The Mets have used 23 pitchers already, which seems crazy. But in the days of eight-man bullpens that you need to consistently juggle, perhaps that’s more me living in the past than a high number for 2023 baseball. If we split it between starters and relievers, the Mets have eight pitchers with more starts than relief appearances, meaning they have used 15 relief pitchers. Let’s see how that stacks up to the rest of the division:

ATL – 11 relievers
MIA – 19 relievers
PHI – 13 relievers
WSN – 12 relievers

So, it seems high to me, if not obscene, like what they have going down in Miami. Regardless, the Mets have been caught in a cycle. Their starters aren’t going deep enough, which requires more innings from the pen, which necessitates using more relievers. Lather, rinse, repeat.

One thing discussed in the Game Chatter recently was how big of a problem this was, MLB-wide, and if it needed a rule to get it back to fewer pitchers being spit up and chewed out by teams.

Most of us are not fans of the system that rewards a reliever who pitched well in a multi-inning role being farmed out the next day, as the club needed a fresh arm in the pen. MLB has attempted at least a partial fix for this, limiting the number of times a player could be optioned in a single season. But did they do enough?

Is it a problem if a team uses 25, 30, even 40 or more relievers during a season?

Last year the Mets used 23 pitchers with more relief appearances than starts, a definition which made Trevor Williams a reliever and Tylor Megill & David Peterson starters. My preference would be for starters to pitch longer and use just one or two relievers per game. But just because that’s my ideal doesn’t make it MLB’s reality.

Could starters go longer? At least some of the time, yes. Yet how much longer could Max Scherzer have gone yesterday? During the game, I asked if the Mets would be happy with 4 IP, 1 R from Scherzer. He gave them 5 IP. But prior to yesterday he threw 6.1 IP since April 10 and did you want his surpassing the 83 pitches he did throw?

The problem with coming up with rules to restrict pitcher usage is that it’s tough to legislate what the Mets faced yesterday. They had a completion of a suspended game, one where they were going to have to cover at least six innings, plus they had a regularly scheduled game with a starter who had hardly thrown in the previous five weeks.

By losing the first game, they didn’t have to cover the ninth inning. Then Scherzer goes out and gives five innings, likely more than what could have been expected from him given the circumstances. That meant the bullpen needed to give 10 IP yesterday, and they needed six different guys to cover the load.

They were helped with the addition of the 27th man. But they also made it thanks to manipulating their roster. They promoted Dennis Santana for the first game and then DFAd him to activate Brooks Raley for the second game.

Certainly, you don’t want the exception dictating which rules you initiate. But at the same time, you do have to consider all of the potential downfalls of a new rule. While no one wants to see 20 anonymous relievers in a year, we don’t want to see circumstances forcing the name relievers to pitch more than they should and expose them to injury. Without the 27th man and without the roster manipulation with Santana – how do the Mets cover the extra innings?

My opinion is that MLB doesn’t need a new rule here. However, if you wanted to address roster manipulation, especially with regards to fungible relievers, perhaps we need to discuss the viability of having a reliever taxi squad.

The NFL has 53-man rosters but only 48 are active on Game Day. Those five extra players are around for short-term injuries. MLB doesn’t have quite the game-to-game injury concern as the NFL does but they still have the need for extra bodies to prevent injuries. What if instead of a 26-man roster, MLB teams had a 30-man roster, one they would use to set a 26-man roster for each game? To avoid manipulation of the 30-man roster, you could make that firm for a designated period, say a week or a month.

Players would accumulate MLB service time – and pay – as long as they’re on the 30-man roster, even if they don’t get into a game. There are no illusions from me that this is a perfect system. But if nothing else, it does away with the reliever pitching well for three innings, only to be sent out the next day, unable to return for 15 days without another pitcher going on the IL. Instead, he would be kept off the 26-man roster for a few days, returning whenever he’s ready.

It’s unlikely that this would significantly impact the number of relievers used by a team over the course of a season. My guess is that it would eliminate a handful. Rather, the real benefit comes from more MLB jobs and more roster flexibility without having to use a guy for one game and then DFA him, like what happened to Santana yesterday.

5 comments on “What’s the solution to the proliferation of bullpen arms used in today’s game?

  • ChrisF

    This is a very important topic and touches on all but one of the things that figure into this. Ive been increasingly concerned for years now about starting pitcher duration, even to the point of tracking what I still think is a critical metric: pitches per out. At first, I believe a lot of the workload change was a team decision. Mission #1 is protect the high flying annd top dollar arms for SP1-3. We saw a change from how many innings to how many pitches. As PPO numbers rise the number of outs and thus innings has dropped. So the main concerned moved from going 6-7 innings (how quaint was the QS?) to 100 pitches for starters. At the same time, I believe hitting coaches began to reward the extended ABs by taking defensive swing after defensive swing (fouling off) in the “hunt” for the mistake fastball or flat out walk. Hitting approaches have changed a lot in the past 5 years to my eyes and that has really put pitchers in trouble with racking up high pitch counts and low numbers of outs. If there is any rule change I would endorse its not to do with roster management, but game play: the third foul ball is an out. Get in there and hit, not wear down pitchers as a primary plan. It also makes the game boring as all hell.

    • Brian Joura

      That’s a pretty radical solution.

      I do think it would help pitchers, perhaps even to the point that it would allow them to go deeper in games. I like that it’s very straightforward in how it would be applied. Not sold on it being good for the game, though.

      I would not be opposed to having them try it out in the Atlantic League, to see how it plays in a competitive situation.

    • T.J.

      Interesting and not as radical as it initially sounds. Heck, they already start extra innings with a runner on second base.

      The evolution of baseball hitting has evolved a bit further than the pitching, forcing pitchers to use max effort on every pitch. I could live with the evolution of the starter’s role shrinking, but the lack of overall depth of big league decent pitchers hurts the product. Frankly, I find it hard to watch a major portion of Met games this season, despite a record payroll, mostly due to the transience of the bullpen.

      • ChrisF

        If you foul off a bunt with 2 strikes, thats an out. This would hardly be precedent setting in my opinion. Right now, losing all the spidertak and adding a pitch clock will only lead to injury for pitchers trying to maintain ball rotation and pitch quick. I think if you want to shorten the game, tell batters to hit or get out of the box.

  • Metsense

    The taxi squad idea would be a solution for the proliferation of bullpen arms in today’s game. The three batter rule and the limit of 13 pitchers on the roster was instituted to speed up the game and eliminate too many pitching changes. That rule has been accomplished its goal. If you expand the taxi squad then teams will have more relief pitcher available because they would put the starters on the taxi squad and defeat the purpose of the previous rule. Maybe two players on the taxis squad, that is split 14 to 14 on the roster, would be a better experiment to see how that plays out. The position player would be helpful with day to day injuries. The taxi squad rule should suppress roster manipulation. Finally, when a player is called up they should be guaranteed 5 days on the roster.

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