Friday Q&A: Baseball stuff

arena athletes audience ball

One of the only free stock photos of baseball in WordPress is this ballpark that now hosts XFL games. (Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I’m limiting this to two questions today because I’m at my monthly drug infusion and typing with an IV in my hand is kind of uncomfortable. Both questions come via email from Paul M., but I’m going to take the liberty of switching their order.

If you’ve got questions you’d like considered for upcoming Friday Q&As, you can get at me on Twitter or email AskTedBerg-at-gmail.com.

Here’s Paul:

(This) is an idea I’ve been kicking around in my head for a while.  It will require that baseball returns to normal.  Teams are constantly trying to come up with better ways to use pitchers.  My idea would have a team moving from 5 starting pitchers to 9, sort of.  Pitchers would be asked to pitch 3 innings per “start” and pitch every 3 games.  The team would still have a 3-4 man bullpen.  One starter would start the game, then the next “starter” would come in for the 4th inning.  The next would start the 7th.  Over a full season, each starter would be expected to pitch 162 innings if he doesn’t miss a turn. 

This would most likely be best suited for teams that don’t have a true ace who can pitch 200-220 innings.  If you can get 200+ innings of Jacob deGrom, why would you give 40 of them to someone else?  If you factor in off days, an ace might still be able to pitch every 3rd day rather than every 3rd game and get closer to 180 or 190 innings.  I see pros and cons to this idea and could imagine a team like Tampa Bay trying it out.  It could cause problems for a manager putting together a lineup to maximize a matchup when he knows that by the 4th inning, there will be a different pitcher on the mound.  Will managers use up the bench earlier in the game or miss the opportunity and leave the biggest bat on the bench?  Egos and big salaries could get in the way.  Also, pitchers may be asked to train completely differently than they do now.  Pitchers would likely not get a chance to have a side day.  Finding 9 pitchers who are capable of pitching 162 innings for a season would be difficult for some teams.  Extra-inning games could be especially challenging since the bullpen arms would most likely be 1 inning guys.  In all, I think some team could make it work.  I’d love to hear your take.

I like this question for a couple reasons: First, Paul went a long way toward answering it already in his own email. All the potential concerns he lists — fragile egos, different training schedules, scarcity of durable arms, extra-inning games, etc. — are real ones preventing teams from trying something like this.

Second, I like this question because I think about it all the time. All the time. Sometimes I lay in bed awake at night thinking about better ways to construct a big-league pitching staff. Other times I’ll be spreading peanut butter onto bread to make a sandwich and think, “wait a minute, OK, a four-man rotation, with each starter limited to five innings on their start day but expected to provide one inning later in the week, four relievers that double as openers when the matchups make sense, three guys reserved for late innings, and one position player who doubles as a mop-up guy to eat up innings when his team is leading or trailing by a wide margin.” Stuff like that.

I do believe we are on the cusp of a paradigm shift in pitcher usage, as evidenced by the sudden proliferation of the opener strategy. As recently as five years ago, it felt like front offices were conservative to a fault out of fear that any shakeup gone awry would be grounds for dismissal. Now it seems like everyone better recognizes the potential value of innovation and is more willing to give MLB GMs and managers a chance to go bold. There are still limits, obviously, but just not like there used to be.

But I think the major issue with Paul’s idea is one he mentioned: If you’ve got a guy like Jacob deGrom on your staff, you want him throwing as many innings as he possibly can. If that’s more than 200 then it’s hard to figure how you could use him only as much as you use eight lesser pitchers without angering your clubhouse and fanbase both. And Major League athletes tend to be ridiculously competitive people who’ve dominated every level of the sport they’ve ever endeavored, so every guy is going to want the chance to prove he can be Jacob deGrom.

I suspect teams will ultimately move toward systems more flexible than the one Paul outlined, and — though there are inherent ethical concerns to this — I would not be surprised at all if wearable technologies monitoring arm health and fatigue eventually play bigger roles in pitcher usage.

My main thing is, I think it seems kind of nuts to have some of these guys wasting bullets in bullpens. “Throw days” obviously don’t bring the same intensity as actual outings, but adjusting the expectations for between-start sessions seems like a natural step forward to me.

Not every guy’s going to be so eager to change his routine, and at some point they’ll all need side sessions for tweaking and honing. But I feel like I’d ideally want to move to a system wherein every starter is piggybacked with another starter on his throw day, decreasing the general expectation for length of a traditional start — asking guys to go five or six at most in ideal conditions, basically — but allowing flexibility for when someone’s keeping his pitch count low and cruising through the middle innings.

woman in red cap while wearing baseball glove

Here is another one of the stock photos that comes up when I search for “baseball.” I have no idea. (Photo by Retha Ferguson on Pexels.com)

Here’s Paul again:

How do we handle the 2020 season?  I believe that we will not see real baseball until next year.  If by some chance they are able to play, I’d love to see this.  A 5 round tournament with all 30 teams.  Every round is best of seven.  If off days are limited until the LCS and World Series, it can be done in less than 2 months.  First step is seeding.  I would propose that Hall of Fame voters could each submit a power ranking of the teams separated by league.  The number 1 seed in each league would get a bye in the first round. 

This is obviously the question facing Major League Baseball right now, and it is completely unanswerable. A few weeks ago, when the league first announced the postponement of opening day, we heard about the steps it might take to still get in a full, 162-game season. Yesterday at Sports Illustrated, Tom Verducci laid out plans for a 43-game season.

Perhaps the most reasonable idea I’ve seen bandied about in recent days comes via my old colleague Bob Nightengale, who relayed a proposed plan to realign the league into Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues for a shortened 2020 season.

That makes a lot more sense to me than confining all 30 teams to Arizona, as teams are already set up to house players near their spring-training complexes and many players make their offseason homes near their teams’ spring-training complexes. It rains a lot in Florida and a lot of spring-training facilities lack the amenities of their big-league counterparts, but making every team’s spring home its full-time home for this one year seems like much less of a logistical nightmare that concentrating all the baseball in one place.

But then, we don’t know. Since no one can say right now with any confidence when it will be safe to play baseball again, it’s impossible to say how many games they’ll be able to get in, or if it’s worth planning for any baseball in 2020 at all.

Would I want to see a 30-team tournament? Oh, hell yeah. I usually argue that the outrageous length of the MLB season is part of what makes baseball so great, since the sheer number of games goes a long way toward mitigating the impact of randomness on the standings, and a tournament like the one Paul described would be patently absurd as an effort to actually reward the best baseball team with the championship trophy. But it would be extremely fun, and I’d watch the hell out of it.

I wouldn’t let Hall of Fame voters seed teams, though, because Hall of Fame voters get stuff wrong all the time, and the media outlets for which they work would have vested interests in teams from their regions advancing deep into the tournament. Also, reducing the entire season to a tournament would mean asking a bunch of Major League pitchers to get themselves ready to pitch in Major League games for the sake of a single start (and, perhaps, a single paycheck), though I imagine a bunch of these dudes would sign up for it in a heartbeat. Who wouldn’t, right now?

I had a larger point I was hoping to get to about feeling adrift in uncertainty, and how we’re now enduring an era in which the cheesy James Earl Jones speech from Field Of Dreams no longer applies — baseball is not now offering a constant to mark the time and remind us of all that once was good and that could be again — and how very much that sucks, and how desperate we all are for normalcy, and how I am increasingly skeptical that anything close to our old version of normalcy will return when it’s safe to start living our lives again. But the drug drip just finished and it doesn’t feel like a good idea to hang around a medical facility any longer than I absolutely have to.

Here’s a song that means a lot to me:

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s