If you follow the Cincinnati Reds official social media accounts, you know fans like to complain that manager David Bell taking his starters out of the game too early. I know some of these complaints are coming because the Reds bullpen is blowing leads late in games while the starters pitch excellently. However, that’s on the bullpen. The relievers have to do their job. The starters can’t pitch all nine innings, especially in this era of baseball. Starting pitchers are pitching less innings, and Bell isn’t the only major league manager pulling starters early.

The Reds’ Starting Pitchers

First, let’s look at the number of innings and pitches the Reds rotation has thrown. Trevor Bauer has the longest outing, a complete game seven inning shut out as part of a doubleheader against the Detroit Tigers. Bauer has thrown over 100 pitches in each of his three starts.

Sonny Gray and Luis Castillo have both pitched more than 90 pitches in each of their starts, and both have recently thrown over 100 pitches. Gray has only pitched into the seventh once, while Castillo has yet to get there. Tejay Antone pitched 4.1 innings in both of his starts, but has only thrown around 70-80 pitches.

Tyler Mahle’s longest outing was against the Indians on August 4. Here’s what he said about being taken out after six innings despite giving up only one hit:

Anthony DeSclafani and Wade Miley are still returning from injuries and building up arm strength, so I didn’t factor them into the situation.

Starting Pitchers Around MLB

I decided to look at the game logs of known pitchers around MLB this season to see how they compared to Reds starters. Mets starter Jacob deGrom has made four starts and hasn’t pitched more than six innings, including Opening Day when he threw only 72 pitches in five shut-out innings. deGrom only started throwing up to 100 pitches a start within the last week.

Yankees starter Gerrit Cole hasn’t pitched more than 6.2 innings in four starts. The Rangers’ Lance Lynn has thrown over 100 pitches in all four starts, but has yet to pitch into the 7th inning. Shane Bieber of the Indians has pitched into the eighth inning twice, but has also only made it through the sixth twice. He’s been around 100 pitches in all four of his outings as well. In Nationals’ starter Max Scherzer’s first appearance, he threw 98 pitches but didn’t make it through six innings.

What Does All of This Mean?

On Friday, Fangraphs writer Jay Jaffe posted an article about starting pitcher workloads being reduced in 2020. Managers all across MLB are pulling their starters earlier right now. IP/GS has been dropping each year since 2017, and according the article, this year would be the biggest year-to-year drop in five years.

A number of reasons factor into this drop, and the article provides much more detail than I have written here. However, I want to highlight a couple of those reasons. The pitchers mentioned above all have one thing in common. They strike out a lot of batters. Bieber already has 43 strikeouts, while deGrom, Cole and Lynn are all close to 30 strikeouts. This, in turn, will increase their pitch totals.

The Reds have a 12.24 K/9, good for first in MLB. The Reds are also second in MLB in pitches per plate appearance at 4.15. Bauer, Castillo, and Gray are all in the top five in MLB in K/9. Leading in numerous strikeout categories and pitches per PA equals a lot of pitches thrown to batters.

Pitchers also might be more susceptible to injuries right now, due to the short summer camp. We’ve already seen this with DeSclafani, Miley, Justin Verlander, Shohei Ohtani, and even Max Scherzer (although he’s expected to be back tonight). Madison Bumgarner also just went on the injured list Monday. It prompted this tweet from an ESPN reporter:

While it’s entirely possible these injuries could have happened in a regular 162-game season, limited opportunities to work out over the three-month shut down and a short time to build back up to full arm strength heightened the injury chances for so many pitchers. This could all just be temporary until pitchers get to full strength or the trends for shorter outings could keep moving downward. Only time will tell.

As for the Reds, Bell has the right idea. Between increased risk for injuries and high pitch counts due to increased strikeouts, the starters are going to be taken out earlier than fans want. It’s a shift within the game that has happened, and although Bell has played it this way, he’s also given his pitchers longer opportunities than a lot of other managers have. And that’s why I’m going to give him grace for now.

26 Responses

  1. Mark Moore

    Things that make you go “Hmmmm”

    Thanks for the stats. Perhaps we need to curb our enthusiasm to preserve our starters. The challenge continues to be our bullpen can’t get it done consistently and our lack of hitting up and down the order.

  2. CFD3000

    David Bell has made some strange choices with his lineups and batting substitutions. And he’s used his bullpen in odd ways. But if anything he has left his (effective) starters in longer than most and certainly hasn’t been pulling them early. I was very surprised that Woodruff didn’t come out for the 5th for the Brewers on Sunday – that hasn’t happened even once for the Reds this year. It’s frustrating that Reds relievers have been so bad. But that’s not because they’ve been out there more than necessary. This is a red herring – let it go folks.

    • Sliotar

      Well stated.

