Modern Baseball Affects Pitching Performance
By Bob Branco
August 19, 2021
What is it with baseball managers and front offices? They seem to have a fetish about pitchers facing opposing batting orders for the third time during a baseball game. Where is it said that pitchers automatically lose control at that point? I don’t think there is any solid evidence, because each pitcher is different from any other. Yet, pitchers are often removed before the third time around. Roger Clemens rarely had a problem facing batting orders for the third time. Pedro Martinez rarely had that problem. Jim Palmer rarely had that problem.
On Tuesday afternoon, Tanner Houck, the starting pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, was taken out of the game after four innings in exchange for a bull pen that manager Alex Cora admitted was underperforming. If the bull pen is underperforming, and if Tanner Houck was pitching reasonably well, then why remove him from the game? If we want to talk about the lesser of two evils, an underperforming bull pen VS facing the other team’s batting order for the third time, I’ll take my chances with the latter. Furthermore, how does a manager gain trust or confidence in his starting pitcher if the manager continues to deny his starter a chance to try to prove he can handle the opposing batting order for the third time? At some point, you need to have faith in your pitcher, especially when your alternative is not a viable option right now. I’ve witnessed many starting pitchers who improved as the game went along, even when they face the opposing batting order for the third time. In other words, the third time can be a charm.
When the game was over, most of the conversation was about Garrett Whitlock, the pitcher who relieved Tanner Houck after four innings. Talk show hosts and their callers kept expressing how Whitlock had a bad day on the mound. In the first place, Whitlock should never have been on the mound. Houck was pitching just fine, thank you very much. Therefore, it’s not fair to blame Whitlock because he inherited a poor managerial decision.
I have made another observation as to why managers pull starting pitchers way too early. It is widely documented that front offices tell their managers what to do, based on analytical and statistical knowledge of what should happen on the field. As far as I’m concerned, managers should have complete authority on the baseball diamond. They should not be told by analytics departments how to treat players. Managers are smart enough to know when a pitcher is tired, or when a player has problems at the plate or in the field. They don’t need computer print-outs or scripts to dictate what is supposed to happen. If I was a general manager of a Major League Baseball team, my manager would be given complete authority to do whatever he wants to do, according to baseball rules. That’s how it’s supposed to be.
As we continue to ask questions about why managers remove starting pitchers way too early, a common response is that the team owners are trying to protect their investments. Many of these pitchers make millions of dollars, so it’s important to preserve their arms. Here’s the problem. Despite the efforts of owners to protect their investments, there have been more Tommy John surgeries than ever before, leaving pitchers out of baseball for 18 months at a time. So much for protecting your investment. If pitchers are not told to throw hard all the time, maybe they wouldn’t have these problems. I grew up in an era when pitchers were much more creative, and not aggressive. They threw more curve balls, sinkers, sliders, knuckle balls, and other slow and deceiving pitches to go along with an occasional fast ball. Today, it’s all about the fast ball. I don’t know why it’s believed that if pitchers throw fast balls all the time, baseball would be much more enjoyable. To me, there is less creativity that way.
I have a message for team owners and front offices. To the team owners, I say, let your pitchers be more creative, and you wouldn’t have to worry about them getting hurt so easily. My message to front offices is, leave your managers alone. Let them manage the way they know how to manage. They know their players better than you do. Put your computer away. Recognize baseball as a sport which involves the human eye test. That’s how it was always meant to be.