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October 24, 2001

The Daily Prospectus

Showing Aces

by Joe Sheehan

One ticket punched, one to go. The Diamondbacks went into Atlanta over the weekend and won all three games, thanks to two excellent starts by their aces and the Braves' poorly-timed impersonation the Buckhead Little League All-Stars.

Now the Snakes get to take the week off, meaning they'll head into the World Series on rotation. Bob Brenly has avoided using Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson on short rest so far, but I believe that he will--he should, anyway--use them five times in a seven-game World Series. (Yes, this is a Baseball Prospectus writer advocating aggressive use of pitchers. Do not be alarmed.)

Schilling and Johnson are among the most durable pitchers in baseball over the last three years. Both are well past the age where their arms are developing. Both will enter the Series with at least an extra day of rest, and once the series is over, will have four months to recuperate from the wear and tear they've put on their arms.

Most importantly, both are throwing the hell out of the ball, and maximizing their use gives the D'backs the best chance of ending their year with wet uniforms, big smiles, and an audience with Mr. Personality and his really unwieldy trophy.

The best part is that you're really not asking very much of the two pitchers. This isn't like going to a three-man rotation at the beginning of the month, or after they go the distance in an LCS series. At worst, Schilling and Johnson would each make one short-rest start, and then one would make a second short-rest start in Game 7, if necessary. Of course, that game would be played under "everyone's available" conditions, which could limit the risk involved.

Flags fly forever, and it's certainly worth the chance of some potential injury to get the chance to raise one. I'd add that you'd want to make sure Johnson and Schilling are on board with this plan, although given how long Johnson has played without winning a World Series, I doubt he'll be a tough sell.

I'll throw out one other reason to do this, with the disclaimer that it's completely subjective: I don't think the Yankees, as a team, are equipped to hit great fastballs. To me, they look like a team that does well against off-speed stuff and pitchers who don't have great heat. I think Johnson and Schilling would eat them alive, given the opportunity.

(OK, I looked it up. Of the AL's top strikeout pitchers by rate, the Yankees slapped around Hideo Nomo, Bartolo Colon, and C.C. Sabathia, while struggling with Pedro Martinez and Barry Zito. So maybe this isn't the greatest theory.)

Finally, I should mention that last Friday's column on run scoring in the postseason sparked a lot of great responses. One theme running through them was the idea that lower-scoring games are a self-fulfilling prophecy. If teams act like games are going to be low-scoring, and increase their willingness to play for one run, then the scores are going to reflect that.

It's a great point, and I suppose we could take a look at sacrifice and stolen-base-attempt rates to see if the use of those strategies have increased relative to the regular season. I think that if this is the case, it probably goes beyond the one-run strategies we can track, all the way to the approach hitters take at the plate, which will be more difficult to ascertain through performance analysis.

So while I still believe that the lower scores in postseason is primarily the result of the best pitchers throwing more of the innings, the fact is that if teams are going to party like it's 1899, that's going to drive down run scoring, too.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

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