Wednesday, June 24, 2015


It's been awhile since we exposed the ideology behind the "pitch the kids" movement that blemished baseball analysis back in the late 90s, at a time when some of us felt the need to "fight the good fight" against the careerist forces that eventually overran the field.

And the time frame between teams who made the post-season with young pitchers supplying 900+ IP (from 1991, when the Braves did it, and 2008, when the Rays did it...) is just about as long as it's been since we went back and actually checked the numbers...about seventeen years. Time has flown.

But the ongoing rarity of teams giving 900+ IP to young pitchers (for our purposes, these are pitchers aged 25 and younger...) is still intact. Since the great "play the kids" manifesto (Baseball Prospectus, 1998 edition), there have only been five teams to take up the gauntlet. Only one of those five (the aforementioned '08 Rays) rode young pitching to the World Series. The rest did not, and none of those teams with 900+ IP from young pitchers made it to the postseason in any of their next three seasons.

This year, it looks as though the Braves have a solid chance to be the first team in the 2010s to rely heavily enough on young pitchers to exceed 900 IP. No other team (see table at right) projects to give more than 600 IP to youngsters.

History tells us that this strategy is a rare one. Since 1914, it's happened only sixty-seven times. Only 3% of all major league teams over a century's worth of data have given 900+ IP to young pitchers.

The table at left shows that much of this occurred in three decades--the 1910s, the 1960s, and the 1970s. These decades account for two-thirds of the instances of heavy young pitcher workload.

Over the course of seventy-four years (1917-1990), only three teams--the 1949 Brooklyn Dodgers, the 1966 Baltimore Orioles, and the 1986 New York Mets--made it to the post-season with young pitchers throwing 900+ IP.

Since 1991, it's become primarily a "southern strategy"--with five of the seven trams hailing from either Florida or Georgia. If the Braves make it over 900+ IP this year, that trend will continue.

But it's also likely that the results will remain the same--the teams that rely on "kid pitchers" are overwhelmingly likely to be also-rans (88% of all such teams have missed the post-season).