I had a great idea during a morning run Tuesday, which is always dangerous. Basic premise: what if MLB teams structured their pitching staffs in what amounts to one big bullpen, albeit one with some structure?
Tony La Russa attempted some form of this in 1993 with the A’s when he divided pitchers into platoons. My version goes like this: Teams would have a 13-man pitching staff. Three different pitchers would work the first three innings of games, forming a three-man mini-rotation — starters in name, though not starters as we know them now.
Of the remaining 10 pitchers, nine could work a maximum of two innings each over the course of the three games started. So the starters would throw nine innings over three games, and the other pitchers would throw 18 for a total of 27 — three regulation games. The 13th pitcher would be reserved for extra innings or blowouts, where he could save the other arms. After three games, repeat.
The idea was born out of the dreadful state of the Twins’ rotation, and the comparative success of the bullpen. Twins starters had a 4.94 ERA this season going into Tuesday, while relievers were at 3.13. MLB-wide in 2014, starters have a 3.94 ERA while relievers have a 3.56 ERA. Why?
Pitching in such short stints allows relievers to throw harder, and only facing batters once in a game is a big edge, too. Starting pitchers in MLB this season have a 3.76 ERA the first trip through the batting order; second time through it’s up to 3.98 and third time through it’s 4.23. Pitchers get tired. Hitters figure them out.
So why not have fresh pitchers throughout the game and have most of them only face each batter once? Have your lesser pitchers work lower-leverage situations against the bottoms of orders. Save tough innings for your best guys.
Now: No team would, as it stands now, take a starting pitcher making eight figures and ask him to work three innings every third day. And not many starters (or agents) would agree to this knowing starters would never be credited with a win.
Also, I have absolutely no idea how the durability of this kind of staff would hold up over a 162-game schedule. It certainly spreads the workload much differently to more pitchers.
But I would love to see the right MLB team — one with low payroll and a bunch of cheap, young, ego-free hard throwers at Class AAA and in the majors — give it a shot because it could be a more effective way to make it through a game.