Somewhere back in the 1980s Bill James said that throughout MLB history, we’ve asked catchers to do more and more and pitchers to do less and less. With catchers, you have to think that improved protective equipment plays a big role in that, along with fewer doubleheaders. The 1969 Mets played 22 doubleheaders. Last year it seemed the Mets played a bunch of twinbills and they only played four.
So, why are we asking pitchers to do less?
It’s some combination of wanting to keep pitchers healthy while also looking to maximize their performance. We romanticize the pitchers from the 1970s and earlier who posted 300 IP in a season. And those hurlers deserve the accolades. The problem is that for every pitcher who did that and had a long career, we can name two guys that couldn’t handle the load.
On top of the injury concerns, we know that the majority of hurlers fare worse against hitters the third time through the order. It’s better to have a reliever come in and throw gas than to have your starter on fumes. We’ve all seen pitchers lose it in the later innings. And sometimes “later” isn’t late at all. Yesterday’s starter for the Phillies – Matt Moore – lost it in the fourth inning. And Joe Girardi removed him before he faced a batter for the third time. The reliever came in with one out and the bases loaded and got out of the jam.
If we had a crystal ball, we’d always remove a pitcher before the bulk of the damage hits. The Phillies successfully did that with Moore yesterday in the fourth inning. Luis Rojas and the Mets decided that Jacob deGrom was done after 77 pitches and six innings. Was it the right call? We’ll never know. Maybe the Phillies get to deGrom in the seventh inning if he was kept in. All we know is that they didn’t score a run against deGrom in six innings and scored five runs in two innings against the bullpen.
The decision to remove deGrom came after he retired the last nine batters he faced. My opinion is you never remove a guy with a low pitch count who’s cruising. deGrom needed just 32 pitches to complete the last three innings.
Historically, clubs are hesitant to push their starters in April. And it’s hard to imagine that trend being broken this year, since everyone is concerned how pitchers will hold up over a 162-game season after last year’s 60-game sprint. If you’re paying your ace $30 million or more a year, the last thing you want is for him to get injured by going to the whip in his first or second outing.
For years, we’ve dealt with the 100-pitch boogeyman, the idea that if you ask a starter to go over that number that you’re asking for trouble. It’s a one-size-fits-all approach that’s based on a round number. And on top of that we have the “don’t let a pitcher face a hitter a third time” belief. And do we now have an inning-of-the-game cap, too? Did the Mets decide before the game started that deGrom was not throwing a pitch in the seventh inning, regardless of how the game was going? It seems like the Mets are content with seven-inning starts for deGrom, generally. And in his first outing of the year, that limit was going to be six innings, instead.
When it comes to deGrom, the Mets have played it conservatively many, many more times than not. And that approach hasn’t kept him from winning two Cy Young Awards and be the favorite for the award again this season. He’s also throwing harder as he ages, which is generally unheard of from a pitcher in his 30s. Perhaps they are handling him in the best way possible.
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