Everyone wants to be a starting pitcher. This is the nature of pitching. Baseball’s rules don’t allow for the sort of individual transcendence other sports have. There is no quarterback, and there is no LeBron James. Starters, though, control as much of a game as any player ever can. Starters become heroes, brand names, superstars, more easily than any position player. And because position players make the dazzling defensive plays and notch the hits and runs that make up the outcome of a game, they’re involved in a different way, with every bit of the potential to make $10 million or more per year.
Nobody wants to be a relief pitcher, if we’re being honest. Even the looniest lefties start out as no-hitter-throwing high-school aces, and when the time comes when they must make the change to relief work, it hurts. Your chances of sticking in the Majors go way down when you give up the ghost and move to the bullpen. Your chances of getting generationally rich go way, way down.
Here at Banished to the Pen, we’re all relief pitchers. No one here is being paid for what we’re writing, researching, designing or editing. We’ve made the choice to pursue this because we found each other (mostly in the Facebook group for the excellent ‘Effectively Wild’ podcast); sensed common purpose and interest; enjoy talking about baseball; and want to widen and deepen that conversation. We’re taking to this with enthusiasm, even though there’s no glory in it. Why?
There are a few reasons why pitchers move from starting to relieving.
1. Durability – Some pitchers can’t hold up to a starter’s workload. They wear down from pitching to the point of exhaustion 30-plus times annually, putting their throwing arm at risk of catastrophic injury.
2. Skill set limitations – It takes three solid pitches, and the ability to command them all, to thrive as a starting pitcher. A starter must be able to keep hitters guessing even as they see him for a second and third time during a game. He must be able to handle right- and left-handed batters with relatively equal competence, or he’ll be exposed when managers load up their lineups with opposite-handed batters. In short, starting is a harder and more varied task than relieving, and it demands more talent.
3. “The stuff plays up” – For some pitchers, pitching in short bursts turns out to fit them much better than trying to pace themselves for longer outings. Whether the difference is mechanical or mental, some hurlers find their stuff so much sharper and harder to hit when throwing 15-20 pitches at a time that they actually reach performance levels they never could have achieved without making that change. In those cases, it’s worth it for them.
4. Roster rules – You don’t hear much about this one, but many pitchers who are drafted as projects, or who run into a large number of manageable but notable injuries simply run out of time to mature into starters. After signing their first pro contract, players have a fixed number of seasons to play in the Minors before they must be either added to their team’s 40-man roster or offered to the rest of the league. If they do get added, a new clock starts, and the player must stick on the 25-man big-league roster before it runs out, or again, the rest of the league gets a chance to take him away. Many pitchers are too good to be left exposed that way, but not good enough to start in the Majors by the time those clocks run out. Those guys land in relief because they must, but often have the potential, if handled well and patiently, to become a starter later on.
A lot of these, in some way, apply to those of us who will be posting at Banished to the Pen. When the handful of us with whom the idea started sent out a call for writers and editors, we heard from no fewer than 50 folks. Their reasons for wanting to hitch themselves to this wagon varied, from not having the time to build their own blog (having done it, I can tell you that doing so requires a lot of sleepless nights and rushed writing), to just getting started and not knowing how much or how well they can do this, to feeling like this was a place they could thrive in a way they might not have been able to elsewhere.
We welcome all of that. We’re all flawed, but it’s already clear to me that talent abounds here. Maybe fairly few of us have a changeup we can throw to the arm side of the plate, or the workhorse mentality to slog on into the eighth inning and past the 100th pitch, but there are some really good fastballs and some really interesting arm angles in our relief corps. Almost no matter your perspective on baseball, I’m confident that you’ll find something to like here. We have volunteer writers to cover every MLB team, a series of regular features in mind and a wide-open collective mind: make a suggestion, ask a question, and you might just see the subject matter of your inquiry hit our pages within the week. (Heck, we might ask you to write about it yourself.)
This blog comes from a podcast, and to a podcast (hopefully) it shall return. We hope to bring you content in a few different forums and formats. We won’t ape or plagiarize or live as a barnacle on the side of ‘Effectively Wild,’ but there will be content centered even upon that podcast itself. Today, you’ll see the debut of one of our regular features, episode recaps of every ‘Effectively Wild’ ever, starting at the beginning.
(At this time, we should take a moment to thank our godfathers, in a sense, Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller. They’re the co-hosts of ‘Effectively Wild.’ Their encouragement was the spark that begat the small flames in the Facebook group, and that we hope begets a healthy blaze of baseball banter here. Sam’s love of all the goofy inquiries that pour into the show’s inbox, and his ability to draw out an inside joke forever without its getting old, give the show its trademark feeling of fun. Ben’s tireless work to foster and broaden the audience, and his direct support for our idea, has given us the temerity to jump in with both feet.)
The bullpen is where the frivolity happens. The pranks, the bawdy talk, the hilarious confusion and the fan-versus-player fights, these things all help build the baseball we love, and they all go hand-in-hand with folding chairs and hoodies and chain-link fences. Relievers are often the most colorful characters in baseball, in part because our faults and failings are really what make us interesting, as humans, and no baseball player is more flawed than a middle reliever. I believe we can make baseball fun for you, whether it’s by breaking down Starlin Castro’s swing mechanics (his stride is maddeningly inconsistent, man) or arguing the merits of pantsless mascots. If you enjoy this game, you’ll enjoy this blog.
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