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October 22, 2008

Prospectus Today

It's Hamels' Time

by Joe Sheehan

When you have to win four games-and can lose just three-there's no time to waste. Game One of a best-of-seven takes on added significance, because teams usually have their best starting pitcher on the mound, for one, and because there are tactical and strategic advantages to having that one-game lead. Winning the first game of a World Series is a strong indicator of future success. The last five World Series have been won by the Game One victor, and all-time, the winner of the first game is 63-40 in the Series.

Whatever history dictates, increase it for the Phillies. Their chance to beat the Rays over seven games may come down to whether they beat them in one: Game One. Tonight's game, and next Monday's scheduled rematch, are the only two games in which the Phillies will have the better starter on the mound. The gap between Hamels and the rest of their rotation is wide, especially given the Rays' problems with left-handed starters. Hamels saved 85 runs as compared to a replacement-level pitcher; Jamie Moyer saved 66, and Brett Myers, 50. He was worth 7.9 wins above replacement, where Moyer and Myers were worth 9.1-combined.

The game plan for the Phillies is fairly simple: win both of Hamel's starts and steal two other games. I'm not sure-no, let me make this stronger-the Phillies cannot win the World Series unless they win tonight's game. The only time they even might have the better starting lineup is when Hamels pitches.

Given the importance of Hamels to the Phillies, his superiority over their other options, and the importance of the games, wouldn't it make sense to treat Hamels like the ace he is and get him three starts in the World Series? We've taken to regarding this kind of usage as unusual, or even abusive, but that's another example of how we've gone too far towards conservatism in the handling of pitchers. Hamels doesn't have to throw 140 pitches in a start, and he isn't being asked to make 40 starts in a season. But with four months of rest ahead of him and a title on the line-one that no player is guaranteed another chance at-isn't this the time to modify his usage just a bit to maximize the Phillies' chances?

The risk isn't even as great as it sounds. You're definitely moving up Hamels to make one start on short rest, in Game Four. The second start on short rest would only come into play if the season were to come down to one game, and I think we can all agree that making such a start is, to some extent, why Cole Hamels picked up a baseball in the first place. At 24 years old-25 in eight weeks-Hamels is past the point where you have to be hyper-conservative about his workload. The entire reason that you nurture a pitcher like Hamels is so you can win a championship on his back.

Is Hamels on short rest still an ace? Is he better than Joe Blanton, or in a different scenario, Jamie Moyer? Let's be frank: I have no idea, and I'm going to speculate that no one else does, either. The numbers say that making starts on three days' rest hurts a pitcher's effectiveness, and turns good pitchers into fourth starters. However, the sample size we're dealing with is tiny, and there are enough instances of success-CC Sabathia this year comes immediately to mind-that it's hard to make a strong argument against the idea. Starting Hamels three times is a mild risk, but when you're the underdog, you assume some risk for the upside.

What would it look like? Well, one problem with starting your ace one-four-seven is that you need someone to start Game Five. That's your number-four starter or your number two on short rest. I don't think Myers on short rest is better than Blanton, so I would use Blanton in Game Five, and Myers, on a short leash, in Game Six. More creatively, you could start Moyer in Game Six and go to Myers after one time through the order or so, turning the Rays' lineup around and gaining whatever benefits may be gained by switching from the soft-tosser to the hard thrower. The entire bullpen, coming off of an offday, would be available behind the two.

Starting Cole Hamels three times in the World Series maximizes the Phillies' chance of winning by sending their best pitcher-by far-to the mound as often as possible. With not much data to go on, the safest assumption is that he would lose some effectiveness, but not enough to make him worse than the other options. Hamels' upside is also a bit higher than that of the other pitchers. The threat to his well-being is not much more than it would be in a normal start, and the pursuit of a championship is the time to take that risk.

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

24 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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Matthew Avery

Purely out of curiosity, anyone know the record of WS Game 2 winners? My guess is that it's comparable to that of Game 1 winners. And comparable to that of Game 3 winners. And comparable to that of Game 4 winners.

Just sayin'.

Oct 22, 2008 08:46 AM
rating: 1
 
BWC

I think my data is a little off somewhere because I show game 1 winners as winning 64 of 103 (I eliminated all ties from my data, which I think is the difference), but the percentages actually go slightly up with each of the first few games:

Win 1st decision: 64 of 103 (maybe 63, depending on where my error is)
G2: 68 of 103
G3: 69 of 103
G4: 75 of 103
G5: 56 of 83
G6: 43 of 61
G7: 38 of 39 (the Black Sox won game 7 of a best of 9)
G8: 3 of 3

Oct 22, 2008 10:10 AM
rating: 3
 
Costa Galanis

I thought the same thing, I imagine that if you compare the results with respect to teams that won Game 2, 3 and 4, the difference probably wouldn't be all the much, if any. Sweeps and 4-1's probably cause a heavy skew in all of their favor.

