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July 13, 2009

Prospectus Idol Entry

A Brave New World of Pitcher Usage

by Ken Funck

To read Ken Funck's Unfiltered post following up on one of the audience's suggested topics, surf here.

Very few things in baseball spark as many discussions, or cause as many disagreements, as pitcher usage patterns. Closer usage, 8-man bullpens, 5-man rotations, pitch counts, the injury nexus—all these topics receive frequent (and deserved) attention both in the mainstream media and in sabermetric circles. However, there’s one aspect of pitcher usage which seems to rarely be questioned: the use of a single starting pitcher to work as deep into a game as possible, resting 3-5 days, then pitching again. Yet it may well be that this approach, the bedrock upon which all other usage is constructed, is less than ideal if your goal is to win more baseball games.

In The Book: Playing The Percentages in Baseball, one of the many statistical points authors Tom Tango, Mitchel Lichtman and Andrew Dolphin make clear is the decreased effectiveness starting pitchers exhibit during each successive spin through an opposing lineup. Their careful excavation of pitching numbers from the 1999-2002 seasons unearthed a number of interesting finds, including a fairly steep drop-off in effectiveness after the 11th batter faced, and a surprising improvement during the 4th time through a batting order – likely explained by the fact that only starters with good stuff that day will still be pitching at that point. The chart below shows similar data, but for the 2006-2008 seasons (many thanks to Bil Burke for harvesting the ingredients):


           Starting Pitchers* 2006-2008 Seasons
 Time
Through
 Order    Games    PA      AVG/ OBP/ SLG    OPS  wOBA**
   1     14,575  130,882  .262/.326/.415   .741  .328
   2     14,459  127,740  .273/.335/.436   .771  .339
   3     13,544   96,999  .285/.347/.460   .807  .352
   4      4,325   11,355  .289/.355/.448   .803  .347
   5         20       28  .500/.500/.708  1.208  .498
 Total   14,575  367,004  .273/.336/.435   .771  .339

*Includes only data for games that the pitcher started.
**Calculated using average linear weights for the 2006-08
  seasons combined, including runners that reached on error,
  but not stolen base or caught stealing totals.

As you can see, effectiveness tends to erode significantly with each successive trip through an opposing lineup. All three slash stats take a hit, as does pitcher effectiveness measured by the opposing batters’ cumulative wOBA (Tango’s measure of batter productivity, similar to EqA but scaled to look more like OBP—a higher wOBA score means less effective pitching). For comparison, during these three seasons the league average wOBA was in the neighborhood of .330—so in aggregate, once starters begin their second pass through the batting order they have become below-average major league pitchers. So why do we let starters pitch that long?

Well, not all starters are made the same—since this chart contains all starts during those three seasons, it is sure to include spot-starters and other pitchers who quickly demonstrate they’re not capable of staying in a major league rotation. Perhaps that group is a significant drag on these numbers, and more "normal" starters wouldn’t experience this same loss of effectiveness. To test that theory, the chart below shows the same metrics, but only for the 143 starters who pitched 40+ starts in total during those three seasons:


              Starting Pitchers With 40+ Starts
                     2006-2008 Seasons
 Time
Through
 Order    Games     PA     AVG/ OBP/ SLG    OPS  wOBA
   1     10,287   92,423  .258/.319/.406   .725  .322
   2     10,222   90,893  .266/.327/.421   .748  .330
   3      9,777   73,265  .279/.339/.449   .788  .344
   4      3,615    9,674  .288/.352/.447   .800  .344
   5         18       26  .478/.462/.565  1.027  .432
 Total   10,287  266,281  .268/.328/.425   .753  .331

This group accounted for a little over 70% of starts, and put up better numbers—yet while we now see roughly league-average pitching during their second trip through the lineup, there’s still a huge decline after the batting order turns over a second time. This isn’t true for every single starter—23 pitchers (16%) actually saw their wOBA decrease by 10 or more points during their third time through the order compared to the aggregate of their first two trips. But fully two-thirds of the sample (96 starters) saw their wOBA increase by 5 or more points, and nearly half (71 starters) experienced a whopping 20+ point increase.

Why is this? Fatigue is one possibility. Or perhaps batters, trying to develop a good approach against a single pitcher, retain more information between plate appearances than the pitcher and catcher, who have to develop an effective pitch sequence against 9 different batters. Regardless of the reason, this loss of effectiveness appears to be both pervasive and significant.

