MLB’s era of ‘load management’ is just getting started

first_img Angels offense breaks out to split doubleheader with Astros Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error Jose Suarez’s rocky start sinks Angels in loss to Astros Dodgers’ Will Smith: ‘I feel like it’s been five years’ since his 2019 debut Angels’ Shohei Ohtani spending downtime working in outfield Absent any sophisticated specificity, then, we see a general trend toward more rest. A manager might hope that sitting his third baseman on Monday will make him more effective on Tuesday, but for now it is still a hope. The hard data to support that conclusion just isn’t there yet. This is more true for position players than pitchers, whose velocity, spin rate, and spin efficiency might offer clues about his health.Still, said one MLB pitching coordinator, there’s “still a lot of work to be done.”None of this will console the fan who came to the ballpark expecting to see his or her favorite player, only to learn he got the day off because he’s played 20 games in a row. Maybe 20 games is a bit too ambitious for 2019.Cal Ripken Jr. famously holds the record for most consecutive games played, with 2,632. That record will never be broken. Entering the 2020 season, the active leader in consecutive regular-season games played is Kansas City Royals outfielder/second baseman Whit Merrifield.Merrifield has played 247 consecutive games.center_img Harvard-Westlake alum Lucas Giolito throws no-hitter for White Sox The same goes for the bottom of every batting order. Only four and a half players per team, on average, received enough plate appearances in 2019 to qualify for the batting title. The rest of a lineup is more of a rotating cast than ever. Except when it comes to the best of the best players, managers and general managers seem content to divide their team’s workload at the cost of individual accolades.What’s going on?Injuries are partly to blame. The number of days lost to the injured list (formerly the disabled list) shot up 24 percent among position players in the last year, according to Spotrac. For starting pitchers, IL days lost increased by 4 percent.Something else is at work, too. It’s tied directly to the collection of analytical data by major-league front offices. The specifics differ from team to team, but the end result is the same: The days of the 250-inning starting pitcher, or the batter who plays all 162 games, “are gone,” said Dr. David Altchek, an orthopedic specialist with the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York.“There’s not going to be a sudden reversion,” Altchek said. “We have our highest-paid players not playing. It’s ridiculous.” Welcome to MLB’s era of “load management.” The hottest buzz phrase in the NBA has been part of baseball’s fabric forever, if not its lexicon. Take the five-man starting rotation. This built-in system of rest has been the norm for generations of pitchers. Ask Danny Ozark about Steve Carlton’s “load management,” however, and he might assume you said stevedore by mistake.The change has really taken hold among position players – and not just back-of-the bench substitutes. Some degree of load management has become the norm, even among stars. In the last 11 seasons, four position players won a Most Valuable Player award while playing fewer than 140 games. That equals the number of sub-140-game MVPs from 1964 to 2008, excluding strike-shortened seasons.“Load management is probably another term for recovery,” Altchek said. “Just like any athletic endeavor, or your own training, if you go too hard too often, you start to go backwards instead of forwards. Baseball season is very long and very repetitive. It’s a challenge because you have to let these athletes recover. Nobody has a scientific measure of how much recovery they need, or don’t need. We tend to base it individually on past history.”Altchek went on to make an important distinction. Teams are collecting plenty of biomechanical data on their players these days. The proliferation of wearable tech has provided reams of information about the forces baseball players exert swinging a bat and throwing a ball. This is more true for minor leaguers than major leaguers, whose union prohibits teams from collecting certain data without the player’s permission.The question guiding baseball’s load management movement is what to do with all that data. Nestled in Altchek’s quote is a rather damning conclusion: teams are still relatively clueless.“Everyone’s more in a measurement phase than an execution phase,” he said. “Nobody really knows yet. We’re more in a data-collection phase, the first inning of this sport science phenomenon.”Related Articles In 1998, a record 96 pitchers qualified for an earned-run average title. Major League Baseball had just expanded to 30 teams. There were more players, and more pitchers, than ever. In the years that followed, the number of ERA qualifiers – pitchers who threw at least 162 innings in a season – hovered in the eighties and nineties.Then after the 2014 season, a funny thing happened. Qualifying for an ERA title became somewhat rare. Only 78 pitchers qualified in 2015, then 74, then 58. By 2018, MLB had only 57 qualifiers or fewer than any individual season from 1901 to 1944 (when there were only 16 teams!).This coincided with a similar trend among position players. To qualify for a batting title, a hitter must make 3.1 plate appearances per team game. The trend line since 1998 isn’t as steep or as steady. Still, from 2018 to 2019, the number of batting-title qualifiers fell from 141 to 135 – the lowest number since 1992, the final season of the 26-team era.On a fundamental level, this forces us to think differently about what to expect when we watch a baseball game. It’s long been true that a starting pitcher isn’t expected to complete all nine innings, save for rare occasions. Now it’s also true that only two pitchers per team on average will throw 162 innings in a season. The Angels, in an extreme example, saw only one pitcher (Trevor Cahill) throw even 100 innings in 2019. For many clubs, the idea of using a consistent third, fourth and fifth starter over a full season is a chimera.last_img

Related Post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *