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Changing Pitcher Workloads

In last year's draft, the A's went extremely heavy on stocking up the A's minor league system with quality young arms.

When I interviewed Billy Beane last year, he repeated over and over again how important depth in pitching was. Not just a few extra arms, but having a surplus of quality pitching is vital to success in the majors these days.

So when the Baseball Crank unveiled a research project today in which he demonstrated how the percentage of innings pitched by the team's top pitchers are in sharp decline, it made even more sense to sign Esteban Loaiza and keep Barry Zito unless someone was offering Sandy Koufax and Rollie Fingers in return. Not that many of us didn't realize that moving Five-Inning-Kirk to the pen was a great move to improve those "middling innings" if you will.

Concerns about injuries have led to pitch count restrictions and reduced the workload for team's front line starters. So instead of having a Harden or Zito going deep into games, you have middle relievers eating up those innings. And it isn't even the best relievers who are seeing the most action. You combine the pitch count concerns with specialist closers and it's Mike Myers or Chad Bradford who is often pitching in the most crucial spot in a game. That is, crushing a burgeoning rally. In other words, it's pitchers who aren't in the top six pitchers on the team that are becoming more essential in the success of a team. It's amazing how the percentage of innings for those pitchers has climbed. Crank has an excellent graph illustrating just that. You go back as recent as 1980 and the number of innings that a team has a pitcher who isn't one of the top six pitchers has gone up 10 percent.

So, if you apply this to the A's, it means that the A's top six pitchers in 2005, taken first by the top four starting pitchers by ERA (Harden, Blanton, Haren and Zito) and then the top two relievers taken by ERA (Street and Duchscherer), they pitched 938.2 innings last year. The A's other pitchers pitched 511.2 innings last year. That means that the A's are doing fairly well compared to the 2004 numbers, even with the injuries to Harden. They are at 35.2 percent of innings pitched by pitchers who aren't one of their top six pitchers. That compared to the 2004 number of 41.5 percent.

But if you draft a ton of arms who could develop into either quality starters or relievers and you improve the quality of the pitchers pitching that 35.2 percent of the innings, I would imagine your chance for success would increase dramatically.

It really is true that you can never have enough great pitching. Great job on that work, Crank.

And great work by the A's front office to try and stockpile as much frontline pitching as possible.