By In Baseball

Managers and full-time starters

Let me warn you up front: This post goes nowhere. I realize I could put this on just about every post, but this one IN PARTICULAR goes nowhere. It is basically me asking baseball questions and not really coming up with any answers. Just thought it fair to tell you up front.

I have this friend who inadvertently will say stuff that I can’t get out of my head. He will say something like, “The Cure is the best band of the last 40 years” or “If the Cleveland Browns had drafted Tom Brady, he’d be selling insurance in Michigan right now,” and five minutes later he will completely forget what he had said. But I’ll be scouring the Cure’s oeuvre and comparing it song by song with REM or U2 or something and going, “The Cure was great and all, but he’s just wrong.”

It’s my problem, not his.

The other day, my friend said something along these lines: “The only difference between a good manager and a bad manager is the ability to keep starting pitchers healthy.”

He had not done any research on the topic. He would NEVER do any research on the topic. He had probably not thought about this concept for more than five seconds before saying it. But the last couple of days I have found myself banging my head against walls trying to unravel that one.

Dammit, there’s something there. I don’t know what it is. But there’s something there.

Let’s go exploring for a minute. As you no doubt know (or suspect), teams that keep their starting pitchers healthy for an entire season will do very well a very high percentage of the time. Since 1960, there have been 117 teams that had four or more starters making 30 or more starts — that’s roughly two teams per season.

Of those 117 teams:

— 12 (10%) won the World Series.
— 14 (12%) won 100 games.
— 28 (24%) won 95 games.
— 60 (more than half) won 90 games.
— 97 (more than 80%) had a winning record.

Now, this might not impress you at all. After all, it takes more than just health for a pitcher to start 30-plus games in a season. He has to be fairly good to get that many starts. So in a way, you could argue that all this stat REALLY shows is that teams with four reasonably effective starters will in a lot of games. Well, as we used to say: Duh.

But there’s something else. It was something Bill James talked about in his his seminal Guide to Baseball Managers (now available on Kindle). It’s something about health and pitchers.

“I have always believed that most major league pitchers would be outstanding, if they could stay healthy. MOST pitchers, if they could stay in the rotation for two or three years without breaking down, would figure out some way to get the job done.”
— The Bill James Guide to Baseball Managers

I agree with Bill here. No, more, I STRONGLY agree with Bill here. I am beginning to believe, more and more, that the single most important factor in having a winning season is how healthy your starting pitchers are. It doesn’t matter as much how talented your starting pitchers are or how good they were in the past. In 2011, many of us believed the Phillies had put together the greatest four-man starting pitching staff in decades with Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt. They had one good season together.

In 2012, Washington went into the season with Gio Gonzalez (just acquired from Oakland), Jordan Zimmermann (a 26-year-old developing talent), Edwin Jackson (a lifelong enigma) and Stephen Strasburg (a 23-year-old phenom they would “watch closely).

The Phillies super-rotation fell apart, Oswalt was gone, Halladay got hurt, Lee and Hamels were good but not great. The team went 81-81.

And Washington was completely healthy and won 100 games even while shutting Strasburg down before he come become a full-time starter.

Let’s put it this way: If I owned a baseball team and there was a manager who loved to do all the things I despise — if he sacrifice bunted like Gene Mauch, and put together the most illogical lineups and changed pitchers in the late innings with a sort of La Russa like abandon and (Lord help me) intentionally walked everybody — BUT he could guarantee keeping my starting pitchers healthy, I’d hire him.

Maybe this is why I find my friend’s off-handed comment so intriguing. I do believe if that you could start a season with one certainty and only one certainty, you should take “healthy starting pitchers.” It’s the best place to start.

But then we get to the second part of the equation.

Can a manager actually handle starting pitchers in a way to keep them healthy? Or is it all just dumb luck?

Well, let’s see if we can find a trend. Here’s a fun one to start with: Do you know the manager the last 50 or 60 years who has had the most seasons with four full-time starters (we’ll call pitchers making 30-plus starts “full-time starters” for ease of reference)?

Take a guess.

I would have guessed Bobby Cox or Earl Weaver, and they are both right near the top.

But No. 1 on the list is: Tony La Russa.

Really? La Russa? I didn’t see that coming. When I teased this post on Twitter over the weekend, I got dozens of comments from people specifically singling out La Russa (and Dusty Baker … more on him in a minute) as one of those managers who has been TERRIBLE at keeping starters healthy.

