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William Coppola

Coppola: The Perfect Bullpen

Neil Miller/Sportsday Wire

I have just come up with the perfect solution, for the closer, setup guy and 7th inning guy in baseball: My idea for the “Perfect Bullpen”. Most teams struggle to find, the right combination of middle relief, setup and closer. This has probably never been tried, at anytime, in the history of baseball. You may think I am crazy or delusional but what if teams worked on a conditioning program with their starting pitchers?

A program that would give them the strength to pitch seven, eight. or even nine innings? How about a running program to build up stamina? If they can pitch seven quality innings, it would eliminate the need for a middle relief guy. If they went eight innings, teams would only need a closer. And, holy smokes, if a pitcher could go nine innings, they wouldn’t need a closer that much.

We could call it, a “Complete Game”.

Seriously, what has happened to this game? Today, these guys are in better shape than anyone in the history of baseball. They have strength and conditioning coaches, weight rooms with the most amazing equipment. They make use of massage therapists, nutritionist, psychiatrists and hypnotists. They have, at their disposal, a staff of trainers and doctors, that rival most hospitals .

Has the ‘complete game’ disappeared, through evolution? Like the tail on humans? Does the term “If you don’t use it, you lose it” apply here?

MLB, on their site, lists the stat column for complete games (CG) and shutouts (SHO) on page two! Young fans today think CG and SHO are TV channels on cable. Only once, since Randy Johnson in 1999, have we had a starting pitcher, with more than 10 complete games pitched in a season. Over the past five years, the top five pitchers from both leagues averaged 4.5 complete games to lead the major leagues. A total of 84 CG and 36 SHO for 2430 games in 2016.

Hard to pitch a shutout when you can’t complete a game. It wasn’t long ago, that pitchers would have 15 to 24 complete games in a season. Catfish Hunter had 30 for the 1975 Yankees. The majority of these guys had long careers and could pitch with pain. This was when throwing 120 pitches, was normal. They did a lot of running, drank beer and had salami sandwiches after their games, with an ice pack on their shoulders.

That was their conditioning program.

One of the problems today, is the pitching mentality, at every level of the sport. We see young kids throwing, as hard as they can, for as long as they can and trying to bust the gun times to impress scouts. If they manage to get to the big leagues by the age of 25, before their arms explode, they get there with the arms of a thirty- year old.

Teach them how to pitch, not how to throw and they will be able to give you more innings.

Another problem is, agents and owners. For the agents, their client, is their pay check. They put pressure on the owners to limit innings. The owners have a ton of money invested in these players and want to protect their investments. Like all those twenty to thirty million dollar a year pitchers, who average six and two third innings per game, categorized as, “Quality Starts”. Today, pitch counts have become the reason for removing a starter.

If your starter is getting batters out, why would you want to replace him with, a guy who has been on his I-Phone for six innings? The baseball geniuses that run these teams, should take a good look at the stats for blown saves. (386 in 2016). That doesn’t include when a lead is lost in the middle innings by a reliever. MLB keeps those stats locked up, in a Mayonnaise jar in a West Virginia coal mine.

Going to the bullpen is like that box of chocolates from Forrest Gump, “You don’t know what you’re gonna get”.

Editor’s Note: William Coppola just completed his 40th year in the game of baseball. He has been a coach, instructor and professional scout.


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