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Baseball’s reliever craze

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Colorado Rockies news and links for Wednesday, April 7, 2021

1,458. That’s the number of innings you can expect a Major League pitching staff to have to toss throughout a 162 game season, give or take a few frames. That’s exactly 2.7 times the amount of innings teams had to prepare for in 2020’s 60-game affair, which seems like a difficult task to achieve. Teams were already more cautious than ever about pitcher workloads and the transition from a shortened season to a full 162-game slate gives them every reason in the book to take that approach to the extreme.

The amount of pitchers used per game has been steadily climbing since the early 1980’s, and it’s risen to unreal heights since 2015. Teams averaged 4.43 pitchers used per game in 2020 and in the small sample size that is the 2021 season so far, that number has skyrocketed even further, all the way up to 4.60 hurlers per ballgame. As teams look to divide the workload, starters are operating on strict pitch counts earlier in the season and relievers are getting quite a bit of work. We saw it when the Twins pulled young stud José Berríos after six dominant no-hit innings against the Brewers because he was up to 84 pitches. We saw it when the Mets pulled best-pitcher-in-baseball Jacob deGrom after six shutout innings and only 77 pitches, to the outrage of many (including myself). And while it wasn’t intended, we saw the Rockies have to use their relievers early and often in the Dodgers series.

To my knowledge, no starting pitcher has thrown 100+ pitches in a game up to this point (although I could be wrong) and I’m fairly sure you can count the starts where a starter got through seven full with the fingers of one hand. And while this is obviously an extreme version of the current philosophy, is it really that different from what we’ll see moving forward? Virtually every team, including teams with great rotations like the Dodgers, Padres, Nationals, and so on, are carrying the now standard nine-man bullpens. Position players get more and more versatile as teams shrink the size of their benches in favor of carrying one extra relief arm. And with all these relievers comes what we all know: more walks, more strikeouts, less contact, less efficient pitching, slower pace, and so on. It’s not a coincidence that reliever usage is an all-time high and HBP’s and wild pitches are the highest they’ve been since the beginning of the 20th century.

And I guess the question here is: do we like it? Do we think it makes for engaging baseball? Do we think it makes for a product that not only us baseball fanatics can enjoy, but also the young kids who are just starting to get introduced to the game?

It’s a tough question to put out there, because teams are going to do what they feel is right for pitcher health and to win with efficiency, but baseball is entertainment at the end of the day. I won’t give my response to the question I asked earlier on right here, mainly because I don’t know that this is a clear-cut, black/white answer that can be given. It’s a layered issue, and MLB would do well to start acting like it is.

Poll

How do you feel about the growing importance of relief pitchers?

This poll is closed

  • 20%
    I really hate it.
    (23 votes)
  • 33%
    I dislike it.
    (38 votes)
  • 38%
    Kind of neutral.
    (43 votes)
  • 7%
    I think it’s pretty cool.
    (9 votes)
  • 0%
    I love it.
    (0 votes)
113 votes total Vote Now

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Hello! My name is Mario and I’m from Spain. That’s it. No, seriously, I’m definitely one of the weirdest baseball fans you will ever meet. I watched my first full game at 18, picked my favorite team because they wear my favorite color, and I’m a Rockies fan who enjoys watching pitching a lot more than hitting. I’m also a sound engineer and really nitpicky about sound in many ways. Like, if I hear one random sound that bothers me, I won’t stop hearing only it until it stops. I’ve been a part of this awesome little community for a while and writing is a lot of fun!

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The (in this humble writer’s personal opinion) best player to ever wear a Rockies uniform will get his No. 33 retired on Saturday, Aug. 21, right before a 6:10 p.m. (MT) game against Arizona. Walker, a 2020 Baseball Hall of Fame inductee, will also finally have his HOF induction ceremony on July 25th, alongside Yankee great Derek Jeter.

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