You know: That’s a good excuse to stop for a second and clarify what I specifically mean by keeping starting pitchers healthy.

At the end of the day: What is a manager’s job? Every now and again, you will hear people say something a little bit obscure like “to maximize the team’s talent” or “to put players in positions where they can best succeed” or even “to not get in the way.” Maybe these things SHOULD be the manager’s job, but they are not. If you maximize a team’s talent and win 75 games, you’re fired. If you put players in position to win and win 75 games, you’re fired. If you do not get in the way and win 75 games, you’re fired.

The job is to win games and win championships. These are the things that (most of the time, anyway) will give a manager job security. Win games. Win championships. It’s harsh and it’s cynical but it’s also a fact just about everyone in the game accepts. General managers tend to believe that they put together championship type teams. Owners tend to believe that they have bought championship type teams. They may be deluding themselves, but theirs are the delusions that matter. They are the ones who will fire the manager who does not win.

So, when I say “Keep pitchers healthy,” I am not talking about long term. I am talking about one season at a time. I tweeted Tommy Lasorda as a guy who kept pitchers healthy and I was pelted with comments from people remembering how Fernando Valenzuela and Orel Hershiser and others got hurt. And they did get hurt … AFTER they helped Lasorda win championships. His job, when seen under the harsh light of baseball reality, is not to make Hall of Famers. It is not to make sure his pitchers have long careers. It is to navigate a pitcher through a good season so the team can win a championship. And then, next year, to do it again.

Eight times — and with three different teams — Tony La Russa has managed teams that had stable rotations where four starters have stayed healthy and competitive the whole year. These were rarely great pitchers, often not even good ones when you look at a whole career. But for a year, they were good. And that’s what we are talking about.

La Russa was able to build stable, year-long rotations in the mid-1980s with the White Sox. He got healthy years out of LaMarr Hoyt, Rich Dotson, Floyd Bannister, an old Tom Seaver, Britt Burns. Remember the Bill James line: “I have always believed that most major league pitchers would be outstanding, if they could stay healthy.” With four good healthy pitchers, La Russa’s White Sox teams were very good in 1983 and 1985.

La Russa went to Oakland and in 1989 (won the World Series) and 1990 (lost the World Series) he got 30-plus starts out of Dave Stewart, Mike Moore, Bob Welch, Storm Davis and (after Davis signed with Kansas City) Scott Sanderson.

Then, in St. Louis, La Russa had FIVE DIFFERENT TEAMS with four full-time starters. Of course, they weren’t the same four each year. In fact there were only a few repeats.

In 1996 it was: Alan Benes; Andy Benes; Donovan Osborne and Todd Stottlemyre. The Cardinals won 88 games, which is about as many as you might reasonably hope to win with those four starters.

In 2000 it was: Rick Ankiel; Pat Hentgen; Darryl Kile and Garrett Stephenson. Better foursome, and they won 95.

In 2004 it was: Jason Marquis; Matt Morris; Jeff Suppan and Woody Williams. That team won 105 and went to the World Series.

In 2005, the team had FIVE full-time starters: Chris Carpenter; Jason Marquis; Matt Morris; Mark Mulder and Jeff Suppan. That team won 100.

In 2011, the four were Carpenter, Jamie Garcia, Kyle Lohse and Jake Westbrook. And the Cardinals won the World Series.

So, was La Russa lucky to get more healthy starter seasons than any manager in modern-day baseball? Does he deserve any of the credit? Should the credit (if credit is deserved) actually go to pitching coach Dave Duncan? Is there a secret to getting healthy seasons out of pitchers that La Russa and Duncan knew but have never shared?

Think about this: La Russa has been celebrated and extolled and praised beyond reason for his managing through the years. He’s had books written about him. He’s going into to Hall of Fame. But this simple and baffling knack for getting getting 30-plus starts out of pitchers might have been the most important part of his success. And we don’t even know if he had much to do with it.

Now, let’s reiterate: La Russa was not necessarily great at keeping pitchers healthy (mentally and physically) over a LONG period of time. Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, Ankiel, many others burned out or flamed out or blew out. But this is a different point. Bobby Cox is probably the most famous example of a manager who kept getting healthy seasons out of pitchers. But I mentioned Cox on Twitter, I got a slew of “What about Steve Avery?” or “Don’t you remember John Smoltz getting hurt?” questions.

