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Fangraphs: Are Teams Benefiting From Relievers Pitching Less?


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I saw this a few days ago, and I don't really agree with the conclusions. It's not like using relievers and starters for shorter stints just happened one day. It's been a gradual thing over generations, and there has been much overlap between strategies. Combine that with baseball's overwhelming fear of change and you have to assume that there has been an advantage to specialization. If there wasn't the teams using old strategies would have won more often, and baseball's establishment would have run the new guys out of town.

Plus, I think expansion of the talent pool and the fact that both starters and relievers can throw harder all the time were ignored or brushed aside. Today we have more good pitchers using their best stuff than we did in the 1970s or 80s. I think that the average quality of pitcher today is better than it was 30 years ago, despite the addition of a few more innings of what we call "AAA" pitchers. I think the guys who are the 12th or 13th pitchers on a staff today would still have been major leaguers on 10 man staffs of the past, but the pool of talent has gotten bigger. This strategy isn't watering down anything.

One last thing, the author just makes the assumption that skyrocketing K rates are due to systematic changes in the game itself. My thought was that a heavy contributor to this is that everyone throws harder and the talent pool is bigger. The strike zone is much smaller than it used to be, but Ks still are going through the roof. There's ample evidence the pitchers are better than they used to be, and in no small part that's due to no longer having to pace themselves.

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Followup article on Tango's blog that (in the comments) concludes that teams are much better at matching their good relievers to high leverage situations today. In other words, in 1980 it was common for Goose Gossage to come into a 7-3 game in the 7th inning with a man on first, and just finish out the game. But today Rivera only pitches when the game is reasonably close and late. It also appears that starters were left in until they failed much more often, letting their teams get into trouble before going to the pen, while today a really good setup guy or closer is used prior to the starter failing.

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