Goatriders of the Apocalypse

The craziest idea I've had in a while

It will never happen.  I don't even think it should happen.  I'm not saying I want it to happen.  I'm prefacing this post with that, and it will also be how I finish the post for one reason: there will be somebody who reads this idea of mine and thinks I'm serious, and will take time from his/her otherwise extremely busy day to scold me because it's so ridiculous. 

Over in the GROTA shout box, we've been talking about pitching decisions.  One reader made the point that if the Cubs traded for Peavy, then Sean Marshall would have to be demoted back to the bullpen - eliciting a series of "duhs" from the listening audience.  But this got me thinking ...

What if a team essentially went with a 10 man pitching staff, comprised entirely of starters?  They would all be pitchers relegated to entering games on certain days, regardless of match-ups, and they would throw a certain number of innings regardless of consequences.  Think about it.

There would be 5 pitchers responsible for starting regularly.  They would throw a maximum of 5 innings per start.  Never more, never less (unless they were just getting rocked). 

After 5 innings pitched, no matter what the score, the "relief pitcher" would come in and throw the remaining 4 innings of the game. 

In other words, the 5 starters, if healthy, would average about 160 innings a year.  No arm strain there.  The 5 relievers would average about 128 innings pitched a year. 

For example, if it were to happen this year, it would probably resemble something like this:

Innings 1-5 Carlos Zambrano; Innings 6-9 Sean Marshall
Innings 1-5 Ryan Dempster; Innings 6-9 Neal Cotts
Innings 1-5 Ted Lilly; Innings 6-9 Chad Gaudin
Innings 1-5 Rich Harden; Innings 6-9 Jeff Samardzija
Innings 1-5 Aaron Heilman; Innings 6-9 Kevin Hart

A few factors to note with this ridiculous concept:

  • If the starter is a righty, if possible the reliever should be a lefty
  • If the game goes to extra innings, the reliever should be capable of throwing into the 12th inning.  After that point, it might be necessary to have an 11th spot reliever/starter to step in and go the rest of the distance, however long it might take.

The basic premise of this concept is that starting pitchers are, on a whole, supposed to be better than relievers.  Obviously there are relievers who are outstanding at their roles - Carlos Marmol - but it would be a way to 1. save the arms of your starters and 2. get you as many as 3 or 4 saves leaders per season, because any time those relievers inherited a game with a lead, they'd likely be up for the save.

Of course, it would never work.  No pitcher would want to be a part of that program.  Even if it was a sound concept - and it's not - and your team won, say, 100 games with this kind of pitching staff, the wins would be very evenly distributed between the 10 pitchers on the staff.  Your "ace" might have 12 wins, 15 at the most, but since wins mean money he wouldn't want to pitch in such a regulated manner. 

Meanwhile, your relievers would all want to be starters themselves and even if they averaged between 10-20 saves each, they'd be pretty unhappy with their situations.

Besides, it will never happen.  I don't even think it should happen.  I'm not even saying I want it to happen.  This is just a process of thinking aloud about a very strange and stupid concept. 

Not really a good idea

I realize you aren't advocating this theory, just thinking aloud. But I assume that you're encouraging discussion on it. Aside from the logistical issue of stats, the problem with the strategy is that it takes innings away from your good pitchers and puts them in the hands of your not-so-good pitchers.

Good, healthy starters can comfortably pitch around 200 innings. So say you have two ace starters. You're taking 80 innings away from those guys, and giving them to your 9th and 10th best pitchers (think Michael Wuertz and Neal Cotts). You compound the issue for every additional top-tier starter you have.

For it to work, you'd need to have ten similarly talented pitchers. Otherwise, you're going to lose a lot more games than you would otherwise simply because you'd be exposing your bad pitchers to more innings than they deserve, and overly limiting the innings by your good pitchers.

Also, in the NL, you introduce another problem. Now, you're going to have to bat your pitcher virtually every AB. In the NL, pitchers bat 2-3 times a game. So you're adding anywhere from 1 to 3 AB per game for pitchers instead of pinch hitters. In the AL, this obviously wouldn't be an issue.

It's definitely thinking outside the box, but it's not a good idea. I think you're better off getting good starters and having them go 200 innings than to limit those guys for no reason.

I'm definitely encouraging

I'm definitely encouraging discussion about it ... I just don't want that discussion to be about the crack I'd be smoking were I to actually advocate it.

One good point you've made though is that you'd be limiting innings from your good starters. A solution to that would be to cut it down ... 4 starters, 4 relievers, 1 or 2 garbage relievers who step in for extra innings or extra bad messes.

If you limit your 4 starters to 5 innings a start, that's still going to be 202 innings over the span of a year. If your 4 relievers throw 4 innings an appearance, that's 162 innings a year. Now you're getting a lot of work for - theoretically - some very talented pitchers and you've opened your roster up to as many as 7 bench hitters to compliment your 8 regulars.