Sure, Avery had many injuries in his career. Smoltz got hurt too. But nobody’s saying that Bobby Cox is some kind of shaman capable of warding off injuries to pitchers. No, the point is Cox has had extraordinary success keeping starters healthy through seasons — he’s had seven seasons where he’s had four full-time starters.

He did it in Atlanta in 1980 with Doyle Alexander, Rick Matula, Larry McWilliams and Phil Niekro.

He did it twice in Toronto, starring Dave Stieb, Jim Clancy, Jim Gott, Doyle Alexander again and the oft forgotten Luis Leal, who was a good pitcher for a couple of years there.

Then, most famously, Cox did it four times in Atlanta — and the aforementioned Steve Avery was a full-time starters on three of those teams. Did he blow out Steve Avery’s arm eventually? You can make the argument. But before that, Avery was a full-time starter on Braves teams that went to back-to-back World Series. I’m sure Cox wishes Avery has not gotten hurt. But let’s not confuse the issue. He got plenty out of Steve Avery and plenty out of John Smoltz too.

Earl Weaver also had seven seasons with four full-time starters. Bill, in his manager’s book, writes at some length about his sheer bafflement at Weaver’s ability to consistently get healthy and successful seasons out of his starting pitchers. Bill speculates that Baltimore’s great defense may have taken pressure off pitchers and that Weaver’s keep-it-simple approach may have played a role. But truth is: Bill doesn’t know. It could have been luck.

There’s one other interesting blip that is worth mentioning before getting on to Dusty Baker. For some reason, Houston had a lot success through the years getting full-years out of starters. In all, seven different Houston teams — under five different managers — had four full-time starters. What makes it interesting to me is that all seven played in 1997 or before, meaning all seven played IN THE ASTRODOME.

I’m just flinging theories around now but I do find it compelling that teams with good pitchers’ parks — the Dodgers, Houston in the Astrodome, Baltimore before Camden Yards, the Mets at Shea Stadium, Oakland, the Giants recently — have had better than expected success getting 30-start seasons out of pitchers. Is it possible that pitchers in those parks don’t strain quite as much, knowing that even well hit balls are often outs? Does that make a different for the arms?

Eh, I’m just throwing stuff at walls.

Dusty Baker is probably the most famous modern manager for blowing out pitcher’s arms. So of course I’m going to tell you: When looking at it through this prism — where what matters is getting seasons with four healthy starters — Dusty Baker is one of the BEST in the modern era. He’s had five teams with four full-time starters … and he’s done it in three different places (to compare: Joe Torre has only had two, Sparky Anderson had zero).

Baker did it twice with the Giants (both teams won 95-plus games), once with the Cubs (that famous/infamous 2003 season where the Cubs were thisclose to the World Series) and the last two years with the Reds (in 2012, a 97-win season, he actually had FIVE full-time staters).

True, Kerry Wood blew out, Mark Prior blew out, and Baker has taken plenty of blame for that. But if you want to believe it’s just a manager’s job to win THIS YEAR, and you have to get the most out of your starters THIS YEAR, well, Dusty Baker has been one of the best at that over the last half century.

Here are, by the way, the managers who have gotten the most seasons with four full-time starters:

1. Tony La Russa, 8
2. Bobby Cox, 7
(tie) Earl Weaver, 7
4. Davey Johnson, 5
(tie) Tommy Lasorda, 5
(tie) Dusty Baker, 5
7. Walter Alston, 4
(tie) Art Howe, 4
(tie) Ozzie Guillen, 4
(10. Red Schoendienst, 5
(tie) Bruce Bochy, 3

Torre, as mentioned, had two. So does Joe Maddon, who is having all kinds of trouble keeping starters healthy this year.

So now, we ask the big question: Did we learn anything? And, as warned at the top, the answer is: No, probably not. The core puzzle remains. Do good managers have a knack for keeping their starters healthy over a long and grueling season? Or does the pure luck of having healthy starters make good managers? Bruce Bochy is in his 20th year of managing in the big leagues, if you can believe that. He has a career record that is almost exactly .500. Three times in his career, he has had a four-full time starters.

In 1999, while managing San Diego, he got full years out of Andy Ashby, Matt Clement, Sterling Hitchock and Woody Williams. That was actually a pretty lousy team (74 wins) … but a year earlier, with Kevin Brown instead of Clement and Joey Hamilton instead of Woody Williams, that team won 97 games and went to the World Series.

