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Tracy Ringolsby

Notes: Is it time to lower the mound again?

Following 1968 'Season of the Pitcher,' mound was dropped from 15" to 10"

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With an increasing number of serious arm injuries -- particularly those requiring Tommy John surgeries -- the suggestion has been made that Major League Baseball consider lowering the pitcher's mound again.

The mound was originally placed at an elevation 15 inches higher than home plate. But after a 1968 season in which the Major League earned run average was 2.98 -- the lowest in 50 years, and the 14th-lowest season ERA since 1901 -- it was lowered to 10 inches.

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Seven pitchers who qualified for the ERA title had an ERA below 2.00 that season, led by Bob Gibson of the St. Louis Cardinals, whose 1.12 ERA was the third-lowest since 1900. Dutch Leonard compiled a 0.96 ERA with the '14 Boston Braves, and Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown had a 1.04 ERA for the '06 Chicago Cubs.

Some in the medical field contend that the raised elevation creates an extra stress on the pitcher's arm. Supporters of lowering the mound point out that the longevity of a pitching career has extended since dropping the mound from 15 inches to 10 inches, and that could be enhanced by an ever bigger drop in the elevation.

There have been 29 pitchers who have pitched in at least 22 big league seasons since 1901, and 24 of them spent the bulk of their career in the big leagues after 1969, including all 10 pitchers who had careers of 24 seasons or longer.

Nolan Ryan is the ironman among pitchers with a 27-year career. Tommy John rebounded from the elbow surgery since named after him so well that he pitched 26 seasons in the big leagues - including 14 after the procedure. Jamie Moyer, Jim Kaat and Charlie Hough each pitched in 25 big league seasons. Jesse Orosco, Steve Carlton, Dennis Eckersley, Roger Clemens and Phil Niekro all pitched 24 seasons.

Pitchers may have longer careers now, but the workload is more spread out than in the past.

During the era of the 15-inch mound, when four-man rotations were the norm, it was not uncommon for league leaders to have well over 300 innings pitched. There has not been a pitcher work 300 innings in a season since 1980, when Carlton tossed 304.

The era of the lowered mound, however, has led to increases in career workloads. Walter Johnson is the game's modern (since 1900) all-time leader in innings pitched with 5,914 1/3 during his 21-year career from 1907-27. The next four on the list, however, pitched the bulk of their career after the mound was lowered: Neikro (5,404 1/3), Ryan (5,386), Gaylord Perry (5,350) and Don Sutton (5,282 1/3).

However, only four pitchers whose careers began in the 1980s are among the top 55 all-time in innings pitched: Greg Maddux (ninth, 5,008 1/3); Clemens (11th, 4,196 2/3), Tom Glavine, 21st (4,413 1/3); Randy Johnson (26th, 4,135 1/3) and Moyer (28th, 4,074)

What can't be disputed is that the lower mound does favor offenses.

Since the mound was lowered in 1969, the composite ERA for Major League pitchers has been 4.06. The composite ERA from '47-'68 was 3.79, and from '61-68 it was 3.53.

Six of the eight lowest season ERAs in the expansion era (since 1961) came in the eight years prior to 1969, led by the 2.98 MLB-wide mark in 1968.

Ex-pos

There are six players who wore the uniform of the Montreal Expos who figure to be on Opening Day rosters: Bartolo Colon of the Mets, Jamey Carroll of the Nationals, Scott Downs of the White Sox, Bruce Chen and Jon Rauch of the Royals and Macier Izturis of the Blue Jays.

Luis Ayala, who was released last week by Washington, signed with Baltimore, but it was a Minor League deal. He could be up at some point during the season, but not likely for Opening Day. Endy Chavez is in camp with Seattle, but he is not expected to make the Opening Day roster.

The Expos moved to Washington and became the Nationals in 2005.

There are three players who were originally signed by the Expos who remain active. Ian Desmond, a third-round pick in 2004, is with Washington, and Cliff Lee, a fourth-round pick in '00, is with Philadelphia. Roger Bernadina, signed as a free agent out of Curacao by Montreal in '01, is in camp with Cincinnati as a non-roster player, and he went into Saturday hitting .419.

Feeling the Draft

With Ervin Santana signing with Atlanta, Kansas City will receive at least four of the top 59 selections in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft. The Royals are in line for the 17t pick, the 28th pick as compensation for the loss of Santana, the 40th selection in the Competitive Balance Round A, and their own pick in the second round, the 57th selection.

If Kendrys Morales signs, however, the Royals would lose a spot in the draft beginning with the 28th pick, which would be pushed back to 29th, and if Stephen Drew also signs, they would lose two selection spots, beginning with the 40th pick being pushed back to 42nd in the Competitive Balance Round A.

Four teams have lost first-round picks for signing free agents -- the Yankees (Brian McCann), Seattle (Robinson Cano), Texas (Shin-Soo Choo) and Baltimore (Ubaldo Jimenez).

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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