There’s No Room For Soft Tossers In Major League Baseball Anymore

Just so you know, I have zero data to back this up whatsoever. I barely watch the Mariners, so it’s not like I’m scouting every single Major League team. This is just one man’s half-assed observation.

This notion had occurred to me when I was thinking about those very Mariners. What a rotation! Maybe the best in Major League Baseball! Everyone throws in the mid-to-high 90’s, everyone has lots of movement, gets lots of strikeouts, is efficient yet still gets deep into games. It’s quite remarkable. It’s especially remarkable when you consider the fact that there’s no real variety.

Usually, there’s at least one lefty starter in a rotation. I don’t know if I can remember a time when the Mariners didn’t have a single lefty start a baseball game for them, but that very well might happen this year. Also, usually you’re in for at least one soft-tosser in the bunch. Some guy who “eats innings”, tries to induce the other team to put the ball weakly into play, and will give up his share of runs, but otherwise usually keeps you in ballgames.

Which, of course, got me to thinking about Marco Gonzales, and wondering how he’s doing in Pittsburgh. Not great! He actually had three pretty good starts for the Pirates – 17 innings in total, 5 runs given up – but then succumbed to another arm injury, that’s shutting him down for the majority of the season.

While his numbers look good, though, it would’ve been only a matter of time before he threw some clunkers. The National League has the DH now, so it’s not like you can still go there and extend your career if you’re a mediocre pitcher.

It makes me wonder: injuries aside, is Marco Gonzales trending in the wrong direction because he’s getting older? Or because players are better-able to handle his stuff?

Think about it: the average MLB fastball has been creeping up pretty steadily over recent years. Therefore, players have had to adjust to trying to hit pitches that are sometimes over 100 miles per hour. At that point, fastballs in the high 80’s or low 90’s are going to look like they’re set up there on a tee! Oh sure, you can argue that the change of pace might induce more swings and misses. And these pitchers still might be effective against lineups like the Mariners, who are just inept as all get-out. But, over the long haul, soft-tossers seem like more of a liability than an asset.

Teams don’t need “innings eaters” anymore. Guys are consistently getting pulled after 5 or 6 innings regardless of where their pitch counts are. Stats tell you the third time through the lineup is usually where most of the damage comes. Also, bullpens are consistently better than they were 30 years ago, so teams are more willing to let their fresh fireballers eat up those final 3-4 innings every game.

I legitimately wonder about guys like Greg Maddux, or latter-day Pedro Martinez. I mean, they probably would’ve been fine in this environment; they’re hall of famers, after all. But, like, would Jamie Moyer sustain in today’s game? Seems unrealistic, right? Can you imagine a Tim Wakefield making it nowadays?

I don’t know how you fix this problem, either. Pitchers are only going to keep throwing harder. Any change to the mound is only going to help the hitters. Theoretically, you could expand the fields – push out the fences, to make homers a little tougher, giving defenders more field to run down fly balls – but that’s never going to happen. That would require taking out seats and lowering offensive output, which is a non-starter for a variety of reasons.

The only way I could even conceive of it is if this barrage of pitcher injuries gets to a breaking point, where people intentionally start limiting how hard they throw their pitches. But, as you can see, even guys like Marco Gonzales get hurt. So, it’s not like anyone’s safe, unless they start throwing underhand or something.

It’s kind of a bummer. Maybe they’ll make a resurgence one day. Maybe they’ll figure out how to get their pitches to move all crazy-like. I feel like that’s the ticket. Make it look like a wiffle ball out there, and you’ll start getting away with throwing in the 80’s again.

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