Old baseball wisdom states that you’re going to win one-third of your games no matter what you do and lose one-third in the same fashion. It’s what you do in the other third of the games that determine your season. What if we took that same mindset and applied it to how teams handle their starting pitchers?

Everyone wants starters to pitch deeper into games. Recently, The Athletic had three articles on this very topic. Full disclosure: I didn’t read all of the pieces and only skimmed the ones that were opened. Why? Because it’s my belief that we don’t need to invent silly rules to incentivize teams to do what they should be doing anyway. And that’s to stop treating every pitcher like they are exactly the same and to stop believing that keeping under 100 pitches will magically keep pitchers healthy.

To me, the biggest issue is that young arms do need to be protected. But how do you learn to pitch deeper into games if you’re not allowed to do that early in your career? Perhaps one thing to keep in mind is that not everything needs to be learned in actual game situations. Think of how many things that pitchers do to improve themselves outside of competitive situations.

If a pitcher is tipping his pitches – does he develop the cure during a game?
If a pitcher wants to add a new pitch – does he do that during a game first?
If a pitcher wants to improve his pickoff throw – does he just make up a new move on the spot?

Now, you can say those are all things that can be successfully worked on in side sessions and it’s a completely different thing with going deeper into games. And that’s true. But all teams – everyone, really – need to ask how much of not going deeper into games is physical and how much is mental. Perhaps it’s more physical then mental. It might even be substantially more physical than mental. But it’s my opinion that it’s at least part mental when it comes to pitchers.

And there should be little doubt that the mental aspect is huge among coaches, managers, front office types and even owners.

What if tomorrow, all non-players among an organization decided they were going to do their part to allow veteran pitches – say anyone with at least one full year of MLB service time – to go deeper into games. What would they do?

Hopefully, with a consistent message, they would tell the players this. Hopefully, they would come up with a plan to incrementally increase the workload. If you have a pitcher used to throwing 90 pitches, you can’t tell him the next day to throw 120 and expect great results. Have a plan, communicate the plan and stick to the plan.

And you can’t expect immediate results. What’s the average number of pitches per game for a SP? There are probably just a handful of people who know that answer off the top of their head and don’t count me as one. But if forced to guess, my answer would be in the low 80s. If we changed our mentality, alerted the players to what the new goals were and were consistent in all facets – shouldn’t we be able to get that up to the high 80s?

Christian Scott doesn’t have a full season in MLB under his belt, so you would still use current 21st Century pitch count limits with him. But everyone else in the rotation should be looked at as pitchers who can give more when conditions are right. If a pitcher is getting knocked around, you don’t want to keep trotting him out there. But if he’s cruising, you don’t want to remove him just because he’s approaching 95 pitches.

On Monday, Sean Manaea retired the last seven batters he faced. He had thrown exactly 100 pitches at that point so no one expected him to return to the mound. But what if instead of relying on the blunt tool of counting pitches, we looked at how he was performing and how he felt? It’s certainly possible that Manaea was gassed at that point and sending him to the mound would have been a bad idea. But it’s also possible that he felt fine and could have pitched another inning. Or two.

Pitchers are never going to go deeper into games unless there exists a culture which allows them to do it.

And, sure, you can roll your eyes with the use of a buzzword like culture. But there needs to be that culture, that mindset and that training to allow longer and deeper starts to happen. You can’t just wish it into existence.

No matter what limits or safeguards are placed on them, pitchers are going to get hurt. All of these things that teams have tried to do to keep pitchers healthy haven’t worked. Instead of looking for the next restriction to place on pitchers, teams should be looking for how they can maximize the output of their pitchers, without running them into the ground.

There has to be a middle ground between best practices and obscene demands. Best practices would be to throw as little as possible with as much rest as possible between starts. There are many examples of obscene demands, including short rest and consistent outings with 150 or more pitches. Allowing a pitcher in the right circumstances to throw 125 pitches should not be viewed as a crime against nature.

And there’s the elephant in the room about asking pitchers to give max effort at all times. Maybe creating that monster means that all pitchers who reached the majors with that mindset are a lost cause. Perhaps teams can go back to selecting pitchers based on their ability to pitch and wait to chase velocity until they reach the upper levels of the minors.

6 comments on “Ramblings on getting pitchers to go deeper into games

  • ChrisF

    Agreed, a shift to accepting more inning and less max effort is a real “moneyball” solution to the current ugly nature of pitchers going less and throwing harder.