Given all this, it seems to be a bad idea to let hitters see a starter a third time—meaning starters shouldn’t face many more than 18 batters. The average inning is made up of approximately 4.33 plate appearances, so perhaps on average a starter shouldn’t go more than 4 innings. But that introduces another problem: starters are generally considered to be the best pitchers on a major league staff, and are expected to accumulate high innings pitched totals. Even if teams moved to a four-man rotation, 4-inning starts would mean only 160 innings for a team’s ace starter, with the remaining innings allocated to lesser pitchers.

To enable starters to continue to have large workloads while minimizing innings pitched per game would require a complete re-working of usage patterns. One method would be to follow a tandem starter routine that, for brevity’s sake, I’m going to call SOMA: Shorter Outings, More Appearances. Under SOMA, starters would be paired up to pitch every third day, tossing 3-4 innings each per game. After accounting for off days, SOMA would allow a team’s best starters to appear in around 60 games and rack up 200-240 innings per season—similar to their current workloads—with minimal impact on bullpen usage.

Obviously SOMA would be a big change and the potential costs—physical, emotional, and economic—inherent in such a plan might be high. So for a team to consider SOMA they would need to see a tangible benefit on the other side of the ledger:


          Starting Pitchers 2006-2008 Seasons
 Time
Through                        League         SOMA    SOMA
 Order  Games     PA     wOBA   wOBA  wRAA*    PA     wRAA
   1    14,575  130,882  .328   .330   -184  262,350  -369
   2    14,459  127,740  .339   .330    960  104,654   786
   3    13,544   96,999  .352   .330  1,797        0     0
   4     4,325   11,355  .347   .330    161        0     0
   5        20       28  .498   .330      4        0     0
 Total  14,575  367,004  .339   .330  2,738   367,004  417

*wRAA is the number of runs above average allowed, based on wOBA and
 number of plate appearances.  A wOBA below league average results
 in a negative wRAA (i.e., fewer runs allowed than average).

The wRAA columns above take wOBA and plate appearances and convert them into runs. The last two columns calculate what might happen under the SOMA usage pattern. Under SOMA, each tandem starter would almost always go through the order at least once. This means that each tandem starter would have 9 plate appearances where the hitter is seeing them for the first time—18 per game for the tandem. Multiply those 18 PAs by 14,575 games, and you get 262,350 Pas—the first number you see in the "SOMA PA" column. Since we’re assuming starters would maintain the same seasonal workload, we can merely assign the remaining 104,654 PAs to the "2nd time through" row. By substituting SOMA PA counts for the actual PAs, we can calculate SOMA wRAA values: the total number of runs above average that we might expect to give up under SOMA.

The suggestion here is that normal usage patterns resulted in starters allowing 2,738 runs more than the average pitcher would have allowed. SOMA, by ensuring that starters would not go through a lineup more than twice, allowed only 417 runs above average. Thus SOMA might have prevented a total of 2,321 runs during those three seasons, for all starters for all teams (rounding used in the chart above has been removed below):

         Runs/Wins Benefit of SOMA Usage
           Current wRAA Total:  2,737.53
              SOMA wRAA Total:    417.47
     Total Runs Saved by SOMA:  2,320.06
        Runs Saved Per Season:    773.35
          Runs Saved Per Team:     25.78
         Wins Per Season:           2.58 

SOMA appears to save a little over 25 runs per team per season. Since 10 runs equal 1 win, we can estimate that a team might be able to win 2-3 more games per year by adopting SOMA—not a huge number, but not trivial—assuming that starters could adapt to such a usage pattern.

There are a number of other tertiary benefits of SOMA that are more difficult to quantify but might lead to an even greater runs/wins benefit, especially for early adopters:

  1. Current usage patterns allow managers the opportunity to stack a lineup to maximize platoon advantages over that day’s starter, knowing that the starter will usually be around for 5 or more innings. With SOMA, pairing opposite-handed starters might reduce that effect since managers are often loath to pinch-hit in the middle innings. If the opposing manager stacks the lineup with opposite-handed batters, the second starter would be same-handed and recoup the platoon advantage; if the opposing manager doesn’t stack the lineup, then the first starter wouldn’t be at a disadvantage. Either way, this might be a net gain for the team employing SOMA compared to current usage.

