Searle: Breaking the bullpen

From Ginny Searle at Baseball Prospectus on June 18, 2019:

Often, you don’t see the fault lines until after the break. But one not need look particularly closely to find that fault lines abound in MLB when it comes to pitcher roles. Every season, the line between starter and reliever is blurred broader. What would it look like to erase that line?

The starting rotation has been such an integral part of baseball, in terms of value, visibility, and team design, for so long that some forget: all teams have to do is get to 1458 innings, give or take, and position themselves to elicit the strongest performances from their pitchers (collectively) as possible in that interval. The starting pitcher as a concept arose as and remains simply a means to that end, though many would (as some already have) lament the demise of the most individualistic matchup in the sport. For a tremendously long time, the logic remained clear: teams gave the vast majority of their innings to starting pitchers and accepted the tradeoff of a lower performance baseline across those innings for efficiency. If three, then four, now five and sometimes six starters could combine for two-thirds or so of a team’s innings, the team could save roster spots and devote relief innings to their best pitchers not up to starting duties.

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Originally published: June 20, 2019. Last Updated: June 20, 2019.