The state of the starter. 13 comments

The final look at the numbers that defined baseball in 2018, from Jason Stark. And they all tell the story about the future of pitching in baseball.

It appears analytics are leading to the commoditization of pitching. The traditional role of the starting pitcher is becoming less important. It really doesn’t matter who gets the twenty-seven outs.

That’s why in 2018 fans had the pleasure of watching 6.72 pitching changes per game. That’s 6.7 plodding walks to the mound by a manager per game, 6.7 long tedious jogs from the bullpen per game, 6.7 monotonous pauses in the action to watch a guy play catch with his catcher per game. It’s a trend that is only increasing each year. As Stark shows, in 1998, baseball had 4.92 pitching changes per game. Bullpenning is here to stay. It gives fans plenty of time to turn the channel to something more thrilling, like the Seniors Bowling Tour.

Baseball is desperately trying to speed up the pace of play. Teams’ analytics departments are conspiring against that idea. There’s no relief in sight.

Also, as Stark notes, for the first time in baseball history, fewer than one thousand starters were allowed to work through a lineup at least three times. Just one game a week on average does a team allow its starter to face a lineup more than three times. It’s not fear of injury, it’s the notion the numbers prove effectiveness diminishes each time through the order.

Just three seasons ago, the number of games in which a pitcher was allowed to make it through the lineup more than three times was 1,405. That’s a drop of thirty-two percent. And as starters are less valued, it will only get worse.

There were just forty-two complete games thrown in 2018. Total. From all pitchers on all thirty teams. Stark has a startling glimpse into stats. In 2011 there were 173 complete games. Five seasons later, that was cut in half to eighty-three. Now it’s been cut in half again.

No starter had more than two complete games. In 2008, C.C. Sabathia had ten. In 1998, Curt Schilling had fifteen.

An interesting byproduct of this commoditization of pitching is happening. If starting pitching is less valuable, the pitchers themselves are less valuable. You no longer have to pay Clayton Kershaw forty million dollars a year to get twenty-seven outs a game, or even twenty-one. Pay an anonymous pitcher a couple million dollars a year to get nine outs per start.

Then start the parade of bullpenning.

Say goodbye to marquee matchups. Say goodbye to that glorious characteristic that fueled every game, the marquee starting pitcher matchup. Say hello to coming out to the ballpark and watching a parade instead of a game. Watching chess instead of baseball.

It used to be you let the game play and at the end of the year you see where the numbers ended up. Now you let the analytics play and at the end of the year you see where the game ended up.

The analytics crunchers have run amok.

In spite of it all, I am optimistic.

The pendulum will swing back. Try as they might, they cannot kill something so inherently good.


  • Nathan Whitten

    Using Tampa Bay as an example, for teams to have “bullpen” games they will 2 or 3 real starters who can eat innings or, effectively the same, long relievers that can go 5 or 6 innings. Otherwise a team would have to carry more pitchers than a roster allows. A 25 man roster still needs a lineup and subs. There is not enough roster spaces left to have mostly 1 or 2 inning pitchers. But, TB showed how to stretch a couple a very good starters into a staff by letting the BP handle the other games. So inning-eating starters who are good will be more valuable than ever. So, I think that we may not see a complete change. Just an evolution into an area required by the near-impossible task of getting 5 quality starters and a bullpen with long men, set-up men, closers and other roles. The game changes, but not completely.

    • dearmidol

      Tampa Bay was successful with their opener and have announced they are planning to do it again.

      There are already a number of one or two inning pitchers, but you’re right, there’s not enough roster space or an entire pitching staff. The starter will sort be asked to go only four or five innings, then the rest will be a bullpen parade. Or, the opener will go a couple innings, the next guy three or four, and fill in from there.

  • elkaba

    Here’s an idea. Eliminate the bullpen. Make the pitchers all sit on the bench with the rest of the team. Put pitching changes on a 2 minute clock (timed to coincide with a standard TV time out for commercials). That should fix it.

    • WhoKnowscs

      Implement a salary cap so teams aren’t spending 20+ million on a player and then fear using them lest they break them.

      • elkaba

        Im fine with a salary cap for competitive balance, but I don’t think it will stop the rampant pitching changes.

  • Rowdy Yates

    Luv ya Kev. But do we have to see the “Current Standings” everyday for the next 3 months? Couldn’t that go away and start clean when the season starts? I know it’s being picky but we all know where the Rangers finished and I’m tired of having to swallow vomit every morning when I see that. 🤮

    • dearmidol

      Rowdy, I am afraid if I got rid of it I wouldn’t know how to get it back. That was something Twig did.

      Let me do some poking around and see.

    • elkaba

      Hahahaha! I don’t like it either, but I don’t think Kevin can fix it.

    • dearmidol


      • Rowdy Yates


        • JacobMcCandles

          You still keep up with the Reds? Why compete now after mailing it in for several yrs and letting go a plethora of talent?

          • Rowdy Yates

            Since 2013 season actual fans in attendance has dropped by 800,000 …. 10,000 per game. FO has publicly stated they want fans back in the seats.

          • JacobMcCandles

            Well good…shame it was a classic BB city