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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Thinking Man's Guide to Managing a Pitching Staff


Kenneth Matinale

December 10, 2007

The New York Yankees recently replaced their long time and very successful manager with another former Italian catcher named Joe: Girardi replaced Torre. Many Yankee fans hope that Girardi will change tactics and/or strategy. Not likely.
For instance Girardi has already indicated that he will follow the Tony LaRussa orthodoxy of designating his best relief pitcher as the closer. The closer is used almost exclusively to pitch one and only one inning (the ninth), which he starts, and only with a lead. The set up man is the second best relief pitcher who pitches only the eighth inning. The set up man is removed no matter how many pitches he threw and no matter how well he pitched. It's like Russian roulette, looking for the pitcher who does not have his good stuff that day.

This is exactly backwards as is an
orthodoxy from another sport, NBA basketball. When a good player commits too many fouls early in a game the basketball coach removes the player so that he does not foul out, thus missing the final minutes of the game. To preserve the player for more playing time the player is denied playing time. That makes no sense unless you truly believe that the final two minutes are more important than those that precede them. Should the coach prefer that his player play 28 of the maximum 48 minutes including the final two or should he prefer that the player play 36 minutes regardless of when they occur? Obviously the answer is to get the most minutes from the player. Minutes are the currency of basketball.

Outs are the currency of baseball. Since pitchers are on pitch counts, pitches are the currency of individual pitchers. The manager should attempt to get the optimum number of pitches from each pitcher in each game constrained only by the game situation and the needs of the long 162 game regular season. Here are the two guiding principles to get the
optimum number of pitches thrown by the team's best pitchers:

1. The best relief pitcher available should be the
first to enter the game. The second best relief pitcher available should be the second to enter the game. And so on.

2. Starters should pitch in relief on their normal throw days between starts.

The reason for using Mariano Rivera, the Yankees best
relief pitcher, first is to get the maximum number of pitches from him in that particular game. If Girardi waits until the ninth inning, Rivera may retire the side on six pitches when he could have thrown 24. Twenty-four pitches may have equated to two or even three innings thus eliminating the dreaded middle inning relievers, the worst pitchers on the staff. Not waiting until the ninth inning also allows Girardi to use Rivera in a game saving situation: bases loaded, sixth inning, cleanup hitter at bat. Waiting until the ninth deprives Girardi of discretion as to which batters Rivera faces. The bottom of the order is as likely to bat in the ninth as the top of the order.

Using this technique the pitchers most likely to be short changed, i.e., throw the fewest pitches, are the worst pitchers, not the best as is the case now. Each succeeding pitcher in order of value is increasingly more likely to throw fewer pitches.

Starting pitchers all throw between starts. If a pitcher starts thirty games, he can relieve thirty times. That is a huge boost to the team, replacing innings thrown by the
middle inning relievers with innings thrown by the team's best pitchers, the starters. Whatever the number of pitches that a particular starter would throw hard in practice should be thrown in a game. Throwing hard outside of a MLB game is a waste of resources. This includes those ridiculous rehab starts that starters throw when practicing to return from an absence. Instead of having Roger Clemens or Pedro Martinez pitch to minor leaguers for a few innings, have them throw their alloted number of pitches in a MLB game, either starting or in relief. They have got to be better than the fifth starter or middle inning relievers. It's not like a batter facing live pitching. What is live batting? The pitcher is playing catch. Play catch in a MLB game.

If Joe Girardi does anything like this he will be different from Joe Torre. Otherwise he is like all the other MLB managers.

*** The End ***

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