  2. Starters could be paired such that the better of the two would pitch later in the game. Since win expectancy swings per play tend to increase as the game goes on, this would put better pitchers in higher leverage situations.

  3. NL teams might be able to pinch-hit for the first starter in a key situation earlier in the game, since doing so wouldn’t result in the premature replacement of a good starter with a mediocre reliever.

  4. If SOMA means starters would be more effective on a per-batter basis, the same pitchers would be able to record more outs in fewer pitches. Thus the same pitch-count workload might result in more innings pitched—with the paired starters often working later into the game, eliminating the number of innings pitched by the back of the bullpen. Not only would this help by allocating fewer innings to lesser pitchers, but teams could then either further specialize their current bullpens to make them even more effective, or (preferably) replace a bullpen arm or two with position players to help in late game matchups.

  5. Starting pitchers traditionally need to develop a wider variety of quality pitches, because (a) they see the same batters more than once; and (b) they often have to face more opposite-handed batters than relievers do. SOMA would mitigate both factors, meaning pitchers that lack three quality pitches may be better able to work effectively as starters. This could widen the pool of starting pitching talent, making starters easier to produce, easier to replace, and cheaper to acquire on the open market.

Taken together, these factors could increase the advantage of SOMA to the point where it would be worthwhile to try. Of course, implementing SOMA would be a huge undertaking with significant risks, and likely would be viewed negatively by an industry that is already heavily invested in the current paradigm—although the use of tandem starters is not a completely foreign concept to major league teams.

The St. Louis Cardinals are one of several franchises that implement a tandem starter system in the lower levels of their minor league system, with paired starters on a strict pitch count working every fourth game. Each player will start one game, then come on in relief of the other starter during their next tandem turn. John Vuch, the Cardinals’ Director of Minor League Operations, explains that the purpose of this is to help determine what role each pitcher is best suited for, and to avoid injuring young arms. "You spread usage out among your top pitching candidates and they get experience both working as a starter and as a reliever. They get experience pitching later in the game, and they learn different methods of warming up. It gives us a few months to evaluate guys and determine which are better suited to go into the starting role. It also helps keep the cumulative innings for the year down."

While tandem starting in the minors has a very different purpose, and doesn’t tell us much about the ability of starters to adapt to a SOMA pattern, Vuch does highlight one major emotional impediment to the use of tandem starters—the definition of the Win statistic. "Say their pitch count is 75 pitches for their tandem portion as a starter. They’re trying to be as efficient as possible so they can get through 5 innings and get credit for the win. You hate to see guys gear their performance around statistics, but that’s the reality." Building in this incentive for prospects to pitch efficiently might be beneficial to the Cardinals’ player development process. But at the major league level, where the Win statistic can help determine the size of your contract, it’s clear that a tandem starter approach would be met with widespread resistance.

St. Louis manager Tony La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan are fully aware of this issue, as they actually experimented with a SOMA variant when both were in Oakland. For one long, strange week in July, the last-place A’s tried grouping nine pitchers into three trios who would each throw 40-60 pitches every third day. After winning only one game during the experiment it was scrapped, with the skipper admitting that the Win statistic helped scupper the plan. "We went through the thing two times," La Russa said at the time. "We got some information. I think it’s got some value, but I’m very uncomfortable knowing the starting pitcher is going out there without a chance to win. I don’t think that’s real healthy."

In addition to the emotional resistance to SOMA, there’s the open question of whether pitchers can be trained to pitch that many innings spread over that many games. The last man to do so was Dr. Mike Marshall, who in 1974 tossed 208 1/3 innings over 106 games for the Dodgers while winning the Cy Young Award. Now a pitching coach with unique and controversial views on pitcher training and usage, Marshall feels that a SOMA pattern would be difficult to implement unless most pitchers radically change their mechanics and training techniques. "The reason I was able to do this was the pitching motion I used was injury-free—I didn’t stress my arm at all. Clearly the way I threw the baseball, the technique that I used, was severely different from the traditional way, and it was a far better way." But absent those changes, Marshall feels a better approach would be to help pitchers maintain effectiveness later in a ballgame by mastering a wider variety of pitches.

BP’s own Will Carroll is also unsure whether starters could adapt to SOMA, because we’re still learning how pitchers truly respond to current patterns. "The fact is that we really don’t know how a modern pitcher would react, because we only know what a pitcher can or can’t do in retrospect. There’s no logical development pattern that allows us to say 'he can do this' or 'he can’t do this.' How many pitches/innings/anything can a pitcher throw today? No idea, other than broad generalizations like 'Mo can’t go three days in a row.'"

