To the surprise of no one, Stephen Strasburg ascended the pitcher’s mound nine times in Game 6 of the World Series. He had thrown 102 pitches over the first eight innings. The Nationals were leading comfortably, 7-2. The written recaps were all but filed in the press box. In the dugouts, they could begin rehearsing their press conference clichés.If there was a surprise, it came after Strasburg threw two pitches to induce a line-drive out from the Astros’ Yuli Gurriel to begin the ninth inning: his day was done. Nationals bench coach Chip Hale fetched the ball from his starting pitcher – Manager Dave Martinez had been ejected earlier in the game – and handed it to Sean Doolittle. With that, a month that began with talk of bullpenning and starters serving as middle relievers had come full circle. Strasburg, like so many pitchers who came before him in October, was expected to finish a game he started.The postseason provided a weird if not refreshing finish to the decade. A year ago, only four playoff starters were allowed to throw 100 pitches or more. After Max Scherzer threw 103 pitches in Game 7 of the World Series on Wednesday night, that number reached 25.Some of this is attributable to the teams involved. The Nationals rode Strasburg and Scherzer beyond 100 pitches this month more often than they did not. Alex Cora didn’t push any Red Sox starter past 97 pitches en route to the 2018 championship, and they didn’t participate in the 2019 postseason. Harvard-Westlake alum Lucas Giolito throws no-hitter for White Sox Jose Suarez’s rocky start sinks Angels in loss to Astros Dodgers’ Will Smith: ‘I feel like it’s been five years’ since his 2019 debut Angels offense breaks out to split doubleheader with Astros Angels’ Shohei Ohtani spending downtime working in outfield If the postseason heroics of Cole, 29, and Strasburg, 31, are somehow baked into the value of their next contracts, this could conceivably serve as a rising tide that lifts all boats. The cost to sign Ryu, Bumgarner, etc. could rise – at least, the next tier of starting pitchers can only hope.Actually, they can do more than hope. That’s because …3. OLDER STARTERS GENERALLY HELD UP WELL IN 2019In 2017 and 2018, only 22 pitchers who were at least 30 years old (on June 30 of that season) qualified for that season’s ERA title. That represented the lowest number since 1977, when there were four fewer teams, and 100 fewer roster spots.The old guys rebounded a bit in 2019, as 27 over-30 pitchers qualified for the ERA title. This suggests that, even in the regular season, starting pitchers might be aging better than their 2018 market indicated.What does that mean for the months to come? Stay tuned. Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error Measured by fatigue units per game, starters were pushed harder this October than any postseason from 2015-18. Their fatigue units were in line with levels from 2008-14, the first postseasons for which Sonne’s data is available.It’s too soon to extrapolate what any of this means beyond today. For free-agent starting pitchers, it’s tempting.Strasburg can become a free agent if he opts out of his contract (four years, $100 million remaining) with the Nationals. The industry-wide expectation is that he will. He would join Cole as the clear stars of the offseason’s free-agent pitchers.Last winter, the market held only one can’t-miss free agent. Patrick Corbin signed a six-year, $140 million contract with the Nationals, then went 14-7 in 33 starts (202 innings) in the regular season.Compared to last year, the second tier of free agent starters is a bit younger and a bit stronger. For teams that miss out on Strasburg and Cole, there’s always Zack Wheeler, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Madison Bumgarner, Dallas Keuchel, Cole Hamels, or Jake Odorizzi. Five of the six threw more than 140 innings in the regular season; Keuchel likely would have if he had not waited until June to sign with the Braves. All had an above-average ERA and at least a .500 record.Only Wheeler will begin next season under 30 years old. But if this postseason is any indication, age hardly hinders a starter’s ability to succeed in the postseason. There again, the industry is split on how much to read into the last month of baseball.Speaking this week to evaluators who spoke on the condition of anonymity, some consistent variables emerged that could complicate how the offseason plays out:1. THE BASEBALLFor as much as pitchers have enjoyed October, 2019 will be remembered as a haven for hitters. The 6,776 home runs hit during the regular season shattered the all-time record. Just as consensus formed around a more aerodynamic baseball as the primary culprit, a funny thing happened: the baseball changed.Could starting pitchers dominate as they had if they were using the regular-season baseballs? (Doubtful.) How aerodynamic will the baseball be in April of 2020? (No one knows.) Will any of this matter in free agent negotiations? (Maybe.)2. SAMPLE SIZEPublicly, agents and executives often mention past postseason performance among a player’s virtues. In private negotiations, especially with analytically-minded executives, postseason stats carry less weight than you think.Related Articles We can also point to an about-face from Astros manager A.J. Hinch. He had Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole on his staff a year ago, but permitted only one 100-pitch start between them. Still, Hinch and Martinez aren’t entirely responsible for the broader, stranger sea change since the regular season.The last five regular seasons painted a clear trend toward bullpens. The 100-pitch start, a convenient benchmark for stamina, fell steadily since 2015. Looking more closely, the likelihood of a starter throwing 100 pitches declined from the regular season to the postseason. A year ago, the 100-pitch playoff start was on the brink of extinction.So what happened? Two things.For one, the teams that made the playoffs in 2019 generally featured sterling rotations and blemished bullpens. When the Brewers and A’s were eliminated in the wild-card games, this was irrefutable. Next year, maybe the deck shakes out differently.For another, managers became less hesitant to exhaust their top starters. Dr. Mike Sonne, the research director for the Toronto-based Baseball Development Group facility, has a unique formula for quantifying pitcher fatigue. Regular rest – something managers casually cast aside this October – is integral to the formula.