Setting Up The Rotation (UPDATED)Posted: September 17, 2012
The Braves finished a three game sweep of the Nationals Sunday and are now seven games up on the first wild-card spot and eight up on the second. They are a virtual lock for the playoffs. According to coolstandings.com, they have a 99.9% chance of making the playoffs. This is divided into 3.6% chance of winning the division and 96.3% chance of winning a wild-card spot. Sitting 5.5 games back of the Nationals for the division is a lot of ground to overcome is a short amount of time, but crazier things have happened.
For the sake of this post, I’m going to assume the Braves are going to take one of the wild-card spots. This will put them in the winner-take-all playoff game for the right to play in the division series. Pitching wise, barring and injury or very poor performance, the five man rotation should be Hudson, Medlen, Minor, Maholm, Hanson. Here is how it would play out if each pitcher were to take his scheduled start.
|9/20||Off Day||9/30||New York||*Medlen|
|9/24||Off Day||10/4||Off Day|
UDPATE (9/24/12): Fredi Gonzalez has flipped Medlen/Maholm to set Medlen up for the wild-card game. Fine by me, he has been absolutely dominant.
So, Tim Hudson would be taking the ball for the one game wild-card playoff. I am completely fine with that. I know many people would want Medlen to start, but I have zero problem with Hudson. I know Medlen has been extremely dominant down the stretch, but messing with the rotation and trying to line him up to start would net worse results than keeping everyone on track and letting Hudson pitch. Every starter will get three more starts to close out the regular season. I just don’t see a way to line it up for Medlen to start without screwing with the rest of the starters rest periods.
Hudson has not pitched any better or worse in playoff situations with a playoff ERA .04 higher than his career ERA. Hopefully that will result in a win and we will have Medlen ready for game 1 on five days rest. And to be honest, it will matter more if the offense shows up in that game than who is on the mound. Being a streaky club is both good and bad. It could either result in being bounced after game one or making a serious run to the World Series. Please feel free to discuss in the comment section.
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UPDATED: (9/18 2:30 PM)
Yesterday, Dave Cameron of FanGraphs wrote about his pitching strategy for a play in-game. The example he used was the Braves because, like I mentioned above, they are basically a lock for the wild-card game. Here is what he suggests,
“Give Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters, Eric O’Flaherty, Luis Avilan, and Cristhian Martinez the last couple of days of the regular season off in order to make sure they’re fresh for the play-in game. Then, announce Kimbrel as the starting pitcher, and tell him he’s getting the first six outs of the game. He’s faced 5+ batters nine times this year already, so it’s not a drastic departure from a quantity standpoint. Then, for the next few innings, you can mix and match right-handers with left-handers, taking advantage of the platoon match-ups to quash any early rallies. You’d hope to get another 9-12 outs from these four, which would take you into the sixth or seventh inning.”
He then suggests to see reevaluate the situation after these first 6 or so innings. If it’s close, bring in a guy like Medlen or Hudson, if not you could use a lesser starter and save the top starters for the division series. There are a number of factors the Braves would be taking advantage of,
1. Relievers generally can perform better than starters (league starter ERA: 4.22, league reliever ERA: 3.64).
2. Braves will have a large enough lead to rest these relievers for final games.
3. Can save Medlen/Hudson for the Division series.
4. Opposing team can’t set their line-up to maximize platoon splits.
5. Won’t be wasting early inning plate appearances with a pitcher.
There would definitely be some drawbacks to this plan. Mentally, relievers might be “uncomfortable” pitching in early innings. There is no real evidence to back this claim up, so I don’t even know if this should be believed. A more concrete problem is the fact that the Braves could be very limited off the bench in the final innings, as well if it went to extras. There problems would be severely outweighed by the added benefits throwing your best relievers first.
This is definitely a forward/saber way of thinking, something you would expect to see from a team like the Rays. It would be a huge risk to take from a media and fan base standpoint. The backlash if the game was lost would be intense and probably never be attempted again. While I’m 99% sure the Braves will not go this route, I would stand behind the decision. It would be a great way to take advantage of the new play-in game. Everything seems to be aligning perfectly for the Braves to try and implement this type of strategy. At the end of the day, in a must win game, you want your best pitchers pitching because there may not be a tomorrow. This agrees with that way of thinking as Cameron says, “…for teams like Atlanta, their best pitchers are not their starters.”
As we get closer to the game it self, I will give a more in depth post about how I feel the roster should be set along with possible in-game strategies.