The pluses are that you'd have an extremely versatile offense. The negatives are that if you are mandating X number of innings for your pitchers regardless of performance, then a bad day for either the starter or the reliever will be more likely to translate into a loss since there aren't many options for yanking them for another reliever. (Although if you maintain 2 garbage pitchers, you'd probably be able to make it work)

Still problematic

That does increase the innings per season, but not the innings per game. You're still limiting your good starters to 1-2 innings less per game than they would normally be comfortable pitching. And you're introducing danger in that you're basically throwing 8 guys pitching essentially like starters on 3 days rest all season. That may be okay (we may be babying starters these days - I'm no expert there). But it's a dangerous gamble, and you're likely to wear down your rotation by the end of the year without getting more innings out of them.

And again, you're still requiring your 5th-8th pitchers to be similar to your 1st-4th starters, because now they're pitching starters innings. Very few teams have 8 guys who are worthy of 160+ innings, especially considering that you're asking them to pitch all year on short rest.

I'm inclined to believe that what we have currently is closer to optimal. You get your four or five best pitchers and have them go as long as possible. Then, you go to the bullpen and try to isolate matchups with short-inning guys. Perhaps there's something that could be done with the bullpen, but I think you want to try to maximize your innings by your starters each start rather than put restrictions on their appearances and force more innings out of lower-quality guys.

how many starters

Personally, I've long thought 5 was the wrong number of starters to have. Either go with 4, keep them on a short leash, and have a deep bullpen, or have 6, let them go longer than usual, and you don't need as many bullpen guys. I do the latter routinely in MLB Power Pros and it seems to work pretty well -- of course, the fact that it's a video game might affect that JUUUUUST a bit. (outside.)

Crazy Harry

Its good to see even an asinine idea of mine sprout some wings and take flight, despite the fact that such a proposal is destined for a crash landing into the side of a mountain. But really, the cubs currently aren't too far from this concept, aside from Gregg-Marmol-Cotts most of the other arms in the pen have/could contribute as starters. I have played on teams that used a system such as this; really the basic idea here is to take 2 starters and piggy-back them in each game and use them to get through 8 innings & then bring in a closer to finish the 9th inning. Using a system like this is far different from a normal approach, and the biggest problem is striking the balance and finding adequate rest for somewhere near 10 starters while also having 2 or more guys that can close out games. The biggest concern that would keep this from becoming a reality in MLB is the sheer number of games that are played with the scarce number of off days in the schedule. I wouldn't try to schedule 2 starters to pitch each game, but I would consider stretching out the number of starters on the staff and reduce the number of relievers.

If the cubs wanted to make something like this work, they likely would have to amend and fine-tune a few things, but in the short-run the strategy could give opposing teams fits. This is a strategy that I would implement either after the All-Star break or a month before the Playoffs begin, and the reason for that is because I don't think a team could sustain a system such as this for 162 games and the Playoffs. In the 2009 Cubs' case, I can only think of one reason to consider implementing a system like this one - and that reason would be the case in which the Cubs acquire Jake Peavy & lose no one from the MLB pitching staff. Looking at that case alone, I would implement a system with 7 starters, 3 swingmen, and 2 closers. That would give the team a starter for each day of the week, and with the usual one off-day per week a pitcher could be given extra rest or used to piggy-back another starter in the rotation and give the bullpen a day off. In this particular case a 12 man staff would look something like this:

Starters --> Peavy, Z, Lilly, Harden, Dempster, Marshall, Samardzija

Swingmen --> Gaudin/Hart, Heilman, Cotts

Closers --> Marmol, Gregg

However, the idea with this staff wouldn't be for the starter to pitch 5 and then a second starter to pitch the following 4 - each starter would be going out to go as deep into the game as possible. The strategy plays on the strength of the starters keeping arms well rested and many available whenever needed - but to that same end it can be taxing on those 5 (possibly 6) guys in the bullpen. It could work, the team has all the pieces; deep starting rotation - minus Peavy, multiple closers - which the team has, and a few good swingmen - which remains to be seen.

The life of this entire strategy would be firmly rooted in the team acquiring Jake Peavy, Samardzija & Marshall developing/performing as starters, and eternal health for all the shoulders and elbows involved. Without Peavy and Samardzija in the rotation, I simply wouldn't be in any hurry to get Gaudin or Heilman any starts. The bubble has to break with Guzman, Vizcaino, & Gaudin sometime soon because the bullpen has no identity - but many questions concerning the Cubs' pitching staff should be answered in the coming 2 weeks. I doubt having 7 starters is in the planbook though.

similar idea

I believe that it was the late 70's or early 80's that Chuck Tanner (?) suggested something similar. The idea was that you would pitch 3 pitchers 3 innings each. You have the flexability of adjusting the innings based on each pitcher performed or when they came up to bat for a pitch hitter.


That would be fun for the official scorer.


i am not as down on the idea as some, but by saying offensive flexibility is a positive defeats the point, because you wouldnt pull your pitcher for a pinch hitter, and pitchers would have more ABs, just like the first responder mentioned, so that flexibility would be under utilized.

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