When the Mets drafted David Wright, he was a high school shortstop. The Mets moved him to third base immediately and it’s now hard to believe he ever would have made it as a full-time shortstop. Chalk one up for the club all the way around. They were able to identify a talented player and made a change that allowed him to maximize his chances of being an All-Star.

But not everything the Mets – or the 29 other clubs – do works out so well.

Sometimes it seems that the club has made its mind up about a player when things are maybe not so cut and dried. And ultimately it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Last decade the Mets had a promising pitcher in Jenrry Mejia. Now, Mejia is a punch line, a guy who failed multiple drug tests. But at one point he was a rising star. He was a starter and he was capable of being an MLB starter. But the brass thought he was a reliever and interpreted every bit of information thru that lens, whether it made sense or not.

Relievers are good; starters are better. Anyone who shows the ability to go thru a lineup multiple times should get every opportunity to prove they can hack it as a starter. If we can praise the Mets for their foresight with Wright, we should be able to criticize them when they make sub-optimal decisions – whether that’s with a particular player or a particular strategy.

There was a ton of virtual ink used here to criticize the Sandy Alderson-Terry Collins regime’s blind fealty to the LOOGY gambit. The way they constructed their teams back then was detrimental to producing winning teams, something that was obvious to anyone who was actually paying attention to results, rather than just believing in a concept, an idea.

So, what other concepts/ideas do the Mets believe in that may be hurting the team?

My belief is that the Mets are hurting their chances of winning by insisting that every starter should throw between 75-100 pitches every game. Additionally, the idea that every reliever should pitch one inning and that one day off magically refreshes them, regardless of how much they’ve pitched recently, isn’t the ideal way to run a bullpen, either.

Last year, a Mets pitcher threw more than 100 pitches in a game five times. The first year that Baseball-Reference has pitch counts is 1988. That season, Mets pitchers threw more than 100 pitches in a game 91 times. It’s a drastic change in the way the game is played. My opinion is that 91 times is likely too many. At the same time, five is too few.

We all want to do whatever we can to keep pitchers healthy. Because of that, there’s now the belief that 90 pitches is fine but 110 pitches is being too cavalier with pitchers’ fragile arms. Only one time last year did a Mets pitcher reach 110 pitches, with Marcus Stroman throwing 114 against the Giants in August. In 1988, a pitcher threw at least 110 pitches for the Mets 60 times.

If you put me in charge of the Mets, the first idea implemented for the pitchers would be to stop treating all hurlers and all games alike. The pitch count for a 23 year old just getting started in the majors should be different than for a 28 year old with five seasons in the bigs already under his belt. And the pitch count in April should be different than the one in July.

This idea that a pitcher should almost never reach 110 pitches in a game is certainly a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead of capping the number of pitches that can be thrown, build up starters with the expectation that if conditions are right, no one should blink an eye at an outing with 125 or so pitches. That doesn’t mean every outing should be that high. But if a veteran pitcher in good weather is cruising, there should be no urgency to take him out once he’s thrown 90 pitches.

You hear fans lament that Nolan Ryan used to throw 200 pitches in a game so why can’t all pitchers do that today. This is not advocating for that type of usage. Ryan was an outlier and expecting every pitcher to be able to do what he did is just foolish. At the same time, refusing to allow a pitcher to start an inning if his pitch count has reached 90 is equally bad.

It would be great if in Spring Training, Buck Showalter went up to the veteran starters and told them that he expected them at some point during the regular season to throw 120 pitches in a game. Not every game, but at some point when their arms were fully stretched out and the weather was conducive and they were pitching well with gas in the tank.

On the opposite end, we shouldn’t ask pitchers to throw 70 pitches in games where they just don’t have it, either. It’s difficult to make a comparison in this area from 1988 to 2021, because last year the Mets used an opener so many times, along with their usage of super veteran Rich Hill, who was a “five and fly” type of starter. Also, there were too many outings by depth starters 11 and above, the Robert Stock and Jerad Eickhoffs of the world.

But the reason that managers leave their SP, no matter how poorly he’s performing, in for at least 70 pitches is because they can’t go to the pen too early. That’s because they don’t carry long men and the short relievers have all pitched eight times in the last 10 games. If you don’t ask the bullpen to go between 3-5 innings every game, you can use the relievers to give you seven innings when the starter just doesn’t have it.

My preference would be to have a bullpen with three pitchers capable of going three innings in an outing. Again, you don’t have to use them for outings that long each time out. But they should be able to give you that when needed. And, of course, if a guy goes three innings, he’s not going to be available right away. But that’s okay. Because you have other guys who can give you length and the short men aren’t exhausted because they’re no longer pitching nearly every single day.

The Mets had 27 games last year where the starting pitcher threw 3.0 IP or fewer. They had 16 games where a reliever threw 3.0 IP or more. It would be nice to have twice as many games where relievers threw that much, compared to starters that threw that little in an appearance. Part of that, as mentioned earlier, was circumstance with openers and depth starters past 10. But that’s the SP side. It’s the RP side that really needs to be addressed.

There’s safety in doing things the same way that every other team does. It eliminates second guessing. No one wants to be second guessed more than they have to, so it’s easy to see how and why this evolution has unfolded the way it has.

But there is more than one way to get things done. Especially if you don’t put artificial limits in place across the board, with no differentiation between what a rookie and a veteran can do, along with considering other variables. Hopefully with Showalter in the dugout, the Mets can take the training wheels off and stop the paint-by-number managing that’s become too common place in today’s game.

