Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland doesn’t care very much for the scrutiny of others. Whether it be his batting order or bullpen management, the 66 year old, who doesn’t look a day over 65, would prefer to be left well alone when it comes to making decisions about his baseball team.
So, it was with this attitude that Leyland announced yesterday that Justin Verlander would not be making a start on short rest.
He’s pitching Game 5. That’s a slam dunk. That is the end of the conversation.
Verlander, the American League Cy Young Award favourite, threw just four innings and 82 pitches in his last outing on Saturday in Game 1 of the ALCS. The fewest pitches Verlander threw in a start during the regular season was 104. Counting up his pitch count over his three starts this postseason, we find that he’s thrown only 227 pitches since September 30th.
However, Leyland has already made the decision to go with Doug Fister tonight in Game 3 and then Rick Porcello in Game 4 on Wednesday, offering the following justification:
What people don’t realize is, you’ve got to win four games. Nobody might believe this–the public, the TV people might not want to and everybody else–but let me tell you something: At this point, from what I’ve seen, pitching Justin Verlander on the fifth day is two-fold. It’s the best thing for Justin Verlander, and it’s the best thing for the team. Trust me when I tell you that.
Dave Cameron of FanGraphs attempts to justify Leyland’s decision, by emphasizing the Detroit manager’s point that winning Game Four with Verlander leaves the team shorthanded for Games Five and Six.
Moving Verlander up to start Game Four would simply be robbing Peter to pay Paul, as it would reallocate some of their win expectancy from Game Five and shift it forward by a day. However, it wouldn’t be an equal shift.
Cameron goes on to assign percentages to the chances of each pitcher in the rotation leading the Tigers to a win, originally coming to the conclusion that, assuming Detroit loses tonight, the Tigers have a better chance of winning four straight with Verlander going in Game Five rather than Game Four.
However, the article has since been adjusted to show that the Tigers actually stand a better chance of winning four in a row, even with Cameron’s seemingly arbitrary numbers, if you consider that starting Verlander in Game Four also means that he can start again in Game Seven.
And this is what makes Leyland’s comments somewhat laughable, deciding what game Verlander pitches isn’t merely about a pitcher going on three days’ rest or four days’ rest, it’s about scheduling your team’s ace to pitch two or three of the games in a seven game series. So, in that sense, I find it hard to understand how a Game Five start is best for Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers.
In The Book, we learn to expect something in the neighbourhood of a .009 increase in weighted on base average for opposing batters when a pitcher goes on three days rest instead of four.
Another study, of postseason data from 1969 to 2008, shows the difference in Game Score and ERA between resting.
|Days Rest||% of all starts||ERA||Avg. Game Score||% of Avg|
|3 or Less||18%||3.85||51.8||95.00%|
|5 or more||56%||3.72||51.0||94.70%|
Well, there’s little question that pitchers typically perform worse on short rest. Assuming that he’s healthy enough to do it, the real question is whether a marginally worse Verlander pitching twice in four games is better or worse than Verlander at his best once and Porcello, who, for what it’s worth, threw 22 pitches in relief of Verlander in Game One, pitching once as well. Comparing their numbers this season, I don’t see how it would be possible to believe that second scenario to be true.