My Grandfather and I have always had one long-standing disagreement when it came to one of the nuances of baseball. The disagreement between the two of us revolves around a starting pitcher’s pitch count. My Grandfather would always start his argument with the cliche of “In my day…” and then develop his reasoning as to why pitch counts do not matter for starting pitchers, and that if a starting pitcher is pitching effectively in a game, then the manager should leave the pitcher in the game regardless of his pitch count.
My argument was more in line with modern expectations of starting pitchers. I always contested with my Grandfather that pitch counts were very important to starting pitchers. If there was/is any objection to that fact, I would point to Cubs’ pitching staff under former manager Dusty Baker. More specifically, the 2003 season. Baker over-used both Mark Prior and Kerry Wood on a regular basis during the 2003 season, and it should come as no surprise that neither pitcher was the same after the ’03 season.
Fast-f0rward to 2012 and the Cubs have a new manager in the name of Dale Sveum. Sveum’s philosophy appears to be a mix between both my Grandfather’s and mine.
While Sveum has yet to be as extreme as Baker, the new Cubs’ manager is showing that he will ride and die with his starting pitchers. It is no secret that Cubs’ bullpen is going to cost the team in a handful of games this season. The only solution to that would be Sveum opting to remain with his starting pitcher rather than turning the game over to the bullpen. Sveum’s philosophy has been on display with Matt Garza and Jeff Samardzija. In Samardzija’s first start of the season this past Sunday, Sveum left the starting pitcher in the game for the ninth inning. Erase the Starlin Castro error and Samardzija would have had a complete game victory, nonetheless Samardzija threw 110 pitches during 8 2/3 innings pitched.
Similarly, Sveum opted to let Garza go for the complete game shut-out during Thursday’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers. Like Samardzija, Garza could not finish the game but his pitch count reached 119 before Sveum pulled the starting pitcher with two outs in the ninth inning.
With Samardzija and Garza being the prime examples, Sveum is going to leave a starting pitcher in the game if he is pitching effectively. Before the comparisons to Dusty Baker begin, it should be noted that Sveum and his coaching staff probably monitor a pitcher’s pitch count closely. But with the Cubs’ bullpen being as questionable as it is, I can’t say that I am not in favor of leaving the starting pitcher’s in the game longer if they are indeed pitching effectively. No one welcomes a loss. But a loss where the starting pitcher gives you eight innings of effective pitching and the offense fails to produce is much more bearable than a lost where the bullpen blows the lead for not only the team but the starting pitcher as well.