Dog days of summer
Mediocre arms come out of the woodwork for stretch
Posted: Thursday August 30, 2007 2:22PM; Updated: Thursday August 30, 2007 2:45PM
The season's on the line. Every game counts. And so, of course, that's why you've been seeing Fabio Castro, Horacio Ramirez and Jo-Jo Reyes on the mound.
Is this Hell? No, it's the stretch run. There's never enough starting pitching in Major League Baseball. You know that. But when August comes, there really isn't enough starting pitching.
Every winter, teams begin the dogged search for strong-willed men to fill out their starting rotations. Every spring, optimism reigns as rested arms report to Arizona and Florida with "better mechanics" and "clearer focus."
And then, in the heat of summer, attrition sets in. Maneuvering a starting rotation through a baseball season is like a slow crawl through the desert. There isn't a fan out there who hasn't cringed at the sight of one of his team's starting pitchers lately.
Ideally, when you place a pitcher in your starting rotation in April, you want to still see him there in September. But that's a dream.
Seventeen teams have a reasonable shot at a playoff spot, which means that nearly every game played last week had playoff implications. During that time, 159 pitchers started at least one game. (See the chart here.) However, barely a third of those pitchers had made 24 or more starts this season, and barely half had made 20 or more starts.
Some were injured earlier in the year, some were ineffective, some weren't ready to be called up from the minor leagues until recently. No matter how you slice it, though, this meant that roughly half the starting rotation slots in baseball have needed a substitute for a month or more.
In fact, a significant chunk of the pitchers used last week had next-to-no 2007 experience. Not only were five making their first start of the season, but 41 -- more than one per team -- had made five or fewer starts.
Just about every team out there has been improvising. And none of this addresses the quality of the pitchers taking the mound.
It almost goes without saying that half the starting pitchers used last week had below-average ERAs. But think about what that means. If your team is contending for a playoff spot, every time you see a pitcher go out there with an ERA of 4.50 or more, your heart just about sinks. Across the majors, hearts were sinking nearly every other game.