… which is one of my favorite movies along with The Shawshank Redemption…. but I digress. Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming:
Is Starting Pitching Really Overvalued? I’ll answer that question with one word: HELL YES!
When Jim Bowden penned a blog on ESPN Insider this week about starting pitching being overvalued, it has created a firestorm among Dodger fans that is extremely polarizing. In particular, a quote by Andrew Friedman outraged many fans:
“Starting pitching has become the most overvalued in the industry because, outside of the aces, they are pitching less innings, with less starts as more depth is needed,” Friedman said. “We have a tremendous amount of depth on the prospect side and at the major league end by design. Quantity is just as important as quality in today’s baseball.”
Now, Jim Bowden is not my favorite guy. I live near Cincinnati and am fully aware of the damage he did to that organization. However, we all need to realize that he was a MLB GM for quite a few years, which is a whole lot more than any of us. When he took the GM position, he was the youngest general manager in the history of Major League Baseball. Bowden was named Major League Executive of the Year in 1999 by The Sporting News after leading one of the lowest payroll teams in baseball to 96 wins. He’s a bright out-of-the-box thinking guy. Look him up – he was responsible for signing or trading for some amazing players, however he screwed up at the end of his career.
You can dislike what he said. You can even disagree with what he said. You do have a right to believe what you want, but if you don’t believe it you are exercising your right to be wrong! Maybe borderline delusional. Baseball is changing. The methodology behind starting pitching is changing… for better or worse, but it is changing. Here are the facts, like them or not, as presented by Jim Bowden:
Five years ago, most teams had 11-man staffs to start the season, with a few going down to 10. Today no teams opened the year with a 10-man staff, but on Opening Day six National League teams (Reds, Marlins, Rockies, Dodgers, Brewers and Padres) carried 13 with eight-man bullpens, and not a single National League team carried less than seven initially.
GMs used to build their starting rotations with the knowledge that they needed a five-man rotation at the major league level, and they’d prepare for one or two injuries and make sure that they were seven deep. Now GMs try to have 10 or more starters ready to take the ball throughout the season. The Los Angeles Dodgers won the NL West while using 15 different starters. The Los Angeles Angels and Cincinnati Reds used 15 as well, but the Atlanta Braves led the majors with 16.
The medical field also recommends not more than 120 pitches in any start, but many clubs like fewer than that. The average number of pitches per start has dropped from 96 pitches per start 20 years ago to 93 last year.
There is also simply too much data out there that says the third time through the order is when most starters get hit and give up the most runs. Twenty years ago, the spread in OPS between a first at-bat vs. a third was almost 60 points; last year that spread had expanded to almost 70 points. Therefore, general managers are building deeper bullpens, not just in quantity to get innings but also quality. Relievers collectively handle more innings than ever before, but they need to be good if teams are going to effectively “win” those games in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings with shutdown relief.
Another big change is that relievers are going maximum effort all the time because most face no more than three hitters. But this approach to bullpen usage brings more health risk. Dr. James Andrews, the renowned orthopedic doctor, always preached that pitchers should only go max effort in certain situations where it’s called for but pitch at a comfort zone of around 95 percent to give them a better chance to stay healthy. Accepting that risk for bullpen breakdowns means — you guessed it — a demand for GMs to acquire and develop more depth for their bullpens.
It’s funny, because I was listening to MLB Radio the last couple of days and this is a theme that is carrying true throughout all of baseball. Manager after manager and GM after GM is saying the same thing. The Dodgers may have been at the forefront of this, but everyone is on board… like it or not! It’s easy to see that too. Look at the contracts starting pitchers have:
- David Price got 6 Years/$217 Million from the Red Sox and proceeded to put up a 3.99 ERA in his first year in Boston and is currently on the shelf with elbow issues. On the table is Tommy John or other unconventional rehab. The Red Sox clearly overvalued this guy. He is on the downhill side of his career.
- The D-Bags signed Zack Greinke for 6 Years/$207 Million and got a guy in clear decline because they overvalued starting pitching. Zack’s fastball velocity has dropped dramatically and while he is a very smart pitcher, Arizona is saddled with a contract they will not be able to move – a contract they already regret. Look at him last night – he’s no longer a dominant pitcher. He’s the same guy he was last year: a smart middle-of-the-rotation guy.
