Monday, January 30, 2017

Hunting For A 200 Inning Pitcher

Photo Credit: Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports
Pitching continues to evolve as teams try to find the right balance between starting pitching and relief pitching. During last year's playoffs, pitchers like Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman took on even more important roles. For the first time in the World Series, no starting pitcher threw more than six innings.

With pitching continuing to change, the hunt for a 200-inning pitcher can seem like trying to find Bigfoot.

When the Twins Winter Caravan stopped in Fargo, ND last week, the focus of much of the discussion was on the Twins finding a pitcher to toss 200 innings. Current television announce Bert Blyleven was one of the guests along with right-handed pitcher Jose Berrios.

Blyleven is from a bygone baseball era where Tommy John surgeries weren't common place and starting pitchers threw well into the late innings of games. Berrios has spent his professional career in a time when pitchers seem to get hurt more often and other's go through multiple major surgeries.

Over the better part of the last decade, the number of pitchers to throw over 200 innings has steadily declined. From 2010 through 2015, there were 227 pitchers who reached the 200 inning mark. Two of those players, Phil Hughes and Carl Pavano, wore a Twins uniform.
The downward trend in 200 inning pitchers has followed through most of the 21st century. From 2000-2006, there were 298 pitchers with seasons of 200 innings or more. This means there were 71 more pitchers to reach this mark in the first seven years of the century compared to the last seven years.

Throughout Twins history, there have been 97 occurrences of pitchers throwing at least 200 innings. Bert Blyleven accounts for six of the top 12 innings totals including a team record 325 innings pitched in 1973. Jim Kaat and Dave Goltz are the only other Twins pitchers to surpass 300 innings pitched in one season.

In recent Twins history, 200 inning pitchers have been few and far between. Phil Hughes pitched almost 210 inning during his record break 2014 campaign. Before that, Carl Pavano had back-to-back seasons where he threw over 220 innings. Scott Baker and Nick Blackburn both topped 200 inning in 2009, the Metrodome's final year. While Johan Santana, had a stretch of three straight seasons (2005-2007) where he averaged over 228 innings.

A young Johan Santana isn't walking into Target Field. Does this mean the Twins won't have another 200 inning pitcher?

Ervin Santana was the closest pitcher to 200 innings last season. Across 30 starts, he threw over 180 innings. In five of his 12 big league seasons, he has thrown over 200 innings so there is a chance for him to hit that mark again in 2017.

Phil Hughes is coming off a major surgery and no one knows what version of the pitcher will arrive in spring training. He's the most recent Twins player to accomplish the feat but 2017 doesn't seem like a year where he will be able to pitch enough to reach that mark.

Other players like Jose Berrios and Kyle Gibson could make a run at 200 innings pitched. Berrios has never pitched more than 166.1 innings during his professional career. A jump to 200 inning might be quite the leap for 2017 but it could be a reasonable expectation for the following year. Gibson threw almost 195 innings in 2015 so it's not out of the question for him to get back to that level.

In the long run, a 200 inning pitcher might not be the most important thing in the world. Minnesota's pitching staff has struggled for multiple seasons so a lot of miles have been put on some bullpen arms. The Twins need starters to pitch further into games to take some strain off the relievers. If a 200 inning pitcher (or two) comes out of this, consider it a bonus.

Will the Twins have a 200 inning pitcher again? Who do you think could be the next player to accomplish the feat? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

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