Last time I railed a bit on the act of carrying three dedicated catchers on a roster. Tonight, with real substantial baseball news still coming in at just a trickle as we lead up to the start of the regular season, I decided to continue the trend. This time, it’s not such a cut and dry case as I think the three catchers issue is. Tonight’s issue is the 12-man pitching staff.
I believe there are a number of circumstances where it is prudent to carry 12 pitchers. My beef is that seemingly every team does it all season long and that just screams wasted roster spot to me. One only needs to look through usage patterns to see the evidence; relievers going six or longer days between appearances, that is a surefire clue that there could be better uses for that roster slot.
Namely, it boils down to this; I think the game has evolved lately into a situation where managers are paranoid about treating each individual game as if it were totally independent. But it’s not, not on a usage level. What you do in one game does affect what your options are in the following. How many pitches does a reliever throw each time he gets warmed up? 20, 30? How many times does he make an appearance which involves less than that many pitches? My hunch would be a majority.
Why not just carry 11 pitchers and if you are facing a game after a particular heavy usage day, just swap one or two out with the best available Triple-A relievers for a short while. They’re RP, and not dominant ones even, they’re almost the baseball definition of fungible assets.
Managers seem too cavalier to me in making pitching changes to try and extract the greatest possible match ups at that particular moment. Of course, that sounds good, right? And it is good, if usage was independent from game to game, but it’s not. And endless pitching changes to eek out an extra percent or two of favorability on a single pitcher-batter battle is focusing on the micro level and missing that if you relaxed your standards in that regard, perhaps you would be able to go with an 11-man staff and thus carry another bench bat which can provide you with a greater total contribution.
This specific topic, and roster maximization in general, makes for a fantastic area of research that in time I plan to get around to analyzing with hard numbers, but for now I just wanted to present something that sticks out to me every March as Opening Day rosters get set. What are your thoughts?
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