12 July 2012
I don’t believe the team has said anything publicly about a hard innings limit for rookie pitcher Drew Smyly, but judging by how they’ve treated young, high-ceiling pitchers in the past (like Rick Porcello and Jacob Turner) they’re probably looking at a target of around 150-160 innings for the second year pro. That shouldn’t be a big issue down the stretch. If the team keeps a normal five man rotation Smyly will likely earn 15 more starts. At his current pace of 5.1 innings per start he would finish the season with right around 162 innings pitched. Not too bad.
But if the organization was looking to reduce his innings even further, or if they felt like he was wearing down at the end of the summer, or if they also wanted to get Jacob Turner more MLB experience, they could use employ a dual starter approach once the rosters expand in September. The method would be simple: schedule each pitcher to go three or four innings (maybe the “starter” goes four innings and the “reliever” goes three) with an automatic, pre-defined pitching change. This could potentially accomplish three things.
First of all, it would allow them to both continue to learn how to mentally and physically prepare to pitch every fifth day in the major league in crucial situations. If the season to date has been any indication, the Tigers are going to have to battle the Chicago White Sox (and perhaps Cleveland Indians) the whole way. The main goal in September will still be to win games, but if they can do that while furthering the development of two pitching prospect, then all the better.Secondly, it would allow them both to maximize their effectiveness. It’s been shown that pitchers pitch better in shorter bursts. A starter generally pitches for stamina; he enters the game with the mindset of pitching five to six innings at a minimum, so he has to “save some bullets” for later in the game when he’s getting tired. Relievers don’t have to think like that. They’re in the game for a batter or an inning or two innings (not usually more than that), so they know they can go “all out” with their stuff to a much greater extent.
There’s also the idea of the “times through the order” effect. Batters learn more about pitchers the more they see them. They up close how well he’s locating his fastball that day, or how his breaking ball is moving. Instituting a hard cutoff after three innings means most of the batters would only face the pitcher one time, so they wouldn’t really get the benefit of a second go-around. I typically think this effect is most pronounced when going from the second time to the third time (and definitely from third to fourth), but I can see how it could become a problem earlier in the game for a young (less experienced) pitcher.
Here’s the MLB career “times through the order” splits for both of these pitchers:
|1st PA in G as SP||15||135||0.203||0.261||0.366||0.627|
|2nd PA in G as SP||15||131||0.323||0.351||0.565||0.916|
|3rd PA in G as SP||14||63||0.273||0.349||0.473||0.822|
|1st PA in G as SP||4||36||0.273||0.306||0.424||0.730|
|2nd PA in G as SP||4||35||0.267||0.371||0.500||0.871|
|3rd PA in G as SP||3||12||0.500||0.583||0.625||1.208|
We’re obviously dealing with small sample sizes here (especially with Turner), so add in the proper number of grains of salt, but the fact that a sizable difference in results exists between the first time through the order and the second time is difficult to deny. An added benefit is that Smyly and Turner are opposite-handed, so the “relief starter” would automatically hold the platoon advantage against the original lineup (assuming most managers fill out somewhat different lineups versus lefties and righties). This is probably a small bonus considering they’ll both have to go through the lineup at least once, but it could force the opposing manager to make a move earlier than he would otherwise like.
This actually melds with my final point. Combining the efforts of these two pitchers would actually help the Tigers win more games. Smyly has been very impressive thus far, but he’s been susceptible to rough stretches (most of May and June, actually). If the Tigers hope to claim the division (or even a Wild Card spot) they can ill afford to have a weak link in the rotation. The dual starter method could turn a marginal start into an above average one.
Matt Snyder is the editor of The Tigers Den. He can be reached on Twitter @snyder_matthew.