The abbreviated spring training for the 2022 MLB schedule has left starting pitchers in a tough spot. Many did not get their usual ramp-up work, and thus cannot pitch workloads to begin the season. That has put pressure on bullpens and left MLB bettors, in turn, with a thorny situation to navigate.
Which pitchers can they trust to throw deep into games? Should they be putting extra weight on teams’ middle relief and give less handicapping credence to teams with elite — but not stretched out — starters?
We’ll try to answer a few questions:
- Are starting pitchers throwing fewer innings than usual to begin the season?
- If so, how many fewer?
- Are aces especially affected as teams endeavor to protect their elite arms?
- Which top pitchers can you trust to go deeper into games than their peers right now?
Let’s dive into this very early look at MLB starting pitchers and their 2022 workloads.
Are MLB Pitchers Throwing Fewer Innings?
Short answer: yes. So far, MLB starting pitchers are indeed throwing less innings than in 2021. Take a look at their average innings per start through Monday’s games.
- 2022 MLB starters: 4.57 IP
- 2021 MLB starters: 5.02 IP
It’s not a big discrepancy. So far, MLB starters are indeed throwing slightly fewer innings than their 2021 counterparts. But, the difference is less than one out — remember that in innings pitched, anything above 4.2 is between 4 2/3 and a full 5 innings. Still, that represents a record low if it holds.
“But wait,” you may be saying. “Don’t pitchers normally throw fewer innings early as they ramp up their workloads?”
Even if we compare to only April starts last season, starters’ innings still drop. Last year, starters actually averaged a hair more innings pitched in April at 5.09.
I also wondered specifically about the best arms in MLB.
What About The Aces?
Many bettors, particularly recreational bettors, are attracted to betting on pitching aces. They feel a sense of security backing these elite arms, knowing they can usually count on strong performances that include some length. That means avoiding the potential minefield of middle relief, usually the worst pitchers on an MLB roster.
Should they feel that way so far in 2022?
To try to get an idea, I collected the top-30 starters in MLB based on FanGraphs’ preseason Steamer projections. Obviously, we’re dealing with tiny samples for each individual pitcher, but hopefully by combining their workloads we can get some idea of how deep the best arms are going. Let’s see whether their teams are treating them with kid gloves.
You can sort that table to see which pitchers are throwing the most pitches so far. You’ll have to crosscheck against the results and relevant news, however, to see if they are being pulled for poor performance or workload reasons.
These pitchers are averaging 5.2 IP per start, so they’re actually going deeper than their less talented counterparts. That’s what we should expect based on performance, but not if their teams are taking extra care to protect them. They have averaged about 83 pitches per game thus far, a bit down from the roughly 95 most starters average in general.
So, I think it’s safe to expect a small dip in pitch count, but since these guys are generally more efficient than less talented pitchers, that may not manifest in less innings.
MLB Starters: Maybe The Same As Ever?
I expected to come into this and see something that would tell me to hold off giving too much credit to MLB aces.
Instead, it doesn’t seem that actionable to me. MLB starting pitchers are basically doing the same thing they’ve always done, with the difference in length so far amounting to about one single out. Some managers were quoted as saying they’re capping guys at 70 pitches to start the season, but that doesn’t look to be much of a thing.
We’re just going to have to tailor our approaches to these pitchers to their individually assigned workloads. For instance, Clayton Kershaw looks like he’s not going to hit 100 pitches any time soon. Max Scherzer, on the other hand, just fired 102 and looks capable of a long outing even coming off a minor preseason injury.
If you use a model, you’ll have to make some small tweaks based on cases like Kershaw. If you’re just eyeballing the lines, be sure to do a little research before piling on certain pitchers. Workloads look like they’re varying a good amount in this early season weirdness.