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Friday, January 18, 2019

For Better Or Worse? -- Baseball's All-Purpose Relief Pitchers

by Harry Cummins

     The Yankees signing this week of free-agent Adam Ottavino to a 3-year, $27 million deal was the latest manifest in the dramatic shift to lucrative, long term contracts doled out to dominate mid-to-late inning relief pitchers who can be employed anywhere from the first to final inning of a baseball game.

     Ottavino, 33, now joins Chad Green, Zack Britton and Dellin Betances as an imposing expansion bridge to lights-out closer Aroldis Chapman. Among MLB pitchers with at least 50 innings last season, Chapman paced the pack in most strikeouts per nine innings at 16.3.  Betances  ranked third with 15.53, and Ottavino was 12th at nearly 13, followed closely by Green.

     Expect more and more small market teams to mimic Tampa Bay's success last season in implementing an 'opener' pitcher who will throw the first few innings, followed by a conga-line of lock-down flame-throwers.  Does this trend signal the end of the route-going pitching performances of the past that were so memorable to the stat-based baseball fan?  Will this render as obsolete, the cherished Game Score metrics invented by Bill James and Tom Tango to rate and rank individual pitching performances?

     On a personal note, the most enduring moments I've experienced as a baseball fan have come from witnessing in person a dominant pitching performance by a starting pitcher. In 2000, I sat in Safeco Field and watched Roger Clemens craft the greatest post-season performance in history in shutting down the Seattle Mariners in Game 4 the AL Championship Series.

     The 38 year old Yankee ace surrendered just one hit that night, a 7th inning double by Al Martin that eluded the reach of Yankee first baseman Tino Martinez by mere inches.  He faced just 30 batters in a 5-0 shutout of a Mariner team that hit nearly 200 home runs in the regular season and featured hitters like Edgar Martinez and Alex Rodriquez.  Clemens struck out 15 batters in his masterpiece, coming on one of the biggest stages in the sport. He threw 138 pitches.  His fastball was clocked at 99 mph in the final inning.

     With the emerging trend of multi-task pitchers seemingly here to stay, I fear that the next time I will ever witness a game like the one the Rocket threw in 2000, it will be from inside a firmly encased time capsule.

     Such is the consequence of the new American pastime!



  1. Holy Cow! As a guy that played Little League baseball in the 1950s and whose heros were guys like Al Kaline, Ken Boyer and Ernie Banks, I suppose my ideas are old-fashioned. But one of true indicators to me of pitching competence in the Bigs was Complete Games and Shutouts (which have to be complete games). Ha - those are no longer of interest to big leagues managers, nor to most of the pitchers. Heck, the Complete Game leaders in the majors right now are CC Sabathia and Bartolo Colon, and those guys are older than the hills.

  2. I should have noted that those two old guys have 38 complete games each. Old Hoss Radbourn had 438! And Cy Young? I can't count that high.