New Era: Dodgers leading trend toward shorter starts for pitchers

first_img“It has changed.”Indeed it has. Relievers pitched a record number of innings last season (1,070) and are on pace to challenge that this season. As recently as the 2014 season, the average start in the National League was six innings. This season, it is a hair less than 5 2/3 (5.59 through Sunday) – the lowest in history.“If you get a guy who can give you six innings on a regular basis – he’s not a fifth starter. He’s a No. 2 or 3,” said Angels manager Mike Scioscia, whose team has struggled to fill out its rotation this year.With the lowest starters’ ERA in the majors (3.42), the Dodgers would seem to be above this. Instead, they are at the forefront of the trend toward shorter starts.A year ago, the Dodgers’ starting rotation unraveled due to injuries from the top (Clayton Kershaw) on down. As a result, 39 times they had a starting pitcher go five innings or fewer. Dodgers relievers pitched a major-league high 590 2/3 innings and Dave Roberts made a major-league record 606 pitching changes. LOS ANGELES >> Starting pitching sure ain’t what it used to be.Once dinosaurs such as Don Drysdale, Bob Gibson and Nolan Ryan roamed the earth, snarling at anyone who dared to approach the pitcher’s mound before the ninth inning. “Five and fly” was an insult, dripping with disdain, aimed at starting pitchers who weren’t stout-hearted enough to do a man’s job and finish what he started.Now – “Five and fly” might as well be the job description.“That’s old school,” said Bud Black, a starting pitcher in the 1980s and early ’90s, a pitching coach (for the Angels) in the early 2000s and now the manager of the Colorado Rockies. “‘Five and fly’ was not a good term. Six was borderline. When a guy got taken out after six, that was borderline. I mean, 120 pitches was the norm. And that could have been six innings. This year, the Dodgers have had the depth to fill out a six-man rotation (seven when Julio Urias was healthy) and use the DL as a waiting room. And yet, they have already had 37 games in which the starting pitcher went five innings or less.An ace of the old-school variety, Kershaw is responsible for just one of those. In the 67 games started by anyone else, Dodgers starters have averaged fewer than 5 1/3 innings (5.29). Even Kershaw (in the wake of last season’s back injury) is being handled a little differently. He has pitched into the eighth inning just three times in his first 17 starts and is averaging less than seven innings per start for the first time since 2012.“What I knew before, what I thought was – you get starting pitchers to go six, seven innings and then you run a ’pen for seven, eight and nine,” Roberts said of his expectations coming into his first managerial job. “Then you start looking at the numbers that Andrew (Friedman) and the front office introduced me to – about third time through (the batting order) and things like that.”Ah, there it is. Of the multiple forces driving down the length of the average start – injury prevention and pitch limits on developing pitchers among them – analytics lead the way. It’s hard to deny the evidence. Almost universally, starting pitchers fare worse the more times they face a hitter in a game. It is much easier to find a pitcher who can throw one inning at a time than one who can go through a lineup repeatedly.“Yes. No doubt,” Black agreed. “One thing I have noticed just in filling out a lineup card every day – the number of teams using eight relievers as opposed to seven, now that’s almost the norm. And that happened almost overnight.”An eight-man bullpen – and a fleet of planes shuttling them in from Oklahoma City to hit refresh – allows the Dodgers to spread the load and (hopefully) avoid bullpen burnout.“When you’re looking at our personnel and what they’ve done over the last year or two and their workload, if I’m trying to keep these guys (the starters) strong through October and I’m pushing them an extra inning each start that accumulation is going to take a toll,” Roberts said. “So if we have an eight-man ’pen and guys are rested, to have a guy go five innings it could potentially save bullets for the back end.”For the Dodgers, the big picture has to include the additional stress of high-pressure starts in October. But the requirements of starting pitchers in the postseason have changed as well.Last year, the Cleveland Indians reached the World Series by pitching their relievers (64 2/3) nearly as many innings as their starters (69-1/3) in the postseason – and more (32 1/3 innings to 30 1/3) in the World Series. The Cubs and Indians starting pitchers averaged fewer than five innings per start in the World Series and none went beyond the sixth inning.The 2015 postseason started the trend with the Kansas City Royals winning a championship with a group of starters that averaged less than 5 1/3 innings per start in the postseason. The 2014 World Series is remembered for Madison Bumgarner’s heroics. He pitched 16 innings in his two starts. But the rest of the Giants starters managed 16 1/3 in the other five games.“I just don’t think it’s really possible to paint the topic of World Series champions with a broad stroke brush,” Friedman said. “It’s so specific to each team. They do it in different ways. I think elite teams are really good at preventing runs. But there are more ways to do that than just to have elite starting pitching.  But from a quality-of-life standpoint, having elite starting pitching is still far and away the easiest way to accomplish that.”DODGERS STARTING PITCHINGDodgers (NL rank)              NL AvgERA     3.42 (1st)                          4.48IP        470-2/3 (6th)                       459K          479 (3rd)                             402BA vs    .231 (1st)                          .259OBP vs .295 (1st)                          .327Slug vs.  .376 (1st)                        .440HRs          55 (14th)                       67WHIP     1.16 (1st)                          1.35Ks per 9 IP    9.16 (3d)                   7.85Ks-to-BBs      3.37 (1st)                 2.52center_img Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Errorlast_img

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