over the use of modern-day stats such as ERA+ or even something as simple as the pitch count, but with this new formula, a lot of such room for error is eliminated.  Under this system, no longer is the win stat valid, nor the quality start statistic, which have both been lacking in public appeal. 

The idea is radical; there is no doubt about that.  It surely may not be implemented for decades to come, but for some teams that are having trouble competing in today’s Major Leagues, a little bit of radical activity may be exactly what they need to get over the hump.