In 2010, while managing San Francisco, Bochy got full years from Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Jonathan Sanchez and Barry Zito. They won the World Series.

In 2012, while managing San Francisco, he got full years from Cain, Lincecum, Zito, Madison Bumgarner AND Ryan Vogelson. That team also won the World Series.

Is Bruce Bochy good at this or is he lucky? It’s a fascinating question. My buddy thinks he’s good at it. That’s if my buddy remembers making the statement in the first place.

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44 Responses to Managers and full-time starters

  1. Marco says:

    That was fun to read.

  2. jess says:

    you’re Friend is very wise.

    • jess says:

      oh and the Cure isn’t the best band of the past 40 years(that would be the Smiths) but they’re better than R.E.M. and U2 imho.

      • Matt says:

        Ding, ding, ding. This is the correct answer. The Smiths may not be my favorite band of the past 40 years, but a compelling case could be made that they are, objectively, the best when one factors things such as musicianship, arrangement, lyrical content, wit and performance chops. Love him or hate him, Morrissey created a distinct vocal style all his own, brilliantly subverting common pop themes in his lyrics and communicating on a level few singers ever reach.

        A mini-renaissance of Smiths literature here in America has opened my eyes to these facts. If you’re at all interested in rock music history or The Smiths, you simply must check out the new bio “A Light That Never Goes Out” and the song-by-song catalog encyclopedia “Songs That Saved Your Life.”

        • Guest says:

          Obviously a question like “best band” faces the same semantic pitfalls as, say, the debate about MVP, but clearly the most important band of the last 40 years is NWA. I can image culture existing exactly as it is today without the music of the Cure, REM, or the Smiths ever happening. The same thing simply cannot be said with NWA. Straight Outta Compton is among the definitive albums both of the 80s and the 90s — can any other album make such a claim? It changed suburban cultural like nothing outside of the the initial founding of suburbs. It scared the shit out of even its biggest supporters. I would love for a band to emerge today as important as NWA because it would mean the future will be interesting and like nothing I can presently imagine.

          • Matt says:

            Yes, another album certainly can make such a claim. Public Enemy’s “It Takes a Nation of Millions,” for starters.

          • Guest says:

            @Matt I’m happy to entertain that argument. It Take a Nation of Milions… is nowhere near as raw, nor does it have Dre-worthy production values- both of which would define everything that followed — but it’s still landmark. If Straight Outta Compton signified The British Invasion for black people (to quote Chris Rock), It Takes a Nation…was like the pre-Beatles mods.

          • I’ll agree that Straight Out of Compton is a seminal album, but I have a hard time calling a band that only had two albums, only one of which is great, as the best of all-time. I also agree with Matt that if we’re arguing about the Foundation of Hip Hop in the Suburbs, it’s got to be Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions. And PE scared the shit out of everyone, too.

            That said, I do dispute that culture would be the same without REM. REM is the band at whch point “post punk” became “college rock”. And “college rock” eventually morphed into alternative and indie, the two most popular forms of guitar based rock in the past 40 years (ironic, I know). REM practically invented a genre as well and has every bit as good of a claim as Public Enemy to massive cultural influence. There’s not an American rock band formed post-1990 that doesn’t owe some sort of debt to REM. Nirvana’a “Alternative Nation” was built on REM’s foundation.

            If we were to make some sort of objective criteria for Best Band, which is absurd on its face I know, that rubric would likely include sales, influence, critical acclaim, and longevity. REM scores well on every point, even if their best stuff was the stuff that didn’t sell all that well. I’m not the biggest REM fan in the world, but I think they have a solid claim as the Greatest American Rock Band. I think their closest competitor for that title is Sly and the Family Stone.

          • Guest says:

            @ Poseur I didn’t call them the best of all time. I called them the most important of the last 40 years. And for my money, the Foundations of Hip Hop in the Suburbs begin with Run DMC’s Raising Hell.

            I completely enjoy reading your points on REM. I just fear the era of rock is dead. Food is the new rock music. People now make, like, artisanal gin rather than join bands, and seek out the best banh mi the way they used to look for obscure music. So that whole historical strain of rock culture seems less relevant now. At least to me. Whereas Pitckfork talks about hip hop records or mixed tapes more than ever.

            Fun, arbitrary ramblings; thanks for indulging.

