Since things are a bit slow around here, I wanted to bring up the hypothetical discussion a buddy and I have had a few times about a philosophical change to baseball.
Essentially the idea comes down to having your pitching staff consisting of 12 guys capable of throwing multiple innings. Theoretically, you would have 3 pitchers per day throwing 3 innings each time, and throwing every 4 days. I've long been intrigued by this philosophy, and have no idea how it would work in reality. But the reason we've brought it up again in discussion comes down to the rash of Tommy John injuries that seem to keep popping up. If you assume no extra inning games and no injuries throughout the year, your staff each throws 121.5 innings per year, which is substantially lower than a healthy starter, but substantially higher than most relievers. Even if your "best" starter works 4 innings instead of 3 every start, you still end up at around 160 innings, which is still really low (and lower than the "innings limit" that is arbitrarily put upon young pitchers).
I know there's no scientific evidence that links a certain number of innings to likelihood of injury, but you have to figure common sense would indicate that throwing less than 80 pitches, including warmups, every 4 days would be less taxing then running out there and throwing 150 with warmups every 5 days.
Now obviously there are major downfalls that would hold you back from doing this. Players would most likely hate it, because their arbitrary stats would decline. The first guy out's record would be miserable. Since he would rarely (possibly never) get to 5 innings, he'd only qualify for losses, but not wins. No one pitcher would have abundant save chances, as each pitcher only throws 40-41 times a year.
Obviously we are winning, so we wouldn't do it, but wouldn't this year's Brewers almost be the perfect team to attempt this with? We don't have a true ace (although our starting staff has been great.) Our AAA affiliate is loaded with middle to end of the rotation upside guys. But essentially your staff this year could consist of Yo, Lohse, Garza, Peralta, Estrada, Thornburg, Smith, Fiers and Nelson, who would all actually probably fit well here. You could have stretched out Kintzler and Duke to be potential guys, and just need to find one more guy. And our farm is riddled with guys who fit that mid to back end starter type as well. Those seem like the perfect guys to use in this system as well. Plus, if you want a 13 man staff, you have a swing guy to use when needing a pinch hitter or if someone is struggling.
Here's how I see it with positives and negatives.
Can utilize pinch hitters more throughout the game. If the pitcher is up in the 3rd inning, you can already use a pinch hitter (or if you have a decent hitting pitcher on an off day, use him).
You can position guys to go together. Like have the lighter throwing Fiers start off, bring in Thorny throwing upper 90s, and finish with Estrada and his changeup.
Like I've said, you limit pitches and potentially limit stress on arms. Also, you allow guys to go for strikeouts more. One beef people have always had with Yo before this year is that he can barely get through 6 because he goes for strikeouts and throws too many pitches. This can allow guys to throw more pitchers per outing, but still be down on pitches for the season.
It negates the impact of injuries. If your "top" guy goes down, you're only replacing three innings at a time instead of 7 or 8.
Gives you a ton of flexibility. If your "starter" is throwing well and not throwing a ton of pitches, you can let him go 4 or 5 if he's only thrown like 80 pitches. You can also get a "short" start and not be as taxed as bullpens tend to get.
Attracting free agents is almost impossible. Top line guys would never want to come, and even mid tier starters would worry that they limit their future as starters by learning to only throw 3 innings per outing.
You lose pinch hitting flexilibity at the ends of games, otherwise risk having to bring someone in on shorter rest (can be negated theoretically by the 13 flex guy.)
Lose the ability to play matchups like you can with your LOOGY.
You negate the impact that a true stud would have. If you have a Kershaw or a Fernandez, you take away between 50-80 innings of them each year. (potentially a good thing if you're keeping them healthier).
Anyone have any thoughts on the ramblings of a crazy man?
Yeah, a crazy man. Pitching wins games, when a guy is on he can win a game easily by himself. In your idea you would need to have 3 pitchers on to win games. Also then you would be putting extra arm stress on your relievers hence maybe saving some starters and losing more relievers.
I really don't think that these injuries are do to overworking guys. I think it is that the science of baseball at least pitching has grown so fast that there are so many guys throwing 5 mph faster than their arms can handle. Eventually something gives, either they lose there gas or something breaks.
Regardless of cause of why someone gets hurt, I think we can all agree that there's no certain pitch or inning limit on when an arm "breaks." But doesn't common sense say that if you do something risky less often, you decrease your chances of injury? The human arm wasn't really designed to throw things overhand. Its capable of doing so, but its much "safer" to throw underhand. Same with the human lung not being designed to smoke cigarettes. But people still do that. Now, there are people who smoke 2 packs a day for their whole life and never get lung cancer. There are people who smoke less than a pack a day, and they get lung cancer. There's no cigarette limit that immediately triggers lung cancer. But if you were set on still smoking cigarettes, but wanted to minimize your chance of lung cancer, wouldn't you agree that smoking less would probably be wise?
That's how I view the strain of injuries in baseball too. You aren't going to get guys to throw softer. So what can you do to minimize injury? Wouldn't it have to be limit the amount of strain put on the arm?
And like you said, you'd be risking more relievers, but that's why in order for something like this to work, you'd have to have buy in from a complete organizational level. You wouldn't sign or develop the traditional reliever. You would stretch out the "traditional" relievers in your minor league system to be multiple inning guys. I mean, look at the majority of relievers coming up. Most of those guys are minor league starters who just don't quite cut it. Its not like they aren't capable of throwing multiple innings at that point. You would just continue that up through the system into the majors.