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MLB’s Efforts to Revive the Role of the Starting Pitcher: Exploring Solutions to Baseball’s ‘Existential Crisis’

Who’s pitching tonight?

For a century, this wasn’t just a simple question. It was the question that defined baseball.

The response had the potential to evoke excitement. Whether it was Tom Seaver versus Steve Carlton, Sandy Koufax versus Bob Gibson, or Pedro Martinez versus Randy Johnson, these matchups were more than a reason to tune in – they were the reason to watch. They were the ones who threw the first and last pitches of the game, encapsulating the magic of the game. However, the era of pitchers’ duels seems to be fading away.

Among the ten active major-league starting pitchers who have won a Cy Young Award, nine have spent time on the injured list in 2024. This trend, including injuries and the evolving role of starting pitchers in the game, poses a significant concern for the future of baseball.

One example that highlights this issue occurred on May 6 at Wrigley Field between the San Diego Padres and the Chicago Cubs. While the pitching matchup between Yu Darvish and Justin Steele seemed promising, both starters were removed by the fifth inning, paving the way for seven relievers to finish the game. This scenario has become a common sight in the 2024 baseball season.

The health of modern starting pitchers and their evolving role in the sport are intertwined. The dwindling prominence of starting pitchers in the game has sparked discussions about potential interventions by Major League Baseball to address this concerning trend.

While MLB has been hesitant to intervene directly, recent conversations among baseball executives suggest an urgent need for action. The potential disappearance of starting pitchers and its impact on the entertainment value of the game have raised concerns about the future sustainability of baseball.

Various proposals have been put forward to address the pitching crisis, ranging from requiring starters to pitch a minimum of six innings to implementing roster limits to incentivizing deeper starts. However, these ideas have sparked debates within the baseball community, reflecting the complexity of the issue.

Ultimately, the future of starting pitching in baseball remains uncertain. While the league contemplates potential rule changes, the industry is grappling with the existential crisis facing starting pitchers. However, the urgency to address this crisis has become increasingly evident, signaling the need for proactive measures to safeguard the future of the sport.

What could baseball do?

Imagine a world where every team had to start with its primary pitcher and restrict the number of relievers it could deploy in a game. This scenario, though radical, could potentially restore the prominence of starting pitchers in the game.

One key proposal involves requiring each starting pitcher to pitch a minimum of six innings, barring exceptional circumstances. By mandating this rule, MLB could potentially revive the tradition of starters going deeper into games, a practice prevalent in the past.

Another proposal, known as the “Double Hook,” has garnered attention for its potential to incentivize managers to keep their starting pitchers in the game by linking their decisions to the presence of the designated hitter.

Additionally, the concept of limiting the number of pitchers on rosters has been suggested as a way to discourage teams from overrelying on bullpen arms and prioritize the durability of starting pitchers.

Despite these proposals, the industry remains divided on how best to address the pitching crisis, highlighting the complexity of finding a solution that satisfies all stakeholders.

New rule idea: Every starter has to go six innings

One way to address the declining role of starting pitchers in baseball is to mandate that each starter pitch a minimum of six innings in a game, except in extenuating circumstances. This rule aims to incentivize teams to prioritize the longevity and effectiveness of their starting pitchers, aligning with the historical significance of the position.

If a manager fails to adhere to this rule without a valid reason, the league could impose penalties such as placing the pitcher on the injured list or issuing fines or suspensions. By setting a clear expectation for starting pitchers to pitch deep into games, MLB could potentially recalibrate the balance between starters and relievers.

While this proposal may face resistance from relievers and analytics-driven front offices, its simplicity and direct impact on game strategy make it a compelling option to revive the tradition of starters going the distance.

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