    Who will give that a try?

    And young kids are going unwatched in youth leagues going max effort just to have a chance at afuture and so the elbow injuries are being birthed early on.

  • NYM6986

    Exactly what the issue is that pitchers can’t go deeper into games must be tied to dollars. We now pay pitchers who are not talented enough to be closers or starters millions of dollars just to come in for the sixth seventh or eighth inning. Even our best closers are limited to make it through one inning and God forbid you wanna call on them the next day to close out another game only to find out that they are unavailable.
    When Manaea reached that magic 100 pitch count, what would’ve been the harm to leave him in to start the next inning?
    Perhaps the seeds of all of this limited pitching started back when these kids were all in Babe Ruth league and high school baseball and throwing the ball much harder than they should because apparently they were being taught to be throwers and not pitchers. Noah Syndegaard was a prime example of a hard thrower not a pitcher, which is why he rarely made it through the fifth inning before exceeding 100 pitches. It seems that so many young pitchers have TJ surgery that it is almost a badge of honor to do so. It seems that if more young baseball players would emulate Greg Maddox and his ability to get players out both by strikeout and by pitching to contact they would have much more longevity and stay on the field.
    As for the Mets own pitching staff, they walk so many batters that even if they’re pitch count wasn’t too high they would need to come out because the other team had already scored too many runs. Perhaps another answer is to employ more closers in your bullpen so that whoever comes in in the 6/7 or eighth inning can really shut the door down on the opposing team. More often than not, the pitcher coming into the game in the middle immings is one of the final roster positions on your team and not considered one of your better players.
    Lastly, we would probably not be agonizing over how long one of our starters stays in the game, if we could consistently jump out in front instead of usually coming from behind and trying to win games.
    Perhaps we’d have a different opinion if the Mets were four over 500
    Instead of four under.

  • Woodrow

    In the 2020s only elite pitchers go the third time through a batting order. Right away 60% of your starts are ended at 5-6 innings. 8 man BPs are the standard,half the roster is pitching.Have to play them.

  • Metsense

    If the front office and managers wanted to have starting pitchers to pitch deep in games then they would do so. They are afraid of the 100 pitch Boogeyman. A Boogeyman is the mythical monster that has is to use scare people into their behavior. Boogeymen are imaginary and are the in minds of front office people and then trickle down managers and finally the pitches themselves.
    The 100 pitch barrier is a self filling prophecy.
    With all the statistics available every pitcher needs their own maximum pitch count and effectiveness. Then managers would be aware of the stastic limit and then proceed with caution. If the pitcher is cruising or the team has a substantial lead then let the pitcher pitch if the pitcher says that he isn’t fatigued and the manager doesn’t see signs of fatigue like hanging pitches or a command problem. Good managing and common sense would put the 100 pitch Boogeyman myth to rest.

  • Mike W

    This is a great article as it focuses on common sense. I fully support pitchers going deeper in games if the circumstances are right. I am old school who grew up watching Seaver, Matlack, Koosman and Ryan going nine innings. Ryan had 222 complete games in his career. These guys never really had arm problems either. Abd dont give me todays starters throw harder. Nolan Ryan was still throwing 100 MPH bullets into the 9th inning.

    Even in Dwight Gooden’s Cy Young season in 85, he had 16 complete games.

    I cannot imagine Tom Seaver going six shutout innings and then in the seventh, out rolls Bob Apodaca.

    I feel that todays game of five or six inning starts is boring, predictable and really takes away from the game.

    Great teams still win 100 games and bad teams still losee 100 games. So todays game still has the same outcome.

    So MLB, please listen to Mr. Joura and starters go more innings.

    Has MLB ever thought that starters coming out after five or six innings has contributed to the significant decrease of interest in baseball. It all starts with the kids.

    Has any 10 year old kid with his cap and bubble gum ever said, oh my God, today I cant wait to see Sean Reid-Foley come into the game?

    Hell No

  • Larry Gerard

    Pitchers are no longer trained to go deep into games. The 100 pitch limit is a farce and shouldn’t apply to all pitchers. Pitchers seem to be unaware of the need to use their legs to help deliver the ball. When will a team have enough guts to go back to the old philosophy of starters going deep into games and relievers closing consecutive games. Babying pitchers leads to more arm injuries

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