Starting point: stability (cont.)
Posted: Tuesday January 22, 2008 12:50PM; Updated: Tuesday January 22, 2008 1:37PM
Again, let's go back to the Schilling Theory, or its opposite corollary: keep the ball out of the hands of second-tier pitchers as much as you can. The more you don't have to rely on those No. 6 through No. 12 starters, the better off you'll be. The 2007 Cubs were another good example of this theory at work. They cut their second-tier starts from 54 to 10, helping them advance from 66 wins to 85 and from last place to first.
Further, let's look at the 12 full-season world champions of the wild-card era and examine how many times they had to dip into the second-tier pool of pitchers.
What you find is plenty of rotation stability. What jumps out is the remarkable reliability of the 1999 Yankees, 2004 Red Sox and 2005 White Sox, all of whom covered at least 94 percent of the season with their top five starters. Also, the 2001 Diamondbacks are the only team on the list with more than 30 second-tier starts, and of course, they were top-heavy in the rotation with Schilling and Randy Johnson. Looks like Schilling is on to something here.
Finally, one last word: I figured that teams burn through more starting pitchers today than ever before. After all, we hear about scores of injuries, the switch from a four-man rotation to a five-man rotation, kids rushed to the majors before they're ready . . . the usual stuff associated with the "watering down" of pitching. Turns out that is not the case. The number of starters used in a big league season has remained fairly flat for a decade: between 283 and 308 every year except 2005, when it actually sunk to 271.
When you look at the bigger picture, it turns out that teams ran through more starting pitchers 50 years ago -- back when we like to think of those dudes being much tougher. Perhaps it can be explained by pitchers having less defined roles back then, and maybe by doubleheaders, too. This chart (right) provides snapshots, in 10-year increments, of the average number of starters used per team and the average number of starts made by those pitchers. Turns out that today's starting pitchers don't measure up too badly when compared to their historical counterparts.
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