Where it counts, the Los Angeles Dodgers are right, is when you don’t come back 100% every start.
Bauer is confident he can do it, but getting back to full strength between starts is a challenge for most pitchers, even in the best of conditions.
That’s why he’s ashamed of the impending jump into a hotel.
Yes, Bauer said, I think that will be a problem.
Major League Baseball will return to a 162-game season in 2021, a year after the KOVID-19 pandemic reduced the schedule to 60 games. That means 30 teams will try to get through another 900 innings – a daunting undertaking for an industry increasingly dependent on the health of its pitchers. In all sports, starters and selectors are stretched to three times their workload, which inevitably leads to fatigue, which in turn can lead to injury. This is an unprecedented circumstance. Solutions remain elusive.
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It will be a problem for 30 teams, said Craig Counsell, manager of the Milwaukee Brewers. We all have to find the best way to keep our guys healthy, and I don’t think there is one answer for every pitcher.
Lance Lynn, who was traded from the Texas Rangers to the Chicago White Sox in December, pitched 84 innings during the 2020 regular season. In total, he led the majors, but fell short of his level from last season – when Lynn finished seventh – with 124 1/3 innings. From 2010 to 2019, only 18 pitchers improved by more than 120 over the previous year (among those who threw at least 20 major league innings). Now, all of a sudden, you might need a jump of this magnitude.
The veteran scout noted that veterans actually benefited from a shorter workload last year, adding that pitchers can usually handle a large increase in innings after returning from long-term injuries. But many starting pitchers will be disabled for at least two seasons with lighter workloads, further complicating their task. Of the 120 pitchers ranked in their team’s top four rotations (according to Roster Resource’s depth charts), 55 of them threw fewer than 200 combined innings in 2019 and 2020.
The list includes stars like Blake Snell, Corey Kluber, Jake Odorizzi and Dallas Keuchel. That includes Marcus Stroman, who was released before the 2020 season, and Carlos Martinez, who returned to the rotation from the bullpen. And that includes relatively young pitchers reaching their prime, like Tyler Glasnow and Julio Urias.
Zach Gallen does not fit into this category given his increased workload in 2019. But he’s only 25, he’s already shown he can make an impact, and the Arizona Diamondbacks plan to limit his innings this season.
Gallen collected only 72 last year.
He said even doubling down is an insane jump. It’s usually a slow progression over the years. Of course I’m not surprised, but it won’t really affect my work. I go out there and try to throw as many innings as I can before they decide to shut me down or whatever.
The Los Angeles Angels, who have contracted a two-time player in Shohei Ohtani, have already opted for a six-man rotation, as have the Seattle Mariners, who consider an extra day crucial to the development of their young starters. The Detroit Tigers and Boston Red Sox have also considered the idea. Other teams will no doubt follow suit. They will also have to show their penchant for long relievers, manage grueling innings, and hope to be honest about the pain and fatigue of their pitchers.
But the general approach seems to be reactive rather than proactive. With less than two weeks to go before the season opens, pitchers are still on track as usual. Most teams don’t expect to finalize their plans until the games are counted and the reality show has begun.
To say now that we have an answer is silly, Dodgers pitching coach Mark Pryor said. I don’t think anyone really has the answers. We just need to be honest with each other and make decisions, good or bad, and we probably won’t know until the end of the year.
The biggest concern for the Pryors are the young pitchers who got the most work in the team’s alternate quarters last year.
The 2018-2019 list of injured pitchers included 235 spots. In 2020 alone, when COVID-19 forcibly suspended spring training and some players moved up too quickly for summer resumes, there were 197 unaffiliated pitchers in COVID IL, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Those injuries – and the lack of a minor league season, which forced non-league teams to use major league games for development – led to several high-profile prospects making their debuts earlier than expected.
Of the 32 pitching prospects on Kiley McDaniel’s Top 100 list last year, 15 appeared in the majors in 2020 and only two of them, Dustin May of the Dodgers and Jesus Luzardo of the Oakland Athletics, made at least 40 innings. A 30% increase in innings pitched, a common rule for young pitchers, will often be unrealistic in 2021. Tigers embody this problem. With Casey Meese, Tarik Scoubala and Matt Manning, they have three talented young starters ready to take their place in the regular rotation, none of whom played more than 30 professional innings last season.
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As a staff we need to develop a plan for them, we as a front office and as an organization will have a complete plan for the season, Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said. But a player should go out there and play as long as he can.
Walker Buehler rested most of the time during the three-month break last year and ended the season feeling like he was leaving a lot of balls on the table, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said, leading to a much more aggressive pitching program in the offseason. Buehler’s teammate, Blake Treinen, took the opposite approach. He threw college pitches and participated in aggressive workouts between the end of spring training and the beginning of summer camp to build a foundation for 2021. Several others have mimicked this approach, including a veteran pitcher who has fewer than 200 innings between 2019 and 2020.
The pitcher, who felt more comfortable speaking candidly if he remained anonymous, said he would prepare as usual, be careful not to overstep himself too early, keep an eye on his health and hope for the best.
I’d be more worried about succession, he said. They have an insane amount of work.
From 2016 to 2020, the percentage of regular season innings recorded by relievers went from 36.7 to 38.1 to 40.1-42.1-44.5. This number is not expected to increase until 2021, which will have a significant impact on the pace of play that characterizes the sport. Teams like the Dodgers and San Diego Padres, who are aggressive in the season despite having built-in depth in their minor league system, will have a distinct advantage. Most everyone else will have no choice but to let pitchers go above their comfort level.
I think teams will be conservative, and rightfully so, and hopefully that will minimize some of the results, Bauer said. I hope you don’t see so many injured just because of conservatism. But yes… If teams worked normally and had their guys play normal innings, it would be a big problem, I think.
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