|A grand experiment
Team president Nolan Ryan and pitching coach Mike Maddux are changing the way the Rangers do things:
"I haven't been pleased with the direction baseball's taken pitching over the last 15 or 20 years, and I felt like we needed to regain some of what we had lost," Ryan said. "I felt like we had a lot of pitchers that have been on pitch limits ever since Little League, and we don't know what their genetic potential is as far as the number of pitches and workload they can handle" . . .
. . . "Guys that train for a mile ain't running more than a mile," Maddux said. "That's kind of my take on it. Go out there and go as long as you can, and the hitters will let you know when you've had enough.
There's a tendency among folks who think about baseball the way most of us here at CTB do to criticize managers who let their pitchers throw what we have come to think of as too many pitches. Just this week alone I've already made at least two or three references to guys throwing a lot of pitches in a given game, and it's only a matter of time before I unload on Dusty Baker or someone like him for "abusing" his pitchers. And in fact, I'm pretty sure I voiced some skepticism the first time I heard about Ryan's plan to stretch his pitchers earlier this year.
But upon reflection, I can't say that I have any problem with what Ryan and Maddux are doing with the Rangers. This does not sound like some throwback, though guy thing in which management is simply telling pitchers to go longer and suck it up. They seem to have a plan in place: focus on conditioning, monitor their pitchers closely, and rather than be a slave to a pitch count, pull a guy when he truly seems to be tiring. That may be at 120 pitches for some guys on some nights, it may be at 90 pitches for other guys on other nights. Critics assume that such an approach will lead to more injuries, but nothing I've read suggests this to be a given. Indeed, some folks have made a pretty convincing case that an overreliance on hard pitch counts is counterproductive in this regard.
Will it work in Texas? So far so good, but the really useful evidence won't start to roll in until September when we see how the Rangers' arms have survived the brutal Texas summer. As for ultimate proof? Let's look back in a year or two and see how many of Ryan and Maddux's young wards are on the disabled list. The parts of me that (a) admire Nolan Ryan; and (b) like seeing pitchers pitch longer into games hopes that this works out well and is emulated across the game.