That's not to say that Joe's assertion isn't correct in this particular instance however, given the circumstances of how these two teams match up.

Oct 22, 2008 10:13 AM
rating: 0
 
ccmonter

Playing Devil's Advocate here.

As stated, it is a tiny sample size. Nevertheless, I can't ignore the comment:

"The numbers say that making starts on three days' rest hurts a pitcher's effectiveness, and turns good pitchers into fourth starters"

Does this not mean that you would be sending up pitchers of
'08 SNLVAR: 7.1, 3.5, 5.0, ~4.0, 3.0, 3.5+, ~4.0.
Is that realy better than
'08 SNLVAR: 7.1, 3.5, 5.0, 3.0, 7.1, 3.5, 5.0?

This essentially takes you from having 2 games as "very likely wins" and having to steal 2 others in 5 chances to 1 game as a "likely win" and having to steal 3 others in 6 chances.

My first instict is the same as yours Joe - ride Hamels for 3 games. That one sentence above makes me doubt that belief. Again, just playing Devil's Advocate.

Oct 22, 2008 08:48 AM
rating: 3
 
gabramson

Teams starting pitchers on 3 days rest are now 11-40 in the last 11 postseasons. I agree with ccmonter.

The only way to get Hamels to pitch 1-4-7 without having both be on short rest is to rain out game 3 Saturday night. Check your local forecast . . .

Oct 22, 2008 09:05 AM
rating: 2
 
Matthew Avery

Teams forced to start pitchers on 3 days rest are typically losing the series, which on average means they're worse. Not necessarily ".250 win%" worse, but that's something to take into account.

Oct 22, 2008 09:19 AM
rating: -1
 
dpm

Maybe, gabramson. But how did the pitchers actually perform? I don't know why we would need team wins/losses as a proxy for pitcher performance here when we can just more directly at pitcher performance.

Oct 22, 2008 09:18 AM
rating: 1
 
lbihced
(744)

In order to have Hamels start three games you would have to have him on board with that. He has not wanted to pitch on short rest all year and has stated that over and over. One idea is that it is supposed to rain on Saturday in Philadelphia. Pray for a rainout and maybe he would want to pitch a game 7 on short rest.

Oct 22, 2008 09:20 AM
rating: 1
 
DavidK44

You don't have to make that decision now, in fact, making it now seems foolish. You will have a lot more information after Game 3.

First, where is the series at after 3 games? If it's 3-0 Rays, then you have to start Hamels on 3 days rest, wouldn't you? You need to win 4 games, and the best opportunity would be to gamble that Hamels on 3 days rest twice can give you 2 quality performances. On the other hand, if you're up 3-0, wouldn't you want the "safe" play of a "guaranteed" (and nothing in baseball is guaranteed) quality start from Hamels since he will be on full rest?

Also, wouldn't you want to use how he pitched in Game 1 as some sort of indicator? Small sample size caveats still applying, see how the Rays reacted to his pitches...Were they getting good swings in? Were they hopelessly lost? Also, how many pitches did he throw? If the Phillies are up 9-0 in the 5th, you may be able to take him out so he can pitch on short rest. On the other hand, if it's a 1-1 game in the 8th and Hamels is pitching brilliantly, you may just have to ride him for the entire game.

There are plenty of other "nuggets" of information that will be gained in the next few days, all before Game 4, I just picked a few obvious ones (where the series is at, how the Rays did against him in Game 1, and how many pitches he threw in Game 1).

I see no reason to even speculate what SHOULD be done until the day before Game 4, since what SHOULD be done could vary widely depending on what happens in the next few days.

Lastly, remember Arizona went 1-4-7 in 2001. They also made their Game 2/6 starter available for Game 7 - though they probably could have pulled RJ even earlier in Game 6 as that was an ugly blowout (I remember saying he should have been pulled in the 4th or 5th inning).

The point is, if you go the Hamels/Myers/Moyer/Hamels/Blanton/Myers/Hamels route, one advantage to using Moyer in Game 6 for enough innings is that if you can limit Myers enough in Game 6, you have him for an inning or two in Game 7. But then again, if it gets to a Game 7, it may just be Hamels to Lidge to conclusion.

Oct 22, 2008 09:27 AM
rating: 4
 
Matt L.

