Bryan Price on Developing (But Not Babying) Pitchers

Bryan Price doesn’t believe in limiting pitchers. That much is clear based on his response to a question I posed during last week’s Winter Meetings. I asked the Cincinnati Reds manager — and former minor- and major-league pitching coach — if there are any changes he’d like to see in the way the organization develops pitchers.

I expected a more cautious answer than I received. Rather than pussyfoot, Price proffered a strong opinion. The way he sees it, babying pitchers in the minor leagues compromises their ability to work deep into games once they reach Cincinnati. Not only that, it can hinder their chances of becoming a top-notch starter.

Note: Price’s comments, which were delivered in a group setting, have been edited for clarity and continuity.


Bryan Price on developing pitchers: “The big challenge for me, personally, is a world where we want pitchers to throw less. I think they need to throw more. And not just necessarily bulk innings; I think pitchers need to throw more on the side. We have pitchers come through our system who throw bullpen sides of 25 to 30 pitches when we get them. I would like to see them have a bigger workload on their side days. I would like to see some of them throw twice between starts. I would like to see us build our starting pitchers to where they can carry a heavier workload in the minor leagues.

“We had Anthony DeSclafani complete a game in Arizona, in August. It was his first complete game in professional baseball. That, to me, is unheard of. And it’s not his fault. It’s the fault of this whole group of people that feel like we have to put these kids in a bubble.

“The injury rates aren’t going down with the amount of pitches, and innings, being lessened. That’s not happening. We’re still having our best pitchers have surgeries and miss time. It has not been proven that workload is a direct factor. I’d like to see our guys take on more of a workload.

“We have always used our common sense in this game. If you’ve got a minor-league pitcher who goes out and throws a 120-pitch complete game, you’re not going to let him throw another 120-pitch complete game the next time out. You might cut him back to five or six innings and 80 or 85 pitches. But we pay these guys a lot of money to play baseball — as a starting pitcher you’re going to make $8 million or $10 million or $12 million or $20 million — so you better be out there a lot.

“That was the beauty of Johnny Cueto — he pitched until the game was over if he was throwing the ball well. I would like to see more of that in the game because eventually the relievers are going to be the guys that are eating up all the innings. Those career spans are going to shorten. You can’t ask relievers to throw 125-150 innings, which is the way the game is headed if we start using these multiple-inning closers and setup guys with too much frequency.

“I understand the numbers going up [each time a pitcher goes through the order]. I understand that. But in my opinion, until you allow your young guys to pitch in innings seven, eight and nine, they will never be able to do that. You have to allow them to go through that order.

Clayton Kershaw isn’t Clayton Kershaw because the Dodgers said, ‘You know what, the third time through the lineup we have to get him out of there.’ He doesn’t become Clayton Kershaw unless he’s allowed to become Clayton Kershaw.

“There are going to be guys that are 90-pitch, five- or six-inning starters. No question about that. The game defines that, an organization defines that. But we’re putting too many limitations on the young pitcher to ever define if he’s capable of being Clayton Kershaw, or the next version of him. Or any other pitcher, like an Adam Wainwright —guys that have logged innings. We’re turning them all into six-inning pitchers and I don’t agree with it. Doesn’t mean I’m right, but I can tell you, I don’t agree with it.”

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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Pirates Hurdlesmember
6 years ago

Price’s is not going to be a popular opinion. The data that major league pitch and inning limits aren’t working does not preclude overuse as a cause of injury. The damage is likely done far before they step on a MLB mound.

6 years ago

That’s possible, but I’m not sure we have any data on that yet. I’m inclined to believe that much of it is the death of the multi sport high school athlete. When they mostly just play baseball year round, they aren’t developing other muscles/ligaments. I haven’t seen data on this yet, either, but I’m hoping someone is studying it.

I also think the overemphasis on one sport is the cause of higher velocity, so it isn’t necessarily all bad.