I Repeat: A “Five-To-Six Inning Pitcher” Is Not A Bad Thing

Consider this post my informal proposal to retire the phrase “he’s a five-to-six inning pitcher.” This phrase – used with some regularity in baseball circles – always has a respectfully negative connotation to it. It’s intended to say tactfully “he’s not very good, but he’ll take his lumps and get you through nearly two-thirds of the game.” Most recently, ESPN’s Buster Olney used it to describe the Phillies’ Jamie Moyer:

With Moyer essentially a five-to-six inning pitcher these days, the last thing that the Phillies need is to acquire another starter who would consistently leave 9 to 15 outs on the table for the bullpen. 

Olney and every other baseball writer continually neglects the fact that the average starting pitcher in the major leagues is “a five-to-six inning pitcher.” Look at the average length of a pitcher’s start since 2000:

  • 2009: 5.80 IP
  • 2008: 5.80 IP
  • 2007: 5.79 IP
  • 2006: 5.82 IP
  • 2005: 5.99 IP
  • 2004: 5.85 IP
  • 2003: 5.86 IP
  • 2002: 5.85 IP
  • 2001: 5.91 IP
  • 2000: 5.91 IP

As you can see, a phrase that is meant to criticize politely actually describes an average performance. Furthermore, there are many, many teams in Major League Baseball that would love to have someone who is “essentially a five-to-six inning pitcher.” There’s good value in average starting pitching, believe it or not. Since average starting pitching is somewhere between five and six innings per start, I propose that we banish the critical usage of “five-to-six inning pitcher.” Such criticism would be valid in, say, 1954; pitchers threw 463 complete games that year. But in the modern game, this qualifier adds nothing.

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