Orioles’ Tillman and a tale of two pitching eras
By Steve Katz
Scott Coolbaugh sounds like a hitting coach I could like. From his appearance at the Baltimore Orioles’ recent FanFest, I like the sound of the philosophy that maybe there’s some way he could lead Jones to improve, rather than the same old, “He’s a guy whose way of doing things I wouldn’t want to change.”
Getting the maximum out of his players is the job description of coaching, and in general, a player or a coach should never stop looking at ways things could be done better.
On to the subject of pitching, let’s first say that pitchers and catchers report to Sarasota next Thursday, Feb. 19. Remember when every right-thinking baseball fan started the countdown the day last season ended? It is now six days away.
Speculation plus logic add up to Chris Tillman making the Opening Day start for the Orioles at Tampa Bay on April 6. He has thrown over 200 innings the past two seasons, winning 13 last year and 16 in 2013. It is odd that we live in a time when 200 innings impresses people.
Fewer innings have actually hurt endurance more than helped it, in my opinion. When managers pamper a pitcher’s arm, it loses the ability to perform for longer. Working the arm harder would build its endurance more.
Pitchers and catchers report to Sarasota next Thursday, Feb. 19
Clubs pamper a pitcher’s arm because of the money that’s invested in it, but it is commonplace for a pitcher to break down over the course of his contract even while the club watches his innings and pitch count like a hawk.
When you think that seven innings times 30 starts is 210 innings, and nine times 30 starts is 270 innings, it’s all the more impressive that anybody ever got to 300. The result of doing so has been shortened careers in some cases (Sandy Koufax famously retiring at 30), which I realize disproves my own theory and leads back to the possibility that there is no right answer, except for the modern-day reality of protecting the club’s investment.
That leads to the debate over how many years, and how much money, constitute a smart investment for a team to make.
The balancing act is that going deeper in games invariably leads to winning, but, in the long run, shortens a career, or at least risks the pitcher’s ability to be in peak form for the length of his contract. But decreasing the starter’s innings wears out the relief pitchers, who are just as important and have just as much money invested in them.
There is probably support for both sides of the argument in the career of innings monster Jim Palmer, who pitched for the Orioles from 1965 to 1984, with two seasons, ’67 and ’68, lost to arm miseries. He rejoined the team in 1969, winning 16, and then, beginning in 1970 (with 305 innings), he ran off four consecutive, 20-win seasons, including a Cy Young Award in 1973.
After a 1974 effort that was a 7-12 wipeout due to more elbow problems, he rebounded with three straight, 300-inning seasons, and four consecutive, 20-win, sub-3.00 ERA years, including Cy Young trophies in ’75 and ’76. The year that broke the 300-inning streak was 1978, when he finished at 296 innings.
His complete game saga is a five-year stretch of 11, 17, 20, 18, and 19, and another, four-year stretch of 25, 23, 22, and 19. It boggles the mind just to type it.
A couple of things go into that mentality. Palmer has always said Earl Weaver would leave him in for longer because there was no better option in the bullpen. Additionally, he said in his era, a pitcher would usually want to extend himself, because the late-inning relief pitchers tended to be better at protecting leads.
If memory serves, Palmer usually did that, but also took himself out once or twice with the game hanging in the balance, due to a finger ailment. His perfectionism was not above annoying Weaver.
But it was commonplace for a pitcher to take more ownership over what he started, although that does not imply pitchers lack pride now.
An exaggerated combination of complete game-itis and a slave-driving manager were the Oakland A’s of the early 1980s under Billy Martin, who burned out careers by leaving pitchers in for longer.
I’m not here to announce an overall answer or a method for going back in time, but to give observations and honesty. Work makes a pitcher able to do more work but can lead to problems. Taking it easy reduces, rather than aiding, stamina, and doesn’t win as much.