You could hear the wailing across the country as Sportswriters wrung their hands, gnashed their teeth, and tore their clothes at yet another attempt by the Astros to undermine the integrity of the game. Jeff Luhnow said that the Astros are going with a Piggyback system from Triple-A Oklahoma City all the way down to Low-A Quad Cities in 2013.
What does that mean? There will be two starting pitchers throwing per game - one will throw five innings or 75 pitches (whichever comes first) and the other will throw four innings or 60 pitches.
“I don’t believe that it’s ever been done (in baseball) at the Triple-A
and Double-A levels. It’s been done at the lower levels. …
When I was the Cardinals, we did it at both of the A-ball levels.”
Of course this set a few people off. CBS Sports' Danny Knobler, for one, who predictably questioned the move, wondering how it helped. (Helped what? We don't know.)
Perhaps it wouldn't have been as alarming for these poor writers if they had paid even a little bit of attention, since Jeff Luhnow mentioned this in, what, January?
The real reason the Astros are doing this is because they've brought in so many pitchers through the draft and trades in the last 15 months that they had to come up with something. The Crawfish Boxes' David Coleman tweeted about it brilliantly:
Absolutely right. Other than starting a new affiliate, what were their options to fully evaluate the pitchers they have? Send them to Extended Spring Training where they can face inferior competition, or implement the Piggyback System to identify which starting pitchers rise to the top? In this way, the Astros can evaluate their assets appropriately and not have an eight-man rotation.
It's not going to last all season. But what it will do is to create a spirit of competition among the 172 pitchers across the four levels to distinguish themselves. They're a competitive group of people, presumably, so they'll push each other.
Is it orthodox? No, it's not. But what has been orthodox about the new regime? If this system limits injuries (mentioned by Luhnow), give it a shot.