8 comments on “Attacking self-fulfilling prophecies and paint-by-number managing

  • ChrisF


  • ChrisF

    I would also add, I want deGrom at 98 pitches in there in favor of anyone else they can put in relif. The Mets bull pen problems would lessen dramatically, if the starters were trained to go even 95-110 pitches.

    It is worth noting, the “foul ball” approach to spoil as many pitches as possible is real. The goal is to drive out starters.

  • Metsense

    Luis Rojas was insecure, unexperienced, a paint by numbers manager and was afraid to be second guessed. On the other hand, I wouldn’t be surprised if Showalter will be on own man using the analytics and imput from his coaching staff judiciously. He has job security.
    I expect the pitching counts to increase, the hitting approach to not be a “one size fits all” and every player to know his role and what is expected from him.
    It is a good idea to have 2-3 good long man relievers in the bullpen. It saves a bullpen.
    Good solid thoughts Brian.

  • JimmyP

    In the abstract, I agree when it comes to relievers who can provide length. I will always remember Roger McDowell giving us 5 strong in Game 6 of the 1986 NLCS.

    The loss of the old-fashioned “long man/spot starter” is a real negative and it continues to mystify me.

    OTOH, I totally understand the value of a lefty reliever to combat tough LH hitters in late & close situations. The 3-batter rule has helped, though, in eliminating the overuse of the “one-out guy” strategy.

    I think Megill is a good candidate for the 2-inning relief role.

    Gsellman used to be able to physically do it, but actually getting 6 outs seemed beyond him most nights.

    Lugo used to be able to do it — and was used that way — but he didn’t look right all last season. The torn labrum barking, I assume. Begged out of a lot of games, too. My sense was the team was always in a tough position with him. Pitch him two innings and you can’t use him again until next Tuesday. Go one inning and maybe he helps you after a day off. Tough call at times. If you are arguing to trade him away . . . I’d listen. I thought his FB velocity fell off quickly last season.

    A bullpen is no place for a Faberge egg.

    (At same time, I thought in 2019 he might have been the best reliever in the NL. Once again, health trumps all & we just don’t have the inside info.)

    One quibble:

    Brian wrote: >> Relievers are good; starters are better. <<

    Of course, it's not that simple. A quality reliever is better than a so-so starter. That's the calculus that teams are trying to figure out. And again, I think it's a valid question centering around Megill. He might be more effective, and more valuable, as a reliever who can give us occasional length. We know he has the unflappable demeanor.

    Lugo is another example of a guy who is very probably more valuable as a reliever than starter.

  • Name

    Just looking at the NL league averages games of 100+ pitches and (120+ pitches)

    1988: 67 (18)
    1991: 66 (15)
    1997: 66 (12)
    2001: 69 (8)
    2006: 68 (5)
    2011: 72 (4)
    2013: 63 (2)
    2015: 53 (1)
    2017: 48 (1)
    2018: 38 (0)
    2019: 38 (0)
    2021: 21 (0)

    While the number of games of 120+ pitches has been steady decreasing since 1998, we actually see the number of 100+ pitch games holding steady for about 25 years til the early 2010s, and then a precipitous drop in the last 7-8 years. 2015 seems to be the critical year, as that was the first year the NL league average broke under 60 games.

  • Name

    You all know i whine, moan, and groan loudly about the 100 pitch boogeyman in the game chatters. It freaking annoys me when i see a cruising pitcher taken out at low 90s pitches over 6 innings (Marcus Stroman at least 8-10 times last year) whereas someone like Taijuan Walker on 6/3 is allowed to throw 104 pitches because the manager wants to coax him thru 5 innings.
    It makes no sense that only when a pitcher is struggling is when they are allowed to go more than 100 pitches, rather than when they are cruising. It’s backwards thinking.

    The idea of wanting 3 long relievers is overkill though. If SP can go longer that’s already gonna help the load on the bullpen and with roster manipulation being so free and easy in today’s game, you really wouldn’t ever need 3 long guys on your active roster at any point. Maybe have 3 on your 40-man roster that you can swap in and out all season long makes more sense.

  • T.J.

    Great article, hard to argue with any of it. Also, many excellent comments too. I think Name nailed to point that bugs me the most – all 100 pitch outings are not the same, and on multiple occasions in a season we watch the managers take out the guy cruising and leave in the guy struggling. I am not in the dugout, but from the recliner it makes no sense, regardless of the stats or the status of the pen.

    On the flip side, it should be noted that pitching as a starter in the 80s and 90s (and earlier) was much different and mostly not comparable. The evolution of hitting – the foul balls, the driving up pitch counts, the deeper lineups that feature bigger, stronger, and more prepared batters – has had an impact on starters. Today’s pitches include many more, if not all, at max effort, be it related to velocity, spin rate, or both. There are much fewer soft outs. The DH is involved in more games with intraleague play, and will be in both NL and AL games, if they ever play again. So, I get the decrease in 100 pitch outings.

    I would be very happy with letting the big boys go deeper when it warms up. I would also be happy with better pitching in AAA that could minimize the games where the pen has to go 7+. And I would be thrilled if they had enough pen talent to shuffle some reserves up and down in order to given the multi-inning pen guys 2-3 days to recover. Any weak line in this equation will result in too much paint by numbers, even with Buck.

  • Jimmy P

    My take on this is not so much to scream about the way things are going — starters working less — but to respond with a roster that addresses the way things are.

    Meaning: Our merely okay bullpen from 2021 has already lost its most effective pitcher. It’s not close to good enough; it’s not close to top shelf.

    This team still needs a lot of work.

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