Mound Musings: Life, the Universe, and Everything

Mound Musings: Life, the Universe, and Everything

This article is part of our Mound Musings series.

Over the past few years, Life, the Universe, and Everything, has gradually become a semi-regular part of Mound Musings. As we all try to answer the ultimate question, I'll occasionally dedicate this space to elaborating on questions from you, the readers, as well as taking the opportunity to make brief comments about current events. If you have a pitching question, fire away, that's what we're here for.

I can hardly believe the 2022 regular season is winding down. Things continue to evolve in baseball, but some things are very much the same. Great new talent like Julio Rodriguez continues to arrive, but young and old alike are tracking Albert Pujols in his quest to reach 700 home runs. Things like that will always make this game special. What a year Aaron Judge is having, but is he having more of an MVP season than the combination of pitching and hitting provided by Shohei Ohtani? What a game! But, like I said, things continue to evolve. Some good and some bad…

What about the new rules for 2023: The Commissioner has already announced that a few new rules will be implemented next year. Even though I consider myself a pretty serious traditionalist, I can understand the need to freshen the game occasionally. Still, I want the changes to be a positive influence. Let's take a look at the new rules and see if they measure up. I have mixed feelings. What do you think?

Pitch clock: Next year, a pitch

Over the past few years, Life, the Universe, and Everything, has gradually become a semi-regular part of Mound Musings. As we all try to answer the ultimate question, I'll occasionally dedicate this space to elaborating on questions from you, the readers, as well as taking the opportunity to make brief comments about current events. If you have a pitching question, fire away, that's what we're here for.

I can hardly believe the 2022 regular season is winding down. Things continue to evolve in baseball, but some things are very much the same. Great new talent like Julio Rodriguez continues to arrive, but young and old alike are tracking Albert Pujols in his quest to reach 700 home runs. Things like that will always make this game special. What a year Aaron Judge is having, but is he having more of an MVP season than the combination of pitching and hitting provided by Shohei Ohtani? What a game! But, like I said, things continue to evolve. Some good and some bad…

What about the new rules for 2023: The Commissioner has already announced that a few new rules will be implemented next year. Even though I consider myself a pretty serious traditionalist, I can understand the need to freshen the game occasionally. Still, I want the changes to be a positive influence. Let's take a look at the new rules and see if they measure up. I have mixed feelings. What do you think?

Pitch clock: Next year, a pitch has to happen in 15 seconds with no runners on base and in 20 seconds with runners on. If it doesn't happen, it's a ball or a strike depending on whether it was the pitcher or hitter who caused the delay. I have mixed feelings on this one. While I welcome minimizing the time wasted by both pitchers and hitters with ritualistic head games, as a former pitcher I understand the occasional need to collect your thoughts, regain focus, or get in sync with your catcher. It's important, but it certainly shouldn't be a prelude to every pitch.

No more infield shifts: Okay, this one is a joke to me. You will be required to have two infielders on both sides of second base with their feet on the infield cutout when the pitch is thrown. This is part of the "more action" initiative — in other words, score more runs by hobbling the defense that was deployed to ignore the half of the field which most hitters are incapable of using in today's game. Shifts would rarely happen back in the day. If they had, hitters like Tony Gwynn and Rod Carew would have hit over .500 in a bad year. Today's players learn at a young age to swing hard in case you hit the ball and not to worry if you hit .220 and strike out 250 times. That doesn't matter, but every homerun you hit adds another zero onto your contract. Of course, the powers that be hate strikeouts — they detract from the "more action" agenda — but what can you do? Maybe we could just do away with pitchers and switch to t-ball? Or maybe ban everything but straight fastballs with a smaller strike zone?

Larger bases: This one is intended to reduce injury risk by reducing collisions. I can buy that, but it should (or could) revive the stolen base. I'm okay with that. Stolen bases are exciting — well, as long as it's my fantasy player doing the larceny — but overall I don't think bigger bases will fundamentally alter the game.

Some things I find myself looking for: As this evolution continues, I have found myself looking at a statistic I didn't really focus on in the past: Innings. I want innings. Pitchers who have the stamina (and their manager's confidence) to pitch deeper into games are becoming more valuable. Did you know that in 2022 just 26 starting pitchers average six or more innings per start? Just four starting pitchers are averaging 100 or more pitches per outing this season. I knew workloads were declining, but quite frankly, I didn't realize the decline was so dramatic.

Here's a chart showing the top 10 starting pitchers ranked by average innings pitched per start (minimum 130 innings pitched).