      Bell had Colon above Winker in the lineup on Friday in Milwaukee.

      Even with a LHP starting, that is not optimal, short-term or long-term. Not a surprise that Colon went 0 for 3 with 2K, and Winker went 2 for 3.

      Good organizations win and develop at the same time. Making the playoffs is crucial, but Senzel and Winker should be in the top 5-6 hitting every day. They are the offensive cornerstones down the road (along with if Castellanos is here).

      • Roger Garrett

        Right the 3 guys you just mentioned should be getting the most at bats starting tonight.They should hit 1,2,3 until somebody else earns the right to get more at bats.Joey at less then .200 and Eugenio way way less then that need to be moved down again starting tonight along with Shogo.You ride the hot hand.

  3. Sliotar

    “Finishing off an inning” to end a start is now an almost constant feature of a SP outing, especially for the top names.

    deGrom was pulled after completing 5 innings on Sunday, because his pitch count was more than 90.

    To me, Bell comes across as stubborn/systematic/formulaic with certain things, but pulling starting pitchers too early isn’t one of them.

    Nice post, Ashley.

  4. MK

    Pirate are 4.5 games behind Cards who have played only five games.

    • Mark Moore

      The Cardinal Factor will have to be handled if games get cancelled. No way MLB will actually go with total winning percentage if a dozen games are missed. 6 games is 10% of the season … 16 equivalent for a full season … and imagine taking that garbage into the collective bargaining session.

  5. KDJ

    There are things about pitch count that puzzle me.
    Nolan Ryan had games over 200 pitches; Randy Johnson over 150.
    Granted, they are in the HOF. But why do pitchers today often struggle to get to 90-100? Is it that they start to lose effectiveness? Is it a matter of increasing spin rates putting more strain on the arm?

    • Doug Gray

      There are a ton of factors that go into it.

      And it starts with kids when they are 10. Now days kids play more baseball than they used to (those that actually do play). So a while ago we started having pitch counts to try and keep their arms healthy. This comes into play for a lot of reasons in the future, but what it does is not let the kids who do survive coming up as pitchers have that same kind of arm stamina that guys in the past did. Secondly, if you play competitive baseball in the last 25 years, and you didn’t have a breaking ball by the time you were 13, you probably weren’t pitching for your team. Immediately that start placing more stress on your arm at a far earlier age than it used to – which again, is part of the reason pitch counts started and start so early.

      Then there’s also the survivor bias. Back then, the guys who survived, particularly in Nolan Ryan’s generation (since they couldn’t really get TJ surgery, and if they did later on in his career time frame it was hardly as successful as in Johnson’s time frame, which is hardly as successful as it is today) – that group had the arm strength/ligament strength to do it (well, some of them – we saw so many guys fall off once they got injured and never return).

      But there’s also the fact that today, especially compared to Nolan Ryan’s generation (generations? since he pitched for what feels like 937 years) is that every single hitter in the lineup can now do damage. There are no absolute no hit shortstops and catchers – guys who would hit 2-5 homers a year but start 155 games. You can’t just take a batter or three off in a lineup anymore. Every hitter has to get the 100% stuff. That adds stress to the arm, which means you need to cut back on the pitch count a little bit by comparison there, too.

      And then there’s the modern bullpen. Love it. Hate it. Doesn’t matter. Guys know it’s there and that the manager will go to it. While starters still need to pace themselves a little bit, they also know that they can “go all out” a little bit, too, because of how bullpens are used today by comparison. That adds a little bit more stress to the arm, too.

      Add all of that up, and this is what we get. At least that’s my well thought out, somewhat educated take on it.

      • Don

        Doug, great comment

        I pitched in Little League in the late 70s and my coach caught me trying to throw a curve ball when I was 12 years old in pre-season practice and yelled at me. He told me that if he ever saw me try to throw a curve ball/slider again, I would not pitch as it would damage your arm in the long run. I was taught a fastball and a change up with the same arm motion. No breaking balls until I was 15. That is how the coaches I grew up with taught pitchers.

        I was taught to pitch and try to be deceptive with velocity differences and placement of pitches.

        Never had overpowering stuff but I got the batters to get themselves out.

      • Doug Gray

        Yeah, things are just so vastly different over the last 30 years when it comes to how “we” play baseball growing up.

        There’s no one reason for what’s going on with pitching now versus “then”. There’s a lot of reasons. And it starts a decade before guys reach the Majors.

      • JayTheRed

        I’m sorry I don’t agree with this. I played baseball as a kid and guess what around the age of 10 or so I was learning about how to better throw off speed pitches. If anything there are guys throwing much harder now than they used to. I never broke my arm I never had arm fatigue now mind you I only played up to my age of 28 in college… Another story for my higher age… but anyway I feel like part of the problem is kids are not allowed to pitch to build durability anymore. They Pitch as hard as they can and once their arm is tiring they stink… Aka the 3rd time through the lineup philosophical standpoint. There is such an emphasis to be a hard thrower these days.