          • @Guest

            Hey, I enjoy esoteric conversations about music. Thanks for indulging me. I will dispute hat the er of rock is over, though.

            Rock albums sold 102.5 million copies in 2012, the best-selling genre. #2? Alternative at 52.2. Metal, another subgenre of rock, came it at #5 with 31.9 and rap is SIXTH at 24.2 million. In fact, the combined sales of rock, alt, and metal was 186.6 million… more than every other genre combined.

            Numbers here:

            Rock shows are also the still money maker on the concert circuit. The bread and butter of those huge festival shows are primarily rock and indie acts. Rock no longer owns cultural homogeny, but the tales if its demise are greatly exaggerated. If you’re under 40, chances are good you like both rock and rap.

        • Mike F. says:

          The Smiths were a great singles band, but weren’t anywhere near as good when it came to albums (with the exception of ‘The Queen is Dead’).

      • Which hunt? says:

        I’m going with the Pixies and their Koufax-like short but brilliant peak, but yes, yes and yes.

      • otistaylor89 says:

        The best ban in the past 40 years? Not even close.
        They didn’t call The Clash, “The Only Band That Matters” for nothing.

  3. 18thstreet says:

    You missed a chance to say that you *strenuously* agree with Bill here.

  4. Tim says:

    I think you’re confusing two different Phillies teams. The 2011 Phillies had the super-rotation and they won 101 games behind those starters. Only Oswalt was a slight disappointment, having missed some time due to back injuries. The other three starters all pitched over 200 innings each with much better-than-average ERAs.

    It was the 2012 Phillies that went 81-81, but by then Oswalt was off the team and Doc was hurt, as you said.

  5. wordyduke says:

    Of course there can be another reason (other than health) why a team might have four starters with 30 or more starts.

    The GM, or luck, might have gifted the team with four quality starters.

    If a starting pitcher stinks (badly enough), he will get pulled from the rotation and never earn those 30 starts. He might be healthy as Charles Atlas. He might have been employed with superb judgment. He still winds up in the pen or the minors.

    Even the wisest manager can’t make a silk purse from the pig’s ear, etc.

    • mark says:

      A point Joe addressed when he wrote “Now, this might not impress you at all. After all, it takes more than just health for a pitcher to start 30-plus games in a season. He has to be fairly good to get that many starts. So in a way, you could argue that all this stat REALLY shows is that teams with four reasonable effective starters will in a lot of games.”
      Which is not to dog you. This was a long and winding post and it was easy to miss this.

  6. tigerfan22 says:

    I must be doing something wrong here. I was surprised not to see Jim Leyland listed here. He had 4 seasons with “full-time starters” with the Tigers (2006, 2008, 2011, 2013) and two with the Pirates (1988, 1991). That would put him in 4th place on this list.

    • jposnanski says:

      Leyland had two full-starter seasons — 2006 and 2008. The other four you mention don’t qualify. Last year’s Tigers had three full-time starters, 2008 Tigers had just two, the 1988 Pirates had three and the 1991 Pirates had three.

      That said, Leyland has indeed shown a good knack for keeping starters healthy through a season — all of those teams have four starters who made 25 starts in a season. It all depends where you draw the line, but I do think a big part of Leyland’s success is have stable rotations.

  7. Ron Warnick says:

    Damn. That was so simple, yet so illuminating. That list contains some damned good managers, and it’s not a coincidence. And the Bochy example shows how difficult it is to get full seasons from four pitchers.

    Bill James also has mentioned the steady workloads for pitchers isn’t fully understood, but he thinks it’s important. There’s a lot to be said by giving the ball to a pitcher, telling him he’s the guy in the rotation, and leaving him alone.

    Then again, it might all be luck. But looking over that list, I don’t think so.

    • Dave says:

      One of the things I don’t understand about how managers manage is why none of them today follow the Earl Weaver approach to starters. For many years, he had a four man, five day rotation. He kept his four main starters to that five days as much as possible. With rainouts and double headers, either subsequent or originally scheduled, he couldn’t always do that, but he tried. With the double headers or seven game weeks though, he’d have a fifth starter who was otherwise a “long man” in the bullpen. His primary starters, if healthy for the full season, would get 35-37 starts a year with the other starter(s) getting the rest (at least that’s how I remember it). What this did though was establish a fairly rigid schedule of what his main starters did on their off days as far as conditioning, five day cycle after five day cycle it was the same. That to me is the epitome of “steady workload.” Why no one has tried that these days, and why no one else copied it 30-40+ years ago,I don’t know, but now with five primary starters, there are sometimes 4 off days, sometimes 5, sometimes 6, nowhere close to “steady.”

