Johnson: New pitching system has upside

Published 10:28 pm Wednesday, May 1, 2013

One of the most difficult things to do in professional baseball is project a future major leaguer. Some guys have speed, others can hit but determining who will develop the well-rounded set of skills needed to produce a sustained career is tricky.

The Houston Astros have implemented a system in the hope of evaluating more pitchers in an effort to more quickly build depth at the position.

The tandem-starter philosophy has been around for nearly 40 years but never has it been used on the scale as the Astros. Houston general manager Jeff Luhnow has employed the system at every full-season level of the Astros farm system.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

The concept is to have two starters teamed together and pitching every fourth day as opposed to having five guys throw every fifth day.

A starter will throw up to 75 pitches before his partner takes over for around 60 pitches. Four days later, the roles are reversed. The reliever becomes the starter and the starter becomes the reliever. This, in turn, gives more opportunities over the course of a season for a pitcher to improve and work on flaws.

Some have argued that using the tandem-starter system will breed five-inning pitchers while others say that’s what is happening anyway.

Whether the tandem-starter system could be beneficial to modern player development over the course of several seasons is yet to be seen but one thing is mathematically true, more pitchers will have the chance to advance and prove themselves.

With the scheme, a pitcher who would normally be relegated to long relief duty can now have an opportunity to work on that change-up or better his fastball location. And, he’ll be able to do so every fourth day.

Another positive in the system’s favor is the effect it has on the pitcher’s efficiency. No longer can a guy go out and just throw until he reaches 105-110 pitchers or is knocked out of a game. He must use his 75 pitches wisely. At the professional level, a starter mush complete five innings in order to qualify for a win. With just 75 pitches to work with, a starter must be accurate and crisp.

An advocate of the system or not, it gives more players the chance to develop. In the Astros case, that is exactly what is needed.