Cal Ripken’s streak of consecutive games started of 2,632 amount to approximately 16 full MLB seasons. Only one positional player started all 162 games of the MLB season in 2015, Baltimore Orioles’ third baseman Manny Machado. Baseball is no longer a sport where manager can simply Xerox copy his starting line-up from one day to the next, leaving only the starting pitcher spot blank. Let’s take a look at some of the forces that are behind this philosophical change throughout the MLB.
Among the many analytic-driven trends taking the sport by storm, preventative rest is undoubtedly the one that evokes the most ire among fans. Today organizations believe the health and overall production of individual players can be coordinated positively with players taking more and more days off.
We are in the midst of the era of specialization in baseball. In today’s MLB if you are a left-handed hitter and your numbers against left-handed pitching are not up to par, you can expect to be sitting on the bench when a lefty takes the mound. This was not always the case. The level of information available to managers and front offices make it nearly impossible to justify not sitting the hitter in the scenario above. Hand in hand with the era of specialization, the super-utility player has become as much a part of the roster as a closing pitcher. The numbers back it up too. In 2015 Brock Holt of the Boston Red Sox, who has started for Boston at every position except catcher and pitcher, produced a 2.6 WAR (wins above replacement) in 129 games.
When a general manager is constructing his 25 man-roster, he will likely seek to add a player to his roster that produces strong hitting numbers against each handed pitcher. There is an overall level of awareness amongst front offices in baseball today that further contribute to the value of specialists; meaning if a positional player has any weakness in his game, eventually he will be forced to sit on the bench.
The fact that Manny Machado played an entire season in the era of platoons and preventive rest is an enormous accomplishment. Though it was one of the more impressive feats in all of sports when it ended in 1998, Ripken’s streak has reached mythical proportions. One has to wonder if we may never see a single player play a full 162 game season again?