        I Really wish they would not push kids so hard on throwing as hard as they can. I guess I am getting to be old school but I hate hearing the same thing all the time about they are tired. I think most of my starts in high school and college were around 120 pitches to 140. I guess being a finesse pitcher allowed me to do that.

      • Doug Gray

        Pitching with a tired arm increases the risk of injury. That’s why we don’t let them pitch beyond there.

      • Chris

        @Jay the Red, I completely agree with you. I do agree with Doug on one key point, and that is the amount of baseball younger kids play now. It used to be seasonal, and now it’s year around, which is not good on the arm. But, without a doubt, pitchers are being groomed to throw as hard as they can, and finesse is no longer being taught. I also completely disagree with Doug when he says there are no weak hitters now. To the contrary, I think hitters are much easier outs now than they ever were. When the top hitters in the game are striking out at 1/3 of every AB, that only makes it easier for pitchers. The reality is, pitchers are being taught to throw harder, and for less amount of time. No other excuses. That’s the problem, and it’s a big problem, because the more pitchers you use in a game, the more chances of failure to occur. Manager’s are asking pitchers to be good every time out, and that’s just not going to happen.

      • Redsfan4life

        Another factor could be outside of Ryan and a handfull of others. Pitchers topped out at 87-90 MPH 30 or more years ago as well.
        Randy Jones won a Cy Young award once and I doubt he ever threw a pitch over 80 MPH.
        As hard as these guys are throwing that has to take a toll on elbows and shoulders. I mean the human arm was not meant to throw a baseball.

    • TR

      A complete nine inning game from a starting pitcher is almost a forgotten statistic.

    • KDJ

      Thanks, everyone, for the input.
      Do the number of warm-up pitches pre-inning get taken into consideration? Or, are those pitches not 100% effort?

  6. Steven Nelson

    Yeah. If anything, the evidence exists for arguing he’s left them in too LONG, given Bauer’s loss of velocity. Not that I’m making that argument.

  7. Charlie Waffles

    The question should be, when is David Bell going to learn he has one of the worst bullpens in all of MLB? Lorenzen will be one of the first bullpen arms he goes to tonight, if not the first.
    Miley goes tomorrow night, so Antone will probably be held back to pitch in that game at some point. Antone or Mahle should be getting some 8th inning chances this week though.
    I hope Williams & Krall are spending some quality time evaluating the pitchers at Prasco and some relievers on other teams. There is so little word coming from Prasco on how some guys are pitching there. De Leon was a complete flop. Kuhnel hasn’t done well. How is Romano throwing? How is Hunter Greene throwing? Those 2 might be able to help out the bullpen, but they can’t come up and pull a De Leon. Is Robert Stephenson still hurt or is he throwing now?
    Dependable bullpen arms: Garrett, Antone, Mahle.
    Maybe dependable: Iglesias.
    Sometimes Iffy: Sims, Jones.
    Not getting the job done: Lorenzen, Kuhnel, Reed.
    Stephenson on IL, Strop probably heading to IL when Miley comes off tomorrow.

    • Doug Gray

      Joel Kuhnel has pitched in one entire game. Maybe a bit early to say he’s not getting the job done?

    • Sliotar

      Sims “iffy?”

      He gave up an HR in last appearance, but his stuff has played.
      K/9 over 11, 31%K, .82 WHIP

      He would be my top choice to experiment now in a back-upb closer role.

      There had better be a “Plan B” ready, because I don’t believe for a minute Igelsias can get through 4 playoff rounds without a serious falter (or two).

    • JayTheRed

      Jones has done overall a pretty good job. You have to remember these players are going to have an occasional not perfect outing. Sims overall has done a pretty good job too.

  8. centerfield

    Mr. Bell, maybe it is time for the Reds to have a bullpen game so that the relievers get some work. Exclude Mahle and Antone and let the rest pitch. You take a chance on one game to possibly improve and sort out your bullpen for the rest of the year. Starters get an extra day of rest.

  9. Sobieray Richard

    I am really old school. In 1953, Robin Roberts pitched 28 consecutive complete games. Fathom that for a HOFamer! And he had JIM Konstanty in the bullpen as on of MLB’s original fireman!

  10. Joe

    Starters today are pulled from games when pitch count gets high due mainly to ineffectiveness. These young guys could easily throw 150 per session. The game evolved to set up guys and middle relievers so opposing teams don’t see stater for third or fourth time. So when your bullpen is horrible and starters are impeccable that logic goes out the window. If the reds are going to win this year with this bullpen, they better find a way to get 7 or 8 innings minimum from starters.