Archived Story

The Answer Man

Published 10:47am Sunday, March 6, 2011

In a recent post there was a comment by one of our readers who had lots of questions and he indicated that he wanted me to answer them and that is what I am going to do today.

The topic that brought on all the questions was the one where I commented that starting pitchers pitch in 5 man rotations now and are on pitch counts and have lots of arms in a bullpen to bail them out. And yet with all of this help which is done in the hopes of saving their arms there are still a ton of arm injuries out there compared to the old days of pitchers in 4 man rotations and no pitch count.

One question was what are the effects on pitchers arms from throwing types of pitches that the old timers didn’t throw and at speeds the old guys didn’t throw?

That may be a difficult question to answer and I’m not sure what types of pitches are being talked about and I’m not sure they throw any faster today it’s just that they have equipment, like the radar gun, now to measure speed. They also emphasize it more, which isn’t necessarily a good thing. Again in the old days the pitchers moved the ball around and changed speeds, they would bring the gas when they needed too. And while we are on the topic of speed, Hall of Famer Warren Spahn once said something like, “Hitting is timing and pitching is upsetting that timing.” I don’t think that has changed any.

One type of pitch that you may consider a new pitch is the split finger. The only thing new about it is that they may try to throw it harder than they used to when they called it a forkball. It’s also a pitch not everyone can throw as you need a pretty large hand to use it successfully. Another pitch that has gotten more press is the slider only pitchers have been throwing sliders for years like Steve Carlton for example. The cut fastball, like Mariano Rivera, is another so called new pitch. That pitch will not hurt your arm at all which Rivera has proven as he has been around for a long time. The cut fastball is finger positioning on the ball and putting a little more pressure on one finger as you throw. I was able to teach this pitch to a few high school pitchers.

The key to throwing any kind of pitch is mechanics. Watch old timers like Carlton, Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan, Warren Spahn, and a not so old timer, Greg Maddox, their mechanics are flawless and they were all able to throw a lot of innings. Francisco Liriano, for example, has terrible mechanics and he throws his slider violently and he has had arm trouble and has a hard time going deep in games.

Are pitchers more or less effective today pitching to a pitch count? I don’t think there is any difference but the longer a starting pitcher can go in a game it makes their bullpen more effective with a little more rest. Even with 12-13 pitchers in the pen some get over worked and then they are not so effective.

If you go back to a 4 man rotation how many pitchers would you carry on the staff? First of all I am not advocating going back to a 4 man rotation. I just used that to help explain the way pitchers are handled today as they were yesterday.  The active Major League Roster is 25 players and most teams carry 12 pitchers so that leaves 13 position players. Let’s look at the Twins; they usually carry four bench players. It appears to be Jim Thome, Drew Butera, Jason Repko, and a utility infielder who has not been named. If pitchers could go farther into games the Twins would maybe carry 11 pitchers which would give them one more player on the bench.

In the American League with the DH that extra guy may not be as important as it is in the National League but might make your team stronger if he was there. Again we use the Twins. Thome will be the DH and a left handed bat off the bench to pinch hit. Butera is the backup catcher, and the utility guy is they guy to give the starting infielders a rest and be a defensive replacement for someone in the late innings. Repko is there to give the outfielders a rest on occasion and although in his case he is a good fielder, his hitting is a little suspect along with Butera and usually the utility guy isn’t a great hitter either. With 11 arms in the bullpen the Twins could afford to have one more player on the bench. In the Twins case a good right handed bat of some kind may be more valuable than that extra pitcher.

There is always a lot of talk about not overusing the pitchers, but in recent years the overuse of position players has also been a topic. Denard Span, for example, didn’t have the season last year as we all had hoped. It now comes out that he should have been rested more. We all know about Joe Mauer and the rest he should have. Major League Baseball plays a 162 game schedule and most starters play 145-155 of them, that my friends is a lot of games. With that many games there are a lot of injuries during a season and the fact that it seems like there are more position player injuries than their used to be. These guys are suppose to be in better shape and more athletic than the old days.

So if baseball seems to be coddling pitchers, why not coddle the position players. A bigger bench would be very helpful in that direction. But we all know if ownership was really concerned about player injuries they would expand the roster, but we also know that won’t happen because it would cost more money.

So there are my answers to the questions. I’m sure some will agree and some won’t, but that is what this forum is all about.

  • Tracy Mitchell

    Interesting. Always good to hear the opinions of a guy that knows (a lot) more about pitching than I do. I misunderstood some of your earlier comments and thought that you would prefer a return to a 4 man rotation. As far as the art of pitching, changing speeds, etc., we hear a lot about Anderson/Twins drilling into the pitchers to “work fast, change speeds, throw strikes”. Additionally, the Twins have a reputation for giving pitchers more development time in the minors than other organizations, and put a premium on throwing strikes over throwing hard. Seems to me that Brad Radke is the prototype that the Twins try to mold their young pitchers toward.

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