And since we don’t know how much fatigue a pitcher would experience when following SOMA, Carroll feels it would be impossible to determine its effect on injuries. "I’d really love to see a simulation… to try and see fatigue patterns, to see what the stats might look like, and more importantly whether there are issues we’re not thinking of.. Why not use the technologies we have to work out as many kinks as possible?"

Without knowing the physical risks involved, it’s hard to say whether the benefits of implementing SOMA would outweigh the costs. But one thing is certain: convincing a franchise to take a chance and find out would be a difficult task. "I don’t think it can be done in one year or at one level," Carroll believes. "It has to be a massive, sweeping change with complete organizational buy-in. I don’t know of any organization that would or could do that."

Yet, significant change does occasionally occur in baseball, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. Call me silly (you wouldn’t be the first), but I can imagine a situation where a franchise – maybe a small market NL club, where the rewards might be greatest—with an intellectually curious front office might be willing to take a chance and at least investigate whether SOMA really can increase starter effectiveness and help win ballgames. And if they’re successful, SOMA might truly help baseball enter a brave new world.

Many thanks to John Vuch, Dr. Mike Marshall, and Will Carroll for their insight.

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

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

BP Comment Quick Links

G. Guest

To me, this fits BP perfectly. I loved it.

Jul 13, 2009 13:53 PM
rating: 3
 
G. Guest

This is the only article that has me thinking about the ramifications and logistics of it all a day later and hoping that more articles on the topic followed.

Jul 14, 2009 12:14 PM
rating: 1
 
WoodyS

A real winner!

Jul 13, 2009 13:57 PM
rating: 0
 
jdavlin
(630)

This was Ken's strongest work yet. While I have loved his humor throughout, I am glad that Ken toned it down a bit here and produced a fascinating and well-researched article and a topic that has interested me for decades. Great job!

Jul 13, 2009 14:05 PM
rating: 0
 
JD Sussman

I have to disagree with the above. While this is very interesting (I think we've all joked about something similar with our friends) I just don't see it at possible.

First, I'm not sure you can apply some of the numbers the same way. While batters aren't getting consecutive ABs against the same pitcher, they probably are facing them a ton of times throughout the year still. This possible could counteract the trips through the order theory.

Second, I foresee an outcome like we see in expansion years. Rather than having the best 35 or so pitchers throw 200 IP, you are now asking lesser pitchers to take up more of the role. While these 'B" players will me more effective than usual, I doubt they would be as effective as the current pitchers who are considered number 1 or 2 starters.

Lastly, If pitchers are throwing four IP every 3 games that gives you 6 SOMA pitchers. 1 more than a rotation (again, the difference between a team's 1 and 6 SP is HUGE today, let alone to make them have equal shares of IP). That leaves us with about 4-6 RP for the other 1 IP and mop-up situations (I guess). Those 4 (go with the low end) pitchers either won't get enough action working 1 IP every fourth game and won't be stretched out if one of these SOMAs gets lit up in the first. I'm happy the RP aren't pitching back to back days (in theory), but I can't image a great way to utilize them in a 162 game season.

Jul 13, 2009 14:22 PM
rating: -3
 
John Kearns

This was, in my opinion, the best article of this contest, and certainly up there with the best I've ever seen on BP. Obviously it only brushes the surface and poses far more questions than it answers, but it's a fascinating read, and it has fired up my brain in a way that has rarely been done (aside from the day I bought a BP book off the shelf, never having heard of them before). Really, really well done.

Jul 13, 2009 14:25 PM
rating: 7
 
loveablelosers

This is by far the best article I've read in the contest so far. Well researched writing with professional polish.

Jul 13, 2009 14:38 PM
rating: 3
 
dpowell

I think your charts don't provide the right information. We want to see the change in pitcher performance holding the pitcher constant. You have "time through order" changing, but the composition is also changing. Instead, tell us the change in performance for each pitcher who made it through twice relative to how he did the first time. Then the change in performance for each pitcher who made it through three times relative to how he did the second time. And so on. Right now, those numbers aren't really that meaningful.