  8. Richard Aronson says:

    I think there is something to the big ballpark theory. Walter Alston, who was on your list with four seasons, also managed the Dodgers in great hitters’ parks before Dodger Stadium opened. From 1954-1959, in Ebbets Field and the L.A. Coliseum, he had zero seasons with even three pitchers with 30+ starts, and since those were all before the five man rotation, the chance of more was higher if the starters just stayed reasonably healthy and effective. I suspect part of it comes down to pitch count over a short period of time, which good defenses and big ballparks will both help.

  9. Fin Alyn says:

    This is such a false argument and premise, that because for 1 season a manager kept 4 guys at 30+ starts, he somehow keeps his pitchers healthy? Come again? How many of those seasons were with the same starters? How many were back to back? How many guys were starting games they shouldn’t have been because of overwork or injuries that should have been minor with rest, but instead blew out their arms? Fantastic that Dusty and Lasorda have multiple seasons with this statistic, as they blew out arm after arm THE FOLLOWING YEAR. LaRussa was being raked not for starting pitchers but for crushing his bullpen, much like Torre, but could it also be that his terrible over reliance on bullpen use helped prolong the careers of some of his starters? Who knows, but none of it is addressed at all by the statistic that was chosen as the baseline observation of this article.

    There is a HUGE difference between disposing of pitchers every two or three years and replacing them with new arms (who also only last two or three years), and actually keeping pitchers healthy. It’s like the difference between driving a single car 100,000 miles, and driving 3 cars 100,000 miles.

  10. Lark11 says:

    It’s an interesting issue and obviously any team that can crack the “pitcher health” code will reap a massive competitive advantage.

    However, I think Joe Sheehan raised an important point, which is also alluded to in the post, on Twitter when he said it’s difficult to know in which direction the causation arrow runs. What comes first, the good manager or the healthy starting pitchers? Having a healthy starting rotation is going to make most managers look good.

    Since this issue is so unclear, reading this post just raises questions for me:

    1. Some of these managers, for most of their respective careers, have been linked at the hip with a specific pitching coach. The obvious examples are Tony LaRussa/Dave Duncan and Bobby Cox/Leo Mazzone. Who deserves credit for the health of the pitchers? The manager? The pitching coach?

    2. If managers are indeed able to keep their pitchers healthy, if it’s an actual, repeatable skill, then shouldn’t they have the ability to keep the same pitchers healthy from year to year? I agree that it’s the job of the manager to win, but it seems somehow incomplete to limit the discussion of this managerial “skill” to single season samples. I’m not sure this captures the longer-term consequences of pitcher usage patterns. The Giants really worked Jason Schmidt heavily during his SF tenure, then let him leave via free agency when he promptly and frequently broke down for the Dodgers. Should that count as a plus on the ledger of the Giants manager for keeping him healthy? It feels like a manager’s job is to protect the organization’s assets, for at least as long as they are controlled by the organization. So, if that’s the goal, then maybe Schmidt IS a perfect plus on the ledger.

    3. How much credit should go to the GM/scouting director who drafts homegrown pitchers? Tim Lincecum is one who leaps to mind. For me, his kinetic chain mechanics and plus athleticism are more likely causes of continued good health than anything Bruce Bochy has done.

    Anyway, it’s a very important topic and your post raises a number of good questions. There’s still a lot of fog surrounding the issue, but we can’t sweep that away until we know which questions need to be asked and answered.

  11. Cris E says:

    ” LaMarr Hot” might be my favorite typo of 2014 (so far.)

  12. Brent says:

    Duncan and LaRussa insist on all their starters keeping the ball down in the zone and pitching to contact, which, of course, cuts down on their Ks, but should reduce their pitch counts. Have a good defense behind that philosophy and play in the Coliseum and Busch Stadium, two of the bigger ballparks in baseball and ordinary pitchers who stay healthy suddenly look really good.

  13. Ian says:

    Probably something to that – Verducci has written about it before as the “Schilling Rule.” Anyhow, I just looked at Gardy and he had one season as you defined but he had two other seasons where five starters started 26 or more games each and both of those years – 06 and 10 – were really good years for the Twins.

