Volume 2 of the Baseball Basics for Brits series concentrates on how MLB rosters are put together, or ‘squads’ as we would generally refer to them.
There wasn’t a need to change much in the text this time around as the rules around rosters have largely stayed the same in recent years, as has the general habits of how they are used.
The main change in fact has been the introduction of the 7-day concussion list, allowing players to take a rest following a blow to the head without having to go on the full 15-day Disabled List, and the introduction of the paternity list to allow players a few days to attend the birth of a child.
Although we haven’t seen changes to the roster rules, there has been some talk of potentially increasing them from 25 to 26 to give a bit more flexibility in terms of resting players over the long MLB season. This idea may be one of many discussed as part of the upcoming Collective Bargaining process over the year ahead.
What we have seen over the past couple of years is the growing influence of the bullpen. The success of the Kansas City Royals has put the spotlight on this, but it’s a long-running trend now that the amount of innings that are pitched by the designated starting pitchers is decreasing.
When we look at the Royals, the obvious player to focus on is the man who pitched the final outs to secure their 2015 World Series. Wade Davis has had several attempts at becoming a starting pitcher, including when the Royals acquired him in a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays, but he has blossomed as a relief pitcher.
What we’re seeing is an acknowledgement that an average starting pitcher can become a real weapon if he can come out firing – rather than pacing himself through six or seven innings – and not need to rely on his secondary pitches so much as he’s not going to face the same hitters more than once in a given game.
That doesn’t mean you can pick up any old pitcher and turn him into a star by sticking him in the bullpen, but the weaknesses of one with good raw talent (‘stuff’ as it’s known) can be concealed in a relief role.
When we add this to the ever-present risk of arm injuries to pitchers that make managing innings-pitched all the more important, could we potentially see a day when starting pitchers as a distinct category become a thing of the past? It would be such a major change to the way the game has always been played that it seems unlikely; however, in 10-15 years’ time, perhaps a roster will include a 4 starting pitcher/8 reliever split, with the starters expected to pitch two times through the order (4 innings say, sometimes 5 if dominant and efficient with the pitch count).
The core elements of the game have stayed the same for decades, but the rapid rise of the infield shift in the past 5 years are a good example of how innovation can soon become the norm.