Jul 13, 2009 16:04 PM
rating: -3
 
pftodd

It would be a tough sell for SOMA since their is a huge unknown in terms of injury pitching 3 IP every 3 days in pitchers and agents minds. However, a stepping stone (compromise) to this might be considered by teams who have 6 starters, and one starter has trouble getting past the 5th inning and the other has been consigned to the BP where he has been ineffective or there is concern about injury due to past arm problems, or the team is trying to limit IP.

The solution is to piggy back the 6th starter onto the 5th starters game (say Clay Buchholz follows Jon Smoltz). He would be told he will start the 6th inning and go through the 8th or 9th. He will be getting 3- 4 IP of work every 5 games, and more importantly, he would be working on his normal schedule (every 5 days) so his routine would be the same. This effectively gives your normal relievers 1 day off every 5 games unless one of the 2 starters bombs and can not go 4 IP, which may happen 30% of the time.

I have been trying to sell the 6 starters into 5 games idea which is similar to SOMA on SOSH for a couple of years to no avail, but perhaps if BP runs with it it might fly. It is actually used in the minors at lower levels where teams have a surplus of starters (wannabes) and they want to keep control of young pitchers innings (limit to 4-5 IP per start) on a starters schedule, so it's not really a new idea.

Also, great article BTW. I would have liked to have seen how the data worked for the elite pitchers, say 80-90 starts over 3 years, but I suppose the word limit restricts what can be presented.

Jul 13, 2009 17:24 PM
rating: 2
 
Richard Bergstrom

I think the way to avoid the pitcher and agent problem is for a team to employ minor league vets and major league swingmen. You could also use a SOMA-type system to break in mid-to-low tier rookie pitchers, though with highly ranked prospects, it might not be as good of an idea to limit their innings. Another advantage of using a SOMA system to break in rookie players is the lack of innings and a difficulty garnering wins could depress their value in salary arbitration hearings.

Jul 13, 2009 18:25 PM
rating: -1
 
Ken Funck

A total of 52 pitchers started 80+ games during those three years -- a total of 4,883 starts producing 129,734 PAs. Here’s their wOBA during each pass through the lineup:

Pass 1: .318
Pass 2: .322
Pass 3: .341
Pass 4: .339
Pass 5: .525

29 starters had their wOBA worsen by 20 points or more; 39 saw it worsen by 5 points or more. Conversely, 3 had their wOBA improve by 10 or more.

Compared to the 40+ start cohort, the 80+ start guys were much better the second time through, but only a little better the third time through.

Jul 13, 2009 19:45 PM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

Something I wondered while contemplating the numbers was whether the pitchers who go through the order four or five times were, on the whole, better or worse pitchers as defined by traditional metrics. My hunch is a worse pitcher tends to give up more baserunners through walks and hits, so they tend to go through the order more times than an elite pitcher.

Jul 14, 2009 06:58 AM
rating: 0
 
Ken Funck

In "The Book", Tango/Lichtman/MGL show that better pitchers on average are still around for the 4th time through the order. I'd guess this is because (a) better pitchers allow fewer baserunners and face fewer batters per inning, thus in the age of the pitch count they're more likely on average to go deeper into the game before hitting their limit; and (b) managers are likely to have a quicker hook on the #4 starter than the ace.

Jul 14, 2009 07:12 AM
rating: 0
 
Ken Funck

Meant to type Tango/Dolphin/MGL.

Jul 14, 2009 07:13 AM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

Ken has thoroughly entertained me since his original article. It's hard to believe that someone who, almost tongue-in-cheek, comes up with metrics like TGF can then attack a topic so seriously. At times, his tone and humor did not quite mesh with mine, but each week I eagerly opened his article to see what journey he had in store for me this week. This article as well was a solid treatment on a topic that has not been covered much, with a strong serious and analytical tone. Meanwhile, you could almost feel the anguish from his Unfiltered segment pleading with baseball broadcast shows to favor us with more intelligence and respect than the "stereotyped" target audience of an average GoDaddy Super Bowl commercial.

Ken, I've loved the stuff you've written and the unique (and fun) insights you've taken me on and I look forward to seeing more from you in the future.

Jul 13, 2009 18:09 PM
rating: 0
 
Brian Oakchunas

I thought this was really well done. On the one hand, I thought it ran a little long, but on the other I felt that I wanted references to more research done by others (like Keith Woolner's article from BBTN). Really, you can't do everything when it comes to such ambitious topics so Ken does a great job exploring the topic in the way he does.