  14. Brian says:

    Odd that pitching coaches aren’t considered just as much as managers for this. For instance, Leo Mazzone and the Braves on his pitching strategy to stay healthy (and good). It would be interesting to see this same analysis with pitching coaches.

  15. Jason says:

    Post reminds me of an old article I read in Baseball Digest concerning the 1980 Oakland A’s. In 1979, Oakland finished with a record of 52-110 with a rotation of Matt Keough, Mike Norris, Rick Langford, Steve McCarty and Brian Kingman (115 games started). In 1980, Billy Martin was hired and the same rotation started 159 games and had 94 complete games between them. Billy refused to use his bullpen (the bullpen, including the 3 spot starts, was only used for 15% of the toal innings), but the A’s record went to 83-79. In 1981 which was a strike year, the same rotation went 64-45 combined over the two halves. In 1982, McCarty and Kingman were apparently hurt and there was 29 starts by other players and the A’s went 68-94 and Billy went back to The Evil Empire. So apparently there is a steep curve when overusing pitchers.

  16. Michael Green says:

    A fun read, but I’m going to make the argument even nuttier. Maybe the question is whether the manager has a smart pitching coach? It may be that Dave Duncan made the decisions about pitchers and LaRussa deferred to him. Earl Weaver certainly gave considerable deference to George Bamberger and Ray Miller. Think of the New York Mets under Gil Hodges: with Rube Walker as his pitching coach, along came Seaver, Koosman, and Ryan, all of whom went into their forties and all of whom learned the old Dodger regimen of running, running, running, so that they had strong legs. Art Fowler, Billy Martin’s personal pitching coach, used to say nobody ever ran the ball across the plate; how did Billy come out on this list?

    The classic example to me remains Larry Shepard, who was the Reds pitching coach when so many Reds pitchers developed sore arms. When the Reds fired Sparky and his staff after 1978, Shepard went to the Giants. Within half a season, sore arms galore. That doesn’t make him a bad person, and he may even have been a great pitching mind, but something was wrong, eh?

    • hardy says:

      Dave Righetti should get a lot of the credit for the success (and health) of Bruce Bochy’s pitching staff.

  17. Tom says:

    For all of you who wish to credit the pitching coach for the success of the starters, by all means, please do so.

    And then who do you credit for picking a successful pitching coach? The manager, of course. And let’s even go further and credit the GM for hiring a smart manager who hired a good pitching coach.

    It is not an either/or decision. When things go well there is plenty of credit to go around for everyone. And when things go poorly they will all lose their jobs, at least eventually.

  18. Brian says:

    Interesting to see Crazy Bones, er, I mean Ozzie Guillen on this list with 4 seasons since he only had 8 to work with. He was only a manager from 2004-2011, and yet in that short time he pretty clearly established himself as a good pitcher’s manager. Or he just got lucky with the right teams.

    To quote the actual man, “I’d rather be lucky than good”.

  19. nightfly says:

    I don’t know about pitcher health being the secret to winning, but I know why poor pitching health tends to lead to disaster – once you have to move your sixth or seventh or eighth guy into the rotation and give him 100 or so innings, you are going to get creamed. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a similar effect for a stable regular lineup, counting the number of guys with 500 plate appearances, in effect making sure that the bench players and platoon types aren’t overexposed.

  20. Mark Daniel says:

    Maybe LaRussa took pitchers seriously when they said their arms hurt or were fatigued. Some managers might want pitchers to suck it up and keep pitching.

  21. Jesse Steck says:

    I’m surprised Joe Torre isn’t on this list. People talk on and on about Jeter and Mariano Rivera, but those two players alone, even at their absolute best, don’t win you a single World Series. Joe Torre had the benefit of some combination of Andy Pettite, Mike Mussina, David Wells, David Cone, Roger Clemens, and Orlando Hernandez. Change the equation to three healthy pitchers with and adequate substitute ready to step up (Ramiro Mendoza, the great unsung hero of the Torre dynasty), and you have the most successful team in recent memory.

  22. Chad says:

    The Police?

  23. Leslie Harris says:

    What a delightful article: thought-provoking entertainment from a point of view that hadn’t occurred to me, and posing a question that is, perhaps, ultimately unanswerable. Thanks, Joe!

    By the way, the friend you refer to–is his name Chance, and does he happen to be a gardener?

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