With all this talk of rule changes this offseason, including speeding up the pace of play, Toronto Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins has his own idea: 7 Inning games. An extreme idea. With Rob Manfred and company looking for every possible way to make games go faster, this ultimately does that by eliminating 22% of the game, but at what cost?
Shortening the season from playing 1,458 innings to 1,134 for most teams is quite the difference, but what about for starting pitchers? Pitchers like Noah Syndergaard are suddenly throwing the entirety of games in almost every outing, when other guys like Tanner Roark become more valuable just because they can eat innings and throw entire ballgames with ease… Roark is extremely under-valued by teams, but he was quietly one of the best starting pitchers in the NL. Last season, Roark finished in the top 10 in: ERA, Wins, Pitcher WAR, Games Started, and Innings Pitched. But, with all this being said, how will it affect the use of bullpens in games, or seemingly the lack thereof?
When you sit back and look at data and evaluate what GM’s are doing when building their bullpens, they’re starting from the 9th inning and going backwards. This all really started with Dayton Moore and the Kansas City Royals shortly before their 2015 run towards the World Series with Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera and Luke Hochevar. Where do all of premier set up men come into play if this happens? One option might be as a closer. Take the Indians, they named Cody Allen their closer. This almost, by default, makes Andrew Miller their #1 arm in terms of being anywhere from a setup man, to a guy coming in to get out of tough jams. But if you just play 7 innings, what is the immediate need on a roster for someone like that, not as high. So what do you do? Trade one of them.
But, we can’t shorten our games! Doing this we would cross into dangerous waters… Records simply couldn’t be broken or viewed the same. You can shorten the movements in the game such as a “Pitch clock” but you can’t shorten the game itself.