Shortage of Pitching?
You hear it said all the time … “There’s just not enough pitching these days.” “Every team is short of pitching.” Based on what I’ve seen, there isn’t a shortage of pitching; in fact, there’s probably too much pitching around. And, paradoxically, if there were a true shortage of pitching, there’d probably be better pitching all the way around.
There are a couple of reasons why I don’t think there’s a shortage of pitching. First, thanks to Tony LaRussa, teams have been using more and more roster spots for pitchers. When I started following baseball, forty years ago, teams carried nine pitchers, sometimes ten. Thirty years ago, teams carried either ten or eleven pitchers. Fifteen years ago, it became eleven or twelve. Now, it’s twelve or thirteen. As teams demand more and more pitchers, it stands to reason that the twelfth and thirteenth aren’t as good as the ninth and tenth. So, if teams can’t find that twelfth and thirteenth pitcher, they cry that there’s a pitching shortage.
But the real reason I don’t think there’s a pitching shortage is because the major league organizations keep shuttling pitchers between the major league team and the minor league teams. They would only do this if they believed that the pitcher being called up was as good as, or almost as good as, or better than, the pitcher they were shipping out. Every team has an example of this — for the Orioles, it’s Frank Mata.
Frank Mata was signed out of Venezuela by the Twins in 2002; after the 2009 season, he signed with the Orioles as a minor-league free agent. He was assigned to Norfolk, and became the closer after a couple of week. He was called up in late May. He allowed one earned run in the seven innings of his first seven appearances; then started to struggle. He was sent down after his last outing on July 18, having pitched 15 games, 17 1/3 innings with a 7.79 ERA.
But. His ERA was blown up by three appearances. Appearance 8, June 14 — four runs in 1 2/3 innings. Appearance 12, July 1 — 4 runs in 1/3 of an inning. Appearance 13, July 3 — three runs in 1 1/3 innings. Shortly after that, the Orioles decided to return him to Norfolk and try someone else. But, overall, Mata didn’t really pitch badly. The Orioles over-reacted to a small sample size.
And they could overreact because there isn’t a shortage of pitching. Mata was “struggling” — so they sent him down and tried someone else. But, if there was a shortage of pitching, there wouldn’t be anyone worth trying. The fact that teams keep trying to catch lightning in a bottle, giving up on anyone when he has a slight hiccup, demonstrates that there isn’t a true shortage of pitching.
And, if there were a true pitching shortage, pitching would probably be better. It takes time for pitchers – indeed, for all players — to get acclimated to the major leagues. When a pitcher knows he’s essentially interchangeable with three or four other guys, it puts more pressure on him to be perfect – have a bad game, down you go to Norfolk. If he knew that a bad game didn’t mean the end of his career, he’d relax and likely pitch better. And, because his good games and bad games would be more in balance, his stats would be better and he’d have more confidence.
Sometime, some non-championship caliber team is going to pick its eleven-man pitching staff on opening day and commit to it, save for injury, for half a season. I suspect that team will be quite successful.