Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Playoff Pitching Overkill

A few days ago, I got the bright idea of writing about the Tribe’s starting rotation going into the playoffs. Then I realized everyone and Yogi Berra had already discussed/blogged/published their thoughts on the subject. So, after a bad case of writer’s block (among other things) I followed through with the pitching slant anyway. So now I present to you, the esteemed reader, yet another playoff pitching preview.

I don’t know about you, but trying to figure out who would be pitching when in either ALDS series was a bit of a hassle. I sifted through the various combos, as they pertain to the Tribe, to try and remove any lingering confusion on the subject.

ALDS Schedule A

Game 1 Rest Day Game 2 Rest Day Game 3 Game 4 Rest Day Game 5
Pitcher Sabathia
Westbrook Sabathia
Park Home
Away Away

ALDS Schedule B

Game 1 Game 2 Rest Day Game 3 Game 4 Rest Day Game 5
Pitcher Sabathia Carmona
Westbrook Byrd
Park Away Away
Home Home

ALDS Series A gives the teams a third days rest, with the only consecutive games scheduled for games 3 and 4. This allows Wedge to start Sabathia and Carmona twice on regular rest (four days). The third starter, Westbrook, would be scheduled to pitch in Game 3. Schedule A is obviously the ideal situation for a short series, but only the AL team with the best overall record gets to choose which ALDS schedule to play.

The difference between Series A and B is that Series B allows only two days rest, forcing Wedge to go with a four-man rotation. With a four-man staff, Sabathia would be given two starts (in Games 1 and 5), while Carmona, Westbrook, and Byrd would receive one start each. Wedge could start Sabathia in Game 4 on just 3-days rest, allowing Carmona to pitch in a potential Game 5. Starting C.C. on short rest in Game 4 is a bad idea though, especially since he’d be scheduled to pitch the finale on regular rest anyway.

Working off my limited knowledge of sports medicine and pitching mechanics, Sabathia seems like a poor candidate for pitching on short rest because of how hard he pitches. Throwing 110+ pitches with as much zip as C.C. puts on the ball probably necessitates all four days of rest for him to be at 100% for his next start and deter possible injury or fatigue down the line. Sabathia has only started on 3 days rest once in his career and has a slightly better ERA (3.89 vs. 3.66) on extended rest for his career (in 77 less starts).

If C.C. were to start in Game 4 of the ALDS, his next start on regular rest would land on Game 3 of the ALCS, while Carmona wouldn’t pitch until Game 4. In the normal ALDS rotation, Byrd would pitch Game 4, leaving Carmona and Westbrook available (on regular rest) for Games 1 and 2 of the ALCS. So, not only is starting C.C. on short rest in Game 3 completely unnecessary, it also scrambles the rotation for the ALCS. The severity of a situation may override the fact that a starter hasn’t had four days off, but I think the above management ideas apply at least to the early projections going in.

Unless Wedge decides to play the splits, the ALDS rotation should be locked in as Sabathia, Carmona, Westbrook, and (possibly) Byrd, in that order. Surprise!

One possible issue is matching each pitcher’s style and historical stats with the stadium they’ll be pitching in. Initially, I wanted to look at how each of the Tribe’s starters fared in the four AL playoff stadiums, but realized Carmona and Westbrook spent a good part of their careers as relievers and Sabathia and Byrd are having career years. Just looking at the starts from 2007 per stadium is impractical due to a miniscule sample size. Career stadium splits probably wouldn’t be too helpful in this case either (think Fausto at Fenway). Instead, let’s take a look at the home and away splits for each pitcher in 2007:

Park Player IP ERA Opp. OPS
Home Sabathia 135.1 3.13 .648
98.2 3.28 .729

Home Carmona 105.2 3.32 .650
102.1 2.73 .669

Home Westbrook 82.10 3.94 .752
63.1 4.83 .695

Home Byrd 95 5.68 .869
91 3.36 .713

There are a few trends that Wedge may try and take advantage of here. The most glaring stat is Byrd’s 2.32 point difference between his home (5.68) and road ERA (3.36). This surprised me, but his career splits are right in line with this season; Byrd has a 4.84 career home ERA and a 3.87 road ERA. Kinda weird.

Carmona also shares the same preference for road games, with a 2.73 road and 3.32 home ERA; a .59 point difference. Westbrook sports a .89 differential, favoring home starts, while Sabathia has been consistent no matter where he plays. If you compare the splits to the ALDS travel schedule, the park each pitcher would pitch in doesn’t favor their season splits (except C.C.). There are many combinations you could use to even-out the home vs. road starts for the four-man rotation, but to be honest I’m not sure how Wedge may approach this. It’s very likely that Wedge will ignore the splits in favor of using his top 3 starters consecutively to open the ALDS.

On Home-field

I’m all for resting the starters now that the division is wrapped up, but I think the Tribe could gain a legitimate edge from finishing with the best record in the league. The owner of the best overall record gets home-field advantage through the playoffs, in addition to choosing their own schedule for the ALDS. I just talked about how the Tribe would benefit from the extra rest day in Schedule A, but Cleveland has also shown a tendency to play better at home. Here are the team’s home and away splits for 2007:

Split W L RS RA WP
Home 51 29 425 366 .638
Road 42 34 358 318 .553

Cleveland has a .638 win percentage at home, compared to a .553 mark on the road, as of 10/27. The curious part is that the offense has outperformed the pitching at home. Cleveland has a run differential (runs scored – runs against) of 59 at home, but a differential of 40 on the road. According to Baseball Reference, Jacobs Field has a Park Factor of 97 batting to 98 pitching. Batting and pitching are calculated separately, with a score over 100 for either case showing favor to hitters. The Park Factor stat suggests pitchers have a slight advantage over hitters at the Jake, yet the actual stats suggest the opposite.

The apparent conflict may stem from the fact that the Tribe’s starters divide their preferences between home (Sabathia, Westbrook) and away (Byrd, Carmona). Westbrook may have lopsided splits, but his best and worst split (home-away) versus Byrd’s (away-home) are better overall. Also keep in mind, Carmona and Sabathia may not be as good in one case, but that still translates into great for them; making it almost a moot point to argue their splits. Before this gets any more convoluted, here’s the bottom line: the offense tends to perform much better at home, while the pitching is just short of a draw. Advantage: Home

Random Notes

Victor Martinez suffered a knee contusion from a foul ball late in Tuesday’s game against Seattle. Victor had to leave that game in the 8th, but was healthy enough to start behind the plate in Game 1 of Wednesday’s double-header. Said Wedge in an Anthony Castrovince interview: "We wanted to take precautions with it just to make sure, but he's all right." Hopefully, Victor can get a few days off when he’s not injured, given the extra wear and tear catchers endure over a season. Not to mention Garko and Shoppach are perfectly capable of taking over for a few games while he rests.

The Plain Dealer ran a cool article on the team’s cadre of Venezuelan’s and the Tribe’s presence in the South American country. I’m especially interested in Latin American baseball, but it’s a good read just the same. Check it out here.

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