In modest fashion, the Oakland A's implemented a new pitching system at every minor league level up through AA. Details here (2080 baseball).
- Each team names 8 starting pitchers
- The pitchers are paired off into 4 groups
- Each group will throw in games every 4 days instead of the traditional 5
- The pitchers in each group alternate between starting and relieving
- Pitch counts will be limited to 65-75 pitches per outing.
- 2-3 additional pitchers get experience as a starting pitcher at each level. That's roughly 15-20 pitchers in your farm system that are getting a prolonged opportunity to develop as a starter (of sorts).
- Each starter has incentive to be as efficient as possible with their approach. The starter will conceivably want to get as deep into the game as possible with their 65-75 pitch allotment.
- 5 additional pitchers get experience coming out of a bullpen (who would typically be starting), warming up quickly during the game and potentially starting out with men on base. Long relief experience should any of them end up in that role.
- Each starter does get more frequent in-game experience. Though the innings might end up similar, being able to work on something and try it out in a game sooner can potentially help the development of each pitcher.
- Multiple times through the order reinforcing bias. This is a big one throughout all of baseball, by throwing all of their pitches and succeeding in shorter 3-4 inning outings, the A's are never putting an onus or expectation on their starters to navigate a lineup even two full times until they reach AAA. Each pitcher can employ a reliever's approach and throw the kitchen sink at a hitter if they so choose.
- More inconsistent reliever workload. For the non-chosen 8 pitchers at every level, work will be thin to come by. So far, most tandems have been going 4.0 IP each time out. See AJ Puk or Logan Shore's seasons to date. People like Casey Meisner are ensuring greater inning availability on the staff, but it stands that a solid start by each member of the tandem only leaves 1 inning up for grabs. A solid start for even a conventional 5-man rotation spot would only leave 2-3 innings, though the remainder of the game would be split by 8 relievers instead of 5. I did more number crunching but actually ended up with a fairly similar number of total innings available on a per-pitcher level. The only difference is going to be consistency of opportunity.
- Durability and Pitchability as a carrying tool gets hidden. This one is something that could still shine through in AAA, but there's no way to enable a pitcher to show off his own durability, approach or even consistent control across a deeper outing. Even if this is not a priority for the A's, they're not allowing their pitchers to display such qualities for the other organizations scouting their system. Depends on the scout in this case, as I still projected above average durability and control for both Daulton Jefferies and Logan Shore from their 4 IP outings.
I originally thought of all the downsides to this sort of system being employed throughout the minors but it's exactly the kind of approach that will allow a team like the A's to develop more players. While the cream of the crop isn't necessarily getting to shine or develop as much ML-applicable experience, innings are spread farther around and more arms are getting a chance to develop.
I hesitate to crown this as any sort of revolutionary development, but rather a risk/reward that many organizations may not be willing to take. It will be interesting to see how the pitchers from this year respond to greater workloads as they get to AAA and the MLB or if the A's are using this year to test the efficacy of this system before potentially applying it to the MLB.