Two things of which I am not really a fan: The “Tandem Starting Pitcher” System and the “No blocking the plate rule” for catchers. Just to prove that I am not an inflexible dinosaur doomed to go into extinction as the game is “sped up” and becomes more “limited attention span” friendly, on one of these two issue I have changed my mind.
I have watched several games now in which the Ports are using this “Tandem Starter” system. The idea is that you have pairs of SP’s who rotate starts. So Pitcher A starts game 1, pitches 4 innings or 65 pitches and then is relieved. At the next clean start inning (hopefully the 5th), Starter B comes on to pitch his 4 innings of 65 pitches. Four days later, Starter B goes first, then Starter A relieves him in the 5th (if all goes well).
Okay, I get it. Pitch counts and arms are important. As I mentioned the other day, Gil Patterson made his bones as a teacher by protecting young arms from overuse. But here’s the downside. First, what happens if Pitcher A (or B), can’t make it 4 innings? What happens when they get shelled in the 1st – not an unusual occurrence in the Cal League – and they stagger into the 2nd with 35-40 pitches?
Okay, scenario 2: It’s 2 out in the 4th inning, Pitcher B has 62 pitches. He’s down 2-1 and runners on 1st and 3rd with the #4 hitter at the plate. He gets it to a 1-2 count, but that’s his 65 pitches. Now sure, you could pull him and bring in a reliever on the 1-2 count and say to yourself, 65 is THE limit. Period. If you do that, have you taught your young pitcher anything at all? Barring injury, would any Major League SP be pulled in that situation?
By the time these kids get here, to Stockton and High-A Ball, an SP ought to be conditioned well enough to go 5 innings. Frankly I’d say 6, but I lost that argument with Zack. So let’s say 5 innings and raise the pitch count to 85 with a 15 flex to finish the 5th. First, that qualifies the SP for a W decision. I know, the SABER people have snit fits about wins not “meaning anything,” but the truth is that they do, even if it’s just in our minds. A kid who goes 0-0 over ten starts in the minors, regardless of how he is rated, isn’t going to feel as successful as a guy who goes 4-2 or 7-1 or even 3-6. Their ERA is going to be higher just because it’s the Cal League. Those wins can do something to bolster confidence and a winning attitude.
Most importantly though, is the effort it takes to dig deep and get through adversity. No Pitcher has all his stuff every single day. It’s just not realistic or even expected. Some days the Fastball is a mile per hour slower or doesn’t move at all. Maybe the curve doesn’t quite break or the slider breaks too much. A Pitcher has to know how to overcome those things. If pitch 1 isn’t working, what is? And if none of them are, can I mix it up, change speeds and movement enough to get outs? Can I pitch to my defense?
Somehow, I just feel like 4 innings or 65 pitches isn’t enough to get that done.
As for the Catchers no longer being able to block the plate. I was born and raised a catcher. I have scars and bruises and bones that never really healed from plate collisions, almost all of which resulted in outs. The greatest moment of my athletic career – I broke Willie Burger’s nose – was a collision at home plate where I had it blocked. I also limped away from other collisions and had to be carried off after one of them.
Frankly I though that what I once called the “Buster Posey Is a Pussy” rule was a bad idea and wussyifcation of the game.
I was wrong.
I’ve watched it now for several years and while at the MLB level it’s still a little iffy, the kids down here are learning how to do it, get the out and stay safe. The sweeping tag from in front of the plate is effective and exciting. In fact, I think it might be teaching infielder skills to catchers. But the biggest thing is the reduction in injuries. Not just broken legs, but the little things, bruises and aches from the jarring. Heck one such collision I had even popped a filling out of my tooth!
I am left to wonder how my life today might be different had the rules prohibited blocking the plate in my day?
Catchers are smart – the smartest players on the field by far and away – so I knew that they would adapt to the rule. And now, maybe some of them can stick around longer because of it.
Ports win last night 5-2 in another 1st inning scoring show followed by settling down and good pitching. Throw in back to back triples (very exciting) and you have the makings of a good win. By the by, Pitcher A struggled, but Pitcher B (Shore), coming on in the 6th, was lights out getting the save over 4 innings pitched.