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Starting Pitchers in the Modern Era and Nostalgia

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Sep 24, 2013; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Michael Wacha (52) throws to a Washington Nationals batter during the first inning at Busch Stadium. Photo: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

By Tom Liberman |

My beloved St. Louis Cardinals recently defeated the New York Mets behind a stellar six-inning pitching performance from Michael Wacha. The Cardinals have an excellent presence on social media including Facebook and I often visit the page after a game. In this case a comment caught my eye. A fellow was quite angry Wacha was being praised for his performance and the commenter waxed nostalgic for a bygone era when starting pitchers went eight or nine innings regularly.

Times have changed. We are in an era of specialization. Starting pitchers don’t go that many innings any more because relief pitchers have better success late in the game, thanks to fresher arms and tendency matchups. The reality is stark and plain but the comment reminded me of an inclination in people to tightly hold onto ideas from a time of their youth. This is not only a lesson in baseball, sports in general, but in life as well.

Did you resist purchasing a smart phone? A tablet? Will you resist automatic cars when they soon become readily available?

If the Cardinals decided they wanted to have their starting pitchers go seven or more innings in every outing and set their bullpen up with fewer arms as part of this strategy; well, there is no doubt in my mind they’d finish in last place every year. Time marches on and it is imperative to accept this reality or you face falling hopelessly behind.

When the Oakland Athletics were the first team to fully grasp the meaning of modern statistical analysis they immediately became a powerhouse. The Red Sox followed and the Cardinals were also an early adapter of this method of evaluation. Teams that stuck with the old methods were, and remain, losers.

In football we see the same thing with rotational systems at many positions. It’s the same across the world in any number of endeavors and athletic competitions.

Sports is an extraordinarily competitive environment. If you don’t accept change and better methods of doing things you will not succeed. Does anyone remember Laurent Fignon refusing to wear an aerodynamic helmet and losing to Greg LeMond in the 1989 Tour de France?

That’s the reality of this world in which we live. New ideas and better methods of doing things come along. Sure, we remember the days of our youth with fondness and there is a natural tendency to denigrate the young lions of today in comparison to the heroes of our youth. Natural it might be, but it’s wrong and, if you want to succeed, dangerous.

Keep up or fall behind and, of course, Go Cards!

Tom Liberman is a writer of sword and sorcery fantasy novels from St. Louis, Mo. He enjoys spending his time with his wonderful family and great friends.

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