Rank

Name

Age

Tm

IP

G

GS

CG

QS

QS%

IP/GS

Pit/GS

Max

 

1

Sandy Alcantara

26

MIA

196.2

28

28

4

20

0.71

7

102

117

2

Framber Valdez

28

HOU

170.2

26

26

2

24

0.92

6.6

98

114

3

Yu Darvish

35

SDP

168.2

26

26

0

21

0.81

6.5

100

114

4

Shane Bieber

27

CLE

173.1

27

27

1

21

0.78

6.4

93

109

5

Johnny Cueto

36

CHW

139.2

22

21

1

16

0.76

6.4

96

118

6

Aaron Nola

29

PHI

179.1

28

28

2

16

0.57

6.4

95

110

7

Max Fried

28

ATL

169.1

27

27

0

20

0.74

6.3

94

106

8

Alek Manoah

24

TOR

171

27

27

0

21

0.78

6.3

94

107

9

Miles Mikolas

33

STL

181.1

29

29

1

19

0.66

6.3

97

129

10

Justin Verlander

39

HOU

152

24

24

0

19

0.79

6.3

94

108

That's pretty amazing! Only one pitcher is averaging seven innings per start. Among the top 10, there have been 243 starts and only 11 complete games. To put that in some perspective, in Bob Gibson's most famous year (1968) he started 34 times, completing 28 of those starts. So far in 2022, there have been a total of 27 complete games.

So what makes innings more intriguing? If you're in a league that counts quality starts, it's pretty obvious, but beyond that, pitching deeper into games results in more chances for a win and a few more strikeouts, even for pitchers with a lower strikeout rate (like Johnny Cueto). These guys also typically get ahead in the count — first-pitch strike importance is a whole new topic — and therefore pitch deeper into games, usually providing a better WHIP and ERA. It's worth a look.

Different can make a difference: A wise person once said, "The definition of crazy is doing the same thing you have always done and expecting different results." It makes a lot of sense when you think about it. It holds very true for pitching in MLB.

As I have said many times, the constantly evolving advanced metrics are incredibly helpful in evaluating pitchers, but they only take you so far. I look at them every day. However, I understand that their usefulness is primarily historical and not always predictive. If the pitcher you are evaluating continues to do what he has always done, it's logical to expect very similar results. But what if he changes his pitch sequencing? What if he introduces a new pitch? What if cleaner, more efficient mechanics add velocity to his fastball and/or increase the likelihood he throws a first pitch strike? What if his mound presence changes as he becomes more confident? Any of those things (and many more) can have a huge impact on future results.

That's what Mound Musings is all about. I always encourage everyone to check out the advanced metrics, but also look to see what's the same, and what's different. If you don't always have the time or aren't really sure, stop by here and maybe we can evaluate that target pitcher together.

Some Notable Rotation Ramblings:

  • Arizona's Zac Gallen had a streak of 44.1 scoreless innings snapped last weekend. I got to see multiple innings during that run, and it was no fluke. I've always liked Gallen, but he has taken a big step forward. If he were pitching for a more successful team, he'd be getting a lot more attention. Move him up a notch.
  • Grayson Rodriguez missed about three months with a lat strain, but he has now completed his rehab assignment. Interestingly, he's not coming up to Baltimore but is going back to Triple-A Norfolk, where he will continue rebuilding stamina. It's too late for 2022, but this kid has the skill set to be a game-changer in 2023.
  • Readers will recall I was pretty high on Miami's Braxton Garrett before an oblique injury took him out of the mix for about a month. He's back now and pitched fairly well in his return, albeit in an abbreviated start. Garrett has the ability to miss bats and should go deeper into games as his stamina returns.
  • One guy on the list above is doing everything right. Houston's Framber Valdez just tossed his 24th consecutive quality start. Not surprisingly, he has been steadily moving higher on the average innings per start list while his WHIP and ERA continue to improve. Consistent command has made him what he is now.
  • In some ways I look at the Cubs' Marcus Stroman as Valdez-light. He generates a ton of groundballs and is capable of working the strike zone. Unfortunately for him, the Cubs are not the Astros, and their infield defense is often porous at best. Stroman would greatly benefit from a change in scenery.

Endgame Odyssey:

The Cubs have been mixing and matching in the late innings with righty Rowan Wick and lefty Brandon Hughes sharing save opportunities. Neither profiles as a true closer, but Wick is probably the better bet of the two. The Marlins may be doing the same with southpaw Tanner Scott facing lefties while Dylan Floro gets the call when matchups favor a right-hander. A couple of other closing gigs seem to be clarifying as the season winds down. In Tampa Bay, one of the best pure relievers might be locking himself into the closer role this year and going forward. Pete Fairbanks could be the 2023 version of Emmanuel Clase. I have also suggested grabbing Jose Leclerc in Texas, and it looks like the job is now his to lose. Cross your fingers.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Brad Johnson
For more than 30 years, pitching guru Brad "Bogfella" Johnson has provided insightful evaluation and analysis of pitchers to a wide variety of fantasy baseball websites, webcasts and radio broadcasts. He joined RotoWire in 2011 with his popular Bogfella's Notebook.
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