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The Evolution of Relief Pitching - Chapter 37

Jonathan Daniel

When Roy Halladay retired, for a while at least, the COMPLETE GAME was eulogized, and I wrote about that. You know, it's a new era and starters aren't expected to finish what they started and ... well, like this:

Baseball people today agree that complete games are things of the past. The liveliness of the ball is generally conceded to be the culprit. Managers now tell their starters, "Go as hard as you can for as long as you can ... and I'll bring somebody in to help you."

That's a quote from a book I picked up yesterday. It was published in 1967.

Same book, there's a quote from Pirates relief ace Roy Face: "Actually, there are changed times. Not so long ago, a relief pitcher was a guy who had been a starter and had gone over the hill. They turned him out to the bullpen because he wasn't good enough to start any longer."

The book's author writes,

Only one mistake can cost a ball game. For this reason, for the first decade or so of The Age of the Relief Specialist, managers tended to lean to veterans because, theoretically at least, they had the experience and were less likely to get rattled than younger players. But it didn't always work out that way and managers began grooming young pitchers for bullpen duty. Scouts began telling kids who wanted to make the majors that not only was there glamour in relieving, but it also paid off in the paycheck.

It's odd to read something like that from 1967 ... because, again, that's something that you could read, almost word for word, in something from 2007. Yes, today there's glamour (and paychecks!) in relieving ... but there's still more in starting. A dozen pitchers racked up at least 60 saves over the last two seasons, and five were starters for long stretches in the minors. Jim Johnson leads the way in both categories, with 101 saves and 127 minor-league starts. Rafael Soriano started 95 games in the minors, Joe Nathan 94. Grant Balfour started 64 games in the minors, Ernesto Frieri 54.

We've seen the obvious trend away from complete games, with an attendant rise in relief innings ... but that's balanced for individual relief pitchers by the trend for fewer innings for them. Essentially, everyone is throwing fewer innings, which of course makes everyone less valuable. And maybe a bit less glamourous.

Oh, one more thing: If you want a little off-season kick in the pants, check out Addison Reed's minor-league stats.