Half of all MLB pitchers were injured last year. Bullpens are taxed every game. The pitch clock works, but a seven-inning game works better.
By most accounts, MLB has scored a home run with the introduction of the pitch clock to speed up games. The typical MLB game this season is shorter by about 30 minutes. Still, the number of injuries to pitchers remains a stigma in the game, especially concerning starting pitchers.
During last night’s Yankees’ telecast on Amazon, it was reported that 51 percent of all MLB pitchers suffered an injury causing the loss of game time last year. More on that later.
Yankees’ starting pitcher Gerrit Cole pitched an oddity in today’s brand of baseball. He completed six innings of work but failed when he went out to pitch the seventh inning, surrendering two line drive base hits to the first two Toronto batters.
At times, he noticeably labored to beat the pitch clock while delivering pitches to the plate at a consistent 97 mph, while his pitch count rose to more than one hundred with rising stress that increased the chance of injury. We’ll know by his next start if Cole emerges from the game intact.
MLB Starting Pitchers Are Babies
Simultaneously, the charge made by many that MLB pitchers are babied has legitimate veracity. Starting pitchers are credited with a “Quality Start” if they survive six innings, allowing three runs or less.
This was when complete games by MLB pitchers were once ho-hum, and during Steve Carlton’s 24-year Major League Baseball career, he had a lifetime total of 254 complete games, an average of 11 complete games per season. 1972 was his best season with 30 complete games – and he rarely missed a start.
We can jump and scream about the countless “pitcher pussies” in MLB today. Still, the scientific fact is that pitching a baseball at the high velocities we see today is unnatural to the human body. There is no cause to wonder why injuries occur to a pitcher’s arm and shoulder.
Sports Illustrated Sets The Record Straight
Tom Verducci conducted a compelling study recently, the results of which were published by Sports Illustrated.
Revealed in his study, one-hundred-mph fastballs are more common than stolen bases and double plays. Twenty-seven pitchers hit 100 mph in April this season, as many as pitchers did over the entire season 10 years ago.
The number of major league pitches clocked at 100 mph and faster more than tripled over three years, from 1,056 in 2019 to 3,348 last year. The rate continues to go up this season, as shown by this recent spike that includes the prorated total for ’23:
Finally, and not coincidentally, as velocity increases, so do injuries. Teams paid $486 million last year to 427 pitchers on the injured list, a rate of $2.67 million daily. Pitchers, too hurt to pitch, spent 30,728 days on the IL while collecting 9% of all money paid to players. Despite better training and lighter workloads, pitchers have about the same chance of staying off the IL as a flip of a coin. Only 51% of pitchers who appeared in a game last season stayed off the IL.
MLB Al-Stars Missing In Action
Already, in 2023, MLB has seen star pitchers lose significant time to their team, Count among them Walker Buehler (Dodgers), Drew Rasmussen (Tampa Bay), Tyler Glasnow (Atlanta), Carlos Rodon, Luis Severino, and Frankie Montas (Yankees), Justin Verlander and Carlos Carrasco (Mets), Lance McCullers (Houston), Robbie Ray (Seattle), Jacob deGrom and Jake Odorizzi (Texas), and Stephen Strasburg (Washington). Some are lost to their team for the entire season.
Fans who pay extraordinary prices to watch a game should not have to contend with a sixth or seventh-line starter called up from the minors to replace an injured All-Star, and even worse, they need to be met with an even more annoying “Bullpen Game” in which no starting pitchers appear.
But this is not about the frailty of today’s MLB pitchers. Instead, it’s about what’s good for the game of baseball and how the game is denigrated when the sport’s best pitchers are forced to the dugout due to injury while fans are treated to an endless parade of journeyman relief pitchers to finish a game, many of whom become injured themselves due to overwork.
So, let’s agree that MLB is on the right path with the pitch clock designed to reduce the time it takes to complete a ballgame and that the sport is better for it.
But at the same time, let’s step back a bit to ask if there’s another way to accomplish the same goal while decreasing the chances of injuries to pitchers, and if there is an alternative, why shouldn’t MLB experiment with the change in the minor leagues?
MLB: Frailties Of The Pitch Clock
Before we introduce the change, though, it’s important to state that the pitch clock is a manufactured rule submitted by MLB to speed up the game, but ultimately its purpose is to reduce the time it takes to finish a ballgame.
However, there is no accounting for the stress it places on pitchers to deliver a pitch within that timeframe, regardless of how many pitches he has thrown that inning or the pressure of the game situation facing him (runners on base).
Logically, as stress on a pitcher increases, so does velocity as he tries harder – and the chance of injury increases exponentially – and injuries are something that MLB doesn’t want or need.
The Seven-Inning Game Deserves A Try
Therefore, moving from a nine-inning game to a seven-inning contest is a compromise solution that accomplishes both goals (shorter game time and reduced injuries).
Save for extra-inning games, a seven-inning game virtually assures that fans attending the game will be safely ensconced in their home in time to watch Stephen Colbert.
Lest we forget, MLB has already struck down the barrier to the idea by introducing double-header seven-inning games.
Moreover, MLB teams can adjust their roster by eliminating the need to carry thirteen or fourteen pitchers, most of whom are relievers, instead choosing to add position players who contribute to a team’s offense and run-scoring ability (also needed in baseball today).
The idea of a seven-inning game is bound to be fraught with counterclaims of its viability, and those ideas are welcome here in your comments.
But those predictions are best tested by MLB in the same manner as they experimented with the most recent rule changes in the minor leagues before they were introduced to The Show.
I don’t want to think of a starting pitcher going four innings to be credited with a quality start. But if that’s what it takes to keep the best of the best on the field and performing, then what the hell, why shouldn’t at least be given a try?