Could Postseason Pitching Moves Prompt Rules Changes?

Throwing a no-hitter at any level is a pitcher’s dream, so you can imagine how amazing it would be to record one in the World Series. Atlanta rookie Ian Anderson was headed down that path for five innings Friday night, keeping the Astros off the board with four strikeouts. His three walks — one of which opened the game — ensured perfection was never a topic of conversation, but the 23-year-old righty had thrown only 76 pitches and didn’t appear to be laboring too much.

In fact, he closed out the 5th on just nine pitches, including a three-pitch strikeout of Marwin Gonzalez to end the frame. Anderson’s fastball was losing a little juice, though, and Houston had the top of the order coming up in the 6th. So with his team up just 1-0 at the time, manager Brian Snitker pulled his young starter and turned the game over to his bullpen.

Aside from the added importance of the no-hitter, this felt a lot like Game 6 of last year’s World Series when Rays manager Kevin Cash pulled Blake Snell from the game early. Tampa likewise led 1-0 at the time and Snell had struck out nine with no walks while allowing just two hits. The second of those came with one out in the 6th, at which point Cash gave the ball to Nick Anderson.

The reliever promptly allowed a double to Mookie Betts to put two runners in scoring position, then uncorked a wild pitch that allowed the Dodgers to tie the game. A subsequent fielder’s choice gave LA the lead and effectively clinched the title.

Friday’s game didn’t have the same stakes because elimination wasn’t a factor, which is why Alex Rodriguez and others believe Snitker made a mistake. But as Joe Maddon will tell you when it comes to making pitching changes in the World Series, the only thing that matters is that you win in the end. Of course, Maddon and Cash subjected themselves to a bit more scorn because their decisions resulted in immediate disaster.

Maddon’s choice was further scrutinized because he had stated publicly that he wouldn’t bring Jon Lester into a “dirty” inning. Yet there he was after a two-out walk by Hendricks, strolling to the mound to call for the lefty. A single, a throwing error, and a wild pitch ensued and Cubs had given up two runs to tighten what had been a 5-1 game.

That one actually feels a lot like Cash’s decision, except the Cubs went on to win their game. People forget that.

In any case, this latest choice on the game’s biggest stage is unique neither in terms of the World Series or in this postseason as a whole. Whether out of necessity or the desire to create some sort of matchup advantage, we’ve seen full-on bullpen games and the use of openers by teams that don’t normally employ that strategy. As of this moment, the Braves’ starter for Saturday’s Game 4 is still TBD and the Astros are going with Zach Greinke, who has appeared in just two games this postseason.

Regardless of the particular strategies being employed, it remains true that winning is all that really matters in the end. Whether you get a complete game from your starter or have to empty the entire bullpen/arm barn, scoring more runs than the other team and hoisting the trophy will justify the means. Trouble is, that’s not as entertaining for most folks.

I mean, no-hitters aren’t just fun for the guys throwing them. The tension gets cranked up ten-fold in situations like that, and we’re talking about an atmosphere that’s already charged well beyond normal standards. Getting to see a no-no in a World Series game would be epic. But you know what’s even more epic? Winning. We’ll never know whether Anderson could have gutted out a few more innings, so the final has to tell the story.

Which brings us to the whole point about whether baseball should address situations like this by changing rules to set different parameters and protect pitchers. Of course, how that can actually be accomplished is a fraught topic that probably isn’t going to find anything approaching universal acceptance.’s Mike Petriello had some suggestions, including implementing a pitch clock and limiting the number of pitchers on the roster.

One response in the thread suggested mandating either six or nine outs by a starter, but that doesn’t necessarily accomplish anything. Other than eliminating the whole opener thing, it effectively means a manager has to hang a starter out there to wear a poor effort unless he’s injured. That’s fine for early in the season or when the staff is overtaxed, not so much in a big game where you can’t just stick with a pitcher who clearly doesn’t have it.

At the heart of the matter for MLB is whether it makes sense to legislate the game in the interest of entertainment, something the league has been trying to do for years. Lowering the mound might actually help by giving pitchers a little less of an advantage, but it could also reduce the stress of throwing from an elevated position. Of course, increasing offensive output isn’t the best way to keep starters in the game longer.

Limiting the number of pitchers on a staff would make managers’ decisions a bit more difficult since they couldn’t simply burn through the barn every game. Then again, you could run into the same issue of having to make a guy wear one. That’s fun for the opponents, at least.

I’m not sure what should happen, if anything, especially since I lean heavily toward the side of winning above providing fan service. If you’re pissed that you didn’t get to see a no-hitter even though your team won, you need to seriously think about your priorities. And hey, maybe saving an inning or two on Anderson’s arm might mean he can pitch more the next time out. Maybe he can work in relief if needed, just like Lester.

This has really just been a way for me to sort of work through a few things out loud before offering up the virtual suggestion box below. What do you all think about pulling starters before they run into trouble? What about pulling them at the very first sign that they might be getting a little shaky? Should MLB explore rules changes to protect pitchers and/or limit the kind of all-hands-on-deck approach we see these days?

Have at it, I’m interested to hear your thoughts.

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