Chase Utley: One of the Best Ever

If you are reading this, there is a remarkably decent chance that you are a somewhat invested baseball fan. As a baseball fan, you probably ...


 Here's an infuriating stat:

So far, through June 7th of this year, 671 pitchers have appeared in an MLB game. We only have to go back to 2012 to find a season in which fewer than that many pitchers appeared in the entire season. To be exact, 662 pitchers appeared in a game throughout the entire 2012 season. If we compare apples to apples, 497 pitchers were used from April 7th to June 6th in 2012. 644 were used during the same stretch last year.

So, why is this infuriating? The MLB and MLBPA decided to continue preventing positive growth in the game a few weeks back citing "player health". This is despite the fact that pitcher injuries have gone through the roof in recent years, because as it turns out, maxing out once a week is worse for you than doing a normal set of 10 reps every other day. Apologies for the potentially misguided analogy. 

Of course, pitcher injuries aren't good for the game. I would like to think that fans want to see superstar pitchers consistently going deep into games and providing value via their great talents. Pitchers can't do this if the rest of the league is throwing as hard as they possibly can in the one inning they pitch every month before being put on the IL. Why? Because league average ERA will lower, and all of a sudden, these superstar pitchers are not much more effective than the platoon of triple A pitchers trying their best to stay on the roster. 

On the other side, I would like to think that fans enjoy consistent offensive performance. The bad hitters shouldn't be threats, but they should be able to put in solid offensive performances. The average hitters should be clearly limited, but should be able to give the fans a feeling that they can do something. Take Melvin Mora's 2007 season: he slashed 274/341/418 for a 99 wRC+. These days, a hitter with a .274 batting average seem like a modern Ichiro. Back to Mora, his line is eerily reminiscent of 2022 Julio Rodriguez's 277/332/432 line. The difference? Julio is a budding superstar on pace for a 5 win season, and he is currently sporting a 127 wRC+. Guess who ranks just behind him in wOBA: Shohei Ohtani. MLB's biggest star, admittedly in a down year offensively (although he is still producing quite well at the plate), has a weighted on base average comparable to 2007 Melvin Mora. Keep in mind that this was Mora's age 35 season, he wasn't playing in the middle of the steroid era, and he didn't play in a launching pad of a ballpark. This was a former low-level star in the twilight years of his career, hitting at a league average rate, and yet, any uninformed fan who tuned in to a randomly sampled Orioles game would think that he compared to two of the biggest stars in baseball. *

Low scoring baseball games are awesome, or at least they can be. It's fun watching two titans of the sport putting up scoreless innings, making great pitches and preventing the runners they do allow from advancing. It's not fun watching randomly generated reliever X complementing his 95 MPH fastball, which would really hover closer to 93 if he had to pitch more than 35 innings a year, with inconsistently spotted breaking pitches that are inexplicably called strikes by the umpire on occasion, forcing batters to expand the zone and either swing and miss or hit a weak flyball. 

The title for best pitching season since integration by ERA- is held by the 2017 Cleveland Indians. They had 2 pitchers go over 200 innings, and their top 6 pitchers by innings pitched were the only starting pitchers they had that year (outside of Ryan Merritt, who pitched very nicely in some double-headers in August and then was never seen again). They mainly relied on 6 relievers, and only 17 pitchers topped the 5 inning mountain. This is how a great pitching team should look: remarkable talent in the rotation (Kluber, Carrasco, Bauer, Clevinger, Salazar), a solid innings eater in Tomlin, a genuine relief ace (Andrew Miller), and then a bevy of really good back-end relievers. They had an all time core of pitching talent, and then they stayed healthy. Again, that's what greatness should look like. Keep in mind that this was a year before the Rays decided they would win 90 games by throwing a bunch of middle relievers at the wall and seeing which ones would stick. 

The second best team by ERA- since integration is none other than the 2021 Dodgers, a team that had 30 different pitchers throw over 5 innings. I am skeptical that many people found this staff nearly as entertaining to watch as the Indians. Their starting rotation was full of stars, similar to the Indians. However, we didn't get to see them very much. Indians starters averaged 5.87 innings per start, Dodgers just 5.2.  I could go on and on about this but I'm getting annoyed with the whole situation. Point is, the Dodgers didn't allow runs because they abused the 40 man roster/injured list system and allowed their already great staff to overexert themselves. Same goes for the Giants that year, outside of the "already great" part. I'm sorry, there's no way that Giants staff should have had a 129 ERA+. The MLB needs to interrogate Giants front office employees until the spill the beans on exactly what they did to cause that, and then make rule changes that prevent all of that nonsense. In the meantime, they can limit pitching roster size (to be fair, this would be happening by now anyways, but the 13 pitcher limit isn't enough. Make it at least 12, if not 11. Credit to them for coming up with this all the way back in 2019, which is shockingly proactive, but that credit can be taken away by somehow thinking that more roster spots will solve the pandemic or something like that. This is also the MLBPA's fault.), increasing the pitcher IL time, (have a sore shoulder? You can wait at least 20 days to come back. Figure out some sort of IL pay policy so the association agrees to this.), and limiting options to the minors (they did this, but of course, they didn't implement this in the first month of the season. Thanks, guys.). Combining this with a pitch clock (which has been shown to decrease both walks and strikeouts) and an electronic strike zone (stop calling all of those stupid fucking outside fastballs because "he hit his spot". His spot was off the plate. Jesus christ.) and we will see a quiet offensive boom in the form of singles and doubles instead of home runs. I'm done writing this, and I'm not going to proofread. 

*I'll admit that inflated offensive performance isn't necessarily desirable. The modern NFL is a great example of this, as overpowered offensive strategies combined with tightened rules has resulted in a significant increase in the league average points per game, to the point that a middling (and also somewhat underrated, in all fairness) 2021 Eagles team averaged nearly the exact same amount of points as the high powered 1999 Colts, who went 13-3 on the back of Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison. The NBA has seen massive offensive inflation. There are other factors, but one that I'm not a fan of is the sheer volume of meaningless NBA games. The NBA season is long, yet the games mean very little in the grand scheme of things due to both the nature of basketball(come playoff time, the more talented team will most likely prevail no matter the seed) and the comically oversized playoff field. It's hard to give it your all on defense for 82 games when the marginal value of a win is almost nonexistent. In the playoffs, defenses seem to go back to maximum effort, and the result is an incredibly entertaining few months of basketball. 

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