|A Fresh Start||| Print ||
Written by Jonathan Leshanski (Contact & Archive) on January 22, 2008
Pitching has become so dear in the game of baseball that teams all around the game are reaching, not to find a tight top to the bottom rotation as they did in decades past, but even to find a 1-2 combination.Â Part of this may have to do with the fact that pitchers are harder to develop than hitters, and part may have to do with the fact many more baseball players are opting to play a position rather than pitch and deal with the seemingly inevitable arm and shoulder injuries which seem to plague almost every pitcher at some point in their career.Â
Of course maybe itâ€™s simpler than that.Â Certainly many of the top athletes in the country are looking at other sports. While baseball is financially and attendance wise as strong as it ever has been at the major league level, the game isnâ€™t getting played as widely by amateurs here in the Americas, because games like soccer and basketball donâ€™t require the same numbers of players, equipment and less space.Â
But for whatever reason teams are struggling to find solid starting pitching and even decent relief.Â That has led to a lot of speculative trading and even some experimentation with converting relief pitchers to starters.Â
No, this isnâ€™t anything all that new; teams have been switching pitchers back from the bullpen to starting and vice versa since the game began.Â However, over the last several decades, pitching has become somewhat more informally stratified.Â Â We tend not to think of pitchers as left handed pitchers or right handed pitchers, but instead as specialists so instead we tend to hear pitchers introduced as left handed (or right handed) RELIEF pitchers -- as if that would be the only thing a pitcher is capable of.Â
In some cases that may be true - many relievers donâ€™t have the stamina to give a team six or seven solid innings but many certainly do.Â In fact many a starter has found themselves in the bullpen for a variety of reasons and over the years has become thought of as a relief pitcher.Â
Now, however, teams are struggling to find starting pitching and are more and more turning to their bullpen to find that starter that they so desperately need.Â Â Last year the Cardinals called on erratic reliever Braden Looper, who had not started a game in his major league career and put him in their rotation.Â Â The results were not amazing -- he went 12-12 with an ERA just a shade under five. Looper gave the Cardinals something they desperately needed: a pitcher who ate 175 innings and kept the team in the game, at least enough so that he managed to finish with a .500 record.Â
This year there are at least two teams planning to go that same route.Â In Philadelphia the move is one which fans have been crying out for since Brett Myers was converted to the teamâ€™s closer in 2007.Â Myers, until April 18th of last year, was a starter but was pushed to the bullpen after struggling in his first three starts of the season (16 ER in just 14.1 innings) -- much to the dismay of the Philadelphia faithful.Â
Myers possesses what many consider to be a special arm and expecting him to be a good pitcher isnâ€™t hard based upon his record of 54-40 as a starter and the quality of his pitches.Â Â That should make the Phillies a better team if Myers can successfully readjust.
Another pitcher being asked to readjust to the starting role is left hander Jeremy Affeldt, who apparently will try to take his success in the bullpen last year and bring himself full circle while wearing the uniform of the Cincinnati Reds.Â Affeldt was once a highly touted starter for a dreadful Kansas City franchise who expected him to become one of the teamâ€™s future aces.Â
That might have been more hype than reality as his minor league ERA was a pedestrian 4.03 with a 28-35 record.Â Still Affeldt certainly had flashes of brilliance but most of them have come as reliever.Â In the majors, heâ€™s had 42 starts but never really distinguished himself until this point.Â
Still Cincinnati is desperate for pitching -- their offense scored more runs than any team in their division save the Brewers but their pitching was woeful, tied for last with the Florida Marlins with an ERA of 4.96.Â Â They donâ€™t expect Affeldt to solve their pitching woes or to become an ace. They, instead, need what the Cardinals needed out of Braden Looper, someone who can pitch close to 200 innings and give the team a chance to win.Â
In these starting pitching starved days, this might well be the beginning of a new trend -- developing starters after theyâ€™ve served a stint in the bullpen.Â Â No doubt many teams who canâ€™t or wonâ€™t shell out $10+ million for a mediocre starter will be keeping an eye on these developments, probably more because of Affeldt than Myers, who is more of a proven quantity. If these guys work out well, teams may be looking to their own bullpen and wonder if they can develop starters from there, as well as the farm system.