There are certainly examples of inferior teams' aces not coming through and those teams nonetheless winning post season series. The 2006 NLCS comes to mind, where Carpenter was 0-1 with a no decision (although the Cardinals did win that game) in two starts. The other Cardinals starters were Jeff Weaver, Jeff Suppan, and Anthony Reyes, not exactly a collection of fear-inducing pitchers. Similarly, the Rays lost both of the games in the ALCS that Shields started, but pulled off two games where the match-ups were not in their favor (the two Lester starts). These are just examples and I'm sure there are a ton of counterexamples, but it puts the lie to Joe's statement that "the Phillies cannot win the World Series unless they win tonight's game." I think if Hamels loses the game tonight, it certainly will be difficult for the Phillies to win, but stranger things have happened.

Oct 22, 2008 09:44 AM
rating: 3
 
kjgilber

This article could not really actually be written by Joe Sheehan. The "the Phillies cannot win the World Series unless they win tonight's game" line is so counter to anything he has ever written about the predictability of baseball games it just looks absurd.

Oct 22, 2008 12:30 PM
rating: 3
 
hessshaun

Hamels isn't out there on short rest at all this series. If he is, I am going to speculate as a relief performance in an elimination game. More than likely 7. Manuel has stood by his side all year in not moving him up or down and keeping him on a strict schedule. The only other way this might be possible is if they have this schedule worked out on the side and the media does not know of it.

Regardless, I think there are a few intangibles here that are not being considered as it pertains to the Phils. Mainly the bottom of their order in the playoffs as well as Myers and Blanton performance in the playoffs. I know I sound nuts, but I am a Phils fan through and through.

Also, getting significantly cooler up here now in Philadelphia. Any strange numbers out there as it pertains to temperature and the game?

Oct 22, 2008 11:03 AM
rating: -1
 
caliphornian

Only when football is involved does a Tampa Bay team have such a poor record in cold weather. Actually, I don't know this.

What's the SNLVAR of Myers in the second half of this year, after he got demoted and came back?

Oct 22, 2008 11:15 AM
rating: 0
 
One Flap Down

Official NWS forecast for Philly:

SATURDAY NIGHT
RAIN LIKELY. LOWS AROUND 50. CHANCE OF RAIN
70 PERCENT.

Somebody up there likes the Phillies.

Oct 22, 2008 11:17 AM
rating: 0
 
ScottyB

The Rays played ok in the cold in Boston, no?

Oct 22, 2008 16:21 PM
rating: 0
 
ScottyB

The only constant in baseball is that it is suprising. I would not be so certain that "The Philles HAVE to win game 1" or "win every Hamels start" to win the series.

Oct 22, 2008 11:12 AM
rating: 0
 
oira61

Does anyone know the actual starting time? I can't sit through the Fox pregame show. Thaks.

Oct 22, 2008 11:17 AM
rating: 0
 
Mountainhawk

Did anyone else think: "Stop! It's Hamels Time! (Oh-oh oh oh oh-oh-oh)" when reading the title?

Oct 22, 2008 11:19 AM
rating: 3
 
SaberTJ

Is that like Hammels saying - "Here's my fastball, can't touch this?"

Oct 22, 2008 12:11 PM
rating: 0
 
mglick0718

Wait, isn't there an extra rest day between Games 4 and 5, just like with the LCS's? That would mean Hamels would have to go on short rest only in game 4, and he'd had full rest for game 7; it also means Myers and Moyer could start games 2&5/3&6 on 4 days rest too, meaning no need for Blanton.

Oct 22, 2008 12:55 PM
rating: 0
 
mglick0718

Just checked the schedule, and I'm wrong about the day off between games 4 and 5. Game 4 Sunday, 5 on Monday. (Why would they do that for the LCS but not the WS??) So scratch my comment immediately above.

Oct 22, 2008 12:59 PM
rating: 0
 
One Flap Down

They do that for the LCS so as to maximize the number of games shown in prime time since there are 2 LCSs going on at once.

Oct 22, 2008 13:06 PM
rating: 0
 
anderson721

I would think that Hamel's workload tonight factors into the decision. If they have a big lead-God forbid-after 6 innings, does Manuel pull him to keep him fresher for game 4? Or does he ignore future considerations and just play 1 game at a time. for the answers to theses and other questions, stay tuned.

Oct 22, 2008 14:22 PM
rating: 0
 
hessshaun

Anderson, having watched the Phils all year, despite the lead, he is not coming out of the game under 100 pitches provided they have a huge lead. He has said numerous time that he is not messing with Hamels throughout the year. The one great thing about Charlie is, he does not over think things because he can't.

Oct 22, 2008 18:02 PM
rating: 1
 
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