- Then look at what the Red Sox paid for Chris Sale. Sale is 28 and is guaranteed just $37 million the next three years, so the Sox traded two MLB TOP 5 or 10 Prospects (Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech) and another (Luis Basabe) who is currently #8 for the White Sox for Sale. Moncada and Kopech both are “star material” and Basabe is a very good prospect. Clearly the Red Sox overvalued starting pitching based upon what they gave up. I think Sale will be very good for 2-3 more years, but the Sox gave up a lot. The big question is whether Sale can continue to be healthy.
- Maybe the biggest exception to overvaluing starting pitcher is none other than our Clayton Kershaw who was signed for 6 Years/$211 Million, but that started when he was 27 and goes until age 32 with an opt out after 2018. I think it is quite possible he will not opt out of his deal in 2018, as GM’s will realize that starting pitching is overvalued and will likely quit giving out stupid, dumbass contracts. It’s quite likely Clayton will be a Dodger for life. He is a different breed. That said, he is still susceptible to injury and missing 1-1/2 seasons.
That’s why you build a team with starting pitching depth just like Friedman did with the Dodgers last year. They are even deeped this year with Jurrjens and Masterson in the mix at 12 or 13. It’s not likely that the Dodgers will need 15 starting pitchers again this year as overall health is better and the youngsters are more experienced. There are fewer and fewer pitchers like Kershaw, Sale, Bumgarner and guys of that ilk. Jake Arrietta, Greinke, Price, King Felix and others are declining and/or experiencing injury. You may not like it, but you better get used to it because it’s here to stay. In fact, I see baseball expanding to 26 or 27 men rosters, which means even more pitchers. Instead of having 1 guy pitch 9 innings, you will see 3 guys pitch 3 innings each. Clayton is one of the last of the Mohicans.
From Doug Padilla/ESPN:
- Dodgers manager Dave Roberts continues to say that LHP Julio Urias could join the Dodgers at the end of April. Urias is scheduled to pitch for AAA Oklahoma City this weekend, where he is expected to go five innings and throw 75 pitches. I think we will see him the week of the 24th.
- Dodgers LHP Scott Kazmir (left hip strain) rehabbed Friday with four innings and 75 pitches as he attempts to return from the disabled list. Manager Dave Roberts said Kazmir’s velocity was between 84-88 mph. The starter’s potential return date remains unknown. For a guy who hit 94-95 last year, this is devastating!
- Dodgers LHP Rich Hill will return to the rotation Sunday against the D’backs when his 10-day stint on the DL is complete. So, when Rich Hill returns who goes down? I think Ryu will be DL’ed as a precaution. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!
Rants & Raves
- The offense was patient and hit what Greinke gave them. He really isn’t nearly the pitcher he once was. All of those bombastic FAZ-Bashers who proclaimed that Greinke is a pitcher who will age well were so full of it that if you gave them an enema, you could bury them in a shoebox. In retrospect, even Ray Charles can see it was the right move to walk away from Greinke.
- I like Padilla’s Headline: Kershaw Sizzles, Greinke Fizzles!
- If you have not listed to this interview with Andrew Friedman with Mason and Ireland, you are dumber for it!
- Andrew Toles is tied for the team lead in HR with Yasiel Puig!
- Corey Seager is back to over .300 and like Nomar said last night: “He’s a SS.” Stop this moving to 3B talk already.
MINOR LEAGUE REPORT
- OKC BOX – Won 3-2 Jair Jurrjens went b6 with 5 hits, 5 K’s and 1 ER. His ERA is 1.50 What do they do with him? Dickson is still raking(1.362 OPS) and Bellinger is at 1.057 OPS. Verdugo was 0-4 but is still OPS’ing 1.007. Calhoun is a little overmatched right now.
- TULSA BOX – Won 3-0 Locastro was 2-4 (.400 BA. 1.103 OPS). Shibuya went 5 and allowed 2 hits, no runs. Cash pitched 2 shutout innings and Broussard got his second save.
- RC BOX – Won 5-4 Estevez was 3-5 ands is heating up after a slow start. Peters was 3-4 and Santana pitched 4 strong innings allowing no ER. Istler got his first save.
- GL BOX – Lost 2-0 Davis was 2-3 and is batting .409/1.276 OPS. Rincon is right there too. Smeltzer pitched 5 shutout innings with 1 hit and 5 K’s.
- Forsythe 2B
- Seager SS
- Turner 3B
- Puig RF
- Gonzalez 1B
- Thompson CF
- Hernandez LF
- Barnes C