One thing bugged me throughout: there is an assumption that pitchers would be just as fresh when showing up with less off-days. I felt that needed to be addressed in some way.

As an aside, most of Ken's articles explored serious topics in a funny way. His initial offering explored a funny topic (TGF) in a serious way. Up until now I felt TGF was his strongest piece. I hope that should Ken win, we will see more work done in that vein.

Jul 13, 2009 18:19 PM
rating: 3
 
amazin_mess

Very good work.

Jul 13, 2009 18:29 PM
rating: -1
 
Rowen Bell

Wonderful article. For the first time in BP Idol, I'm actually going to cast a vote.

Jul 13, 2009 18:37 PM
rating: -1
 
Dr. Dave

Intriguing.

Of course, anecdotally, there are quite a few starting pitchers who are shakiest in the first inning, then settle in for a while once they get through that. SOMA wouldn't work with such pitchers, and working around them would make the rotation a logistical nightmare.

Still... intriguing.

Jul 13, 2009 18:52 PM
rating: 1
 
ZacharyRD

This is a great piece; I was only planning on voting for one article in the finale, but I think I have to vote for both this and Tim Kniker's article, since both are better than the average piece regularly scheduled on BP.

Jul 13, 2009 19:52 PM
rating: 2
 
offbase99

I agree; this is a great piece and is neck-and-neck with the Kniker. It seems to me that the tipping point is Tim's Unfiltered post, but both Tim and Ken have turned in great stuff this week.

Jul 13, 2009 19:58 PM
rating: 0
 
ZacharyRD

This is a good point; while both unfiltered posts were great, the question is what you're looking for in that section of the contest. For me, I liked Kniker's better because it was a great short article, but I would respect someone who liked that Funck's unfiltered piece felt more like a normal blog post on BP (for me, being better than a regular blog post isn't a bad thing).

Jul 13, 2009 20:59 PM
rating: 0
 
Ken Funck

True, mixing full starters with tandem starters in the same rotation would be tricky. Trying to develop pitchers both ways would be tricky. And as you correctly point out, some (but definitely the minority of) starters actually pitch better later in their outings.

Right now we can only guess which players (in the majors or the minors) would thrive under SOMA since no one really does it. If teams adopted SOMA, and all pitchers were trained that way, we'd never know which ones actually would get stronger later in the game. That's the downside of any one-size-fits-all approach -- but trying to use both at the same time would be hard.

So if (and that's the big if) pitchers could adapt to the SOMA schedule, I would think adopting it for everyone would make sense -- because the number of pitchers whose numbers would improve is likely to outnumber those whose numbers would regress.

Jul 13, 2009 20:06 PM
rating: -1
 
Ken Funck

Ooops -- meant this as a reply to Dr. Dave's comment.

Jul 13, 2009 20:08 PM
rating: 0
 
greenie55

Brilliant, game-changing kind of stuff. It may take MLB 100 years to employ this kind of thinking, but it certainly gives a high school or college coach pause...I think there is a home for this kind of strategy.

Jul 13, 2009 20:14 PM
rating: 0
 
greensox

Very creative and interesting. Something doesn't quite click with the theory.

I wonder if the benefit you'd get by not sending a pitcher out there for a 3rd time offsets the fact that you'd usually have to put in an inferior arm - middle reliever - to avoid doing it? Or maybe, you'd have to revamp your pitching staff and acquire a bunch of "super middle relievers" - maybe 4th starter quality pitchers all the way through the staff. There certainly would be no reason for a team on a budget to put resources into a stud #1 if you're pulling him in the 4th inning anyway.

Good read and good luck.

Jul 13, 2009 21:55 PM
rating: 1
 
Ken Funck

The theory is that the first starter would be replaced by a "second starter", not another reliever, and that starters would pitch fewer innings per game but pitch in many more games -- so they'd still accumulate 200+ innings, just spread out over more (up to maybe 60) games. You'd still get the same amount of Roy Halladay, but instead of 6-8 innings every fifth day you'd get 3-4 innings every third day.

Jul 13, 2009 22:02 PM
rating: 0
 
greensox

Of course that makes sense- got it.

Jul 14, 2009 16:37 PM
rating: -1
 
JoshC77

First of all, I LOVE this article. However, I’d like to make the following comment:

Devil’s advocate:
Wouldn’t this diminish the role of a rotation ‘stopper’ to a certain degree? If you have a Roy Halladay or a Dan Haren in your rotation with the 4 other slots filled with ‘LAIM-o’s’ (to borrow Christina’s term), does this sort of system diminish the ‘stopper’s’ ability to ensure a win for your ballclub? Sure, the ‘stopper’ can come out to pitch more frequently, but that player’s ability to directly impact the course of the entire game (such as Halladay’s penchant for CG 4-hitters) is diminished. What good is it to have 3 or 4 magnificent innings pitched by your ace to only have a lesser pitcher come out an blow it?

With all that said, I find this idea intriguing. However, I suspect it would work best with teams that fall into two categories:

1. Teams with tremendous depth that can pair two quality pitchers every day. (think of the Rays with pairings of Kazmir/Garza, Price/Shields, and Niemann/Sonnanstine).
2. Teams with mediocre pitching (or very young and inexperienced pitching) across the board (think of the Pirates with pairings of Duke/Karstens, Snell/Ohlendorf, Maholm/Morton).

I think that teams with ‘top-heavy’ rotations would be the ones to miss out the most, losing that potentially game-changing domination every 5th day. Let’s say that your ace starts 35 games and the team wins 80% of them (28 wins). The team would only have to win 45% of the remaining 127 games to reach 85 wins on the year. Losing that “stopper’s” impact every 5th day could be disastrous and I am not sure that 3 innings more often would offset it.

As you did state, a team would have to embrace this concept from the top all the way down to build the depth needed. I may just have to try this out in a baseball video game dynasty to see how well this translates….it should be fun.

Thanks for presenting this fascinating (and slightly controversial) topic.

Jul 14, 2009 05:25 AM
rating: 1
 
Ken Funck

All good points -- especially mentioning the Rays. Joe Sheehan has already talked about the idea of TB pairing up a few of its starters that have been inefficient and not working deep into games:

http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=9083

I'd love to hear how your sim works out. In my Strat league, pitchers are limited to throwing 110% of the actual innings they pitched in MLB that season. Owners work hard to make sure that the best cards are used in the highest leverage situation. I love it when good pitchers with lots of innings are rated as both starters and relievers -- the more games I can use them in, the better. It always feels like an inefficiency to have a dominant starter continue pitching after the 4th or 5th inning, say, if you already have a 7-1 lead -- you want to save those precious IPs for when you really need them.

Players aren't Strat cards, so the big question for me is whether pitchers could adapt to such a usage pattern. But my sense is that SOMA would help put your best pitchers in higher leverage situations more frequently.

Jul 14, 2009 06:57 AM
rating: 0
 
schlicht

In the situation where a true 'ace' is available, it might be best to continue to employ them as such.
This would produce a modified SOMA: pair your ace with your best long-man; if the ace can go 6 or 7 on ~100 pitches, great.
Then pair-up your #2-5 starters to maximize match-ups, or better, to maximize switch-ups -- lefty & righty, fastballer & off-speed guy.

The ace could stay be on an every 4th or 5th day schedule, the paired starters could go every 4th day.
You would need a 4th pair or trio of SOMA guys about once a week.
Most of your other bullpen guys could become situational employees, able to go at least 2 innings.

Jul 16, 2009 14:23 PM
rating: 0
 
breed13

Maybe I'm missing something, but isn't all the hand-wringing about "lower win totals" offset by the fact that (as Ken points out) the number of appearances goes up quite a bit... If you assume that the tandems take turns "starting" the games, then they should get roughly equal chances for wins (and close to today's totals), since the second starter (if the tandem is successful) would likely be in line for the win, if the first pitcher doesn't go long enough to qualify...

Jul 14, 2009 06:40 AM
rating: 2
 
JoshC77

Not sure if you're referring to my earlier comment, but I was referring to team wins, not the wins that individual pitchers are credited with. The number of wins that a pitcher accumulates under his name is only truly meaningful to the agent that represents him.



Jul 14, 2009 18:27 PM
rating: 0
 
CRP13

This is a subject I've thought about often, but figured would never get answered because nobody in MLB would challenge the system. An interesting analysis of the subject, but this article missed the "Ken-Ness" or that signature "Funck" that made his articles so much more enjoyable to read than the others in the competition.

I like the article as a breakdown of an interesting idea, but depending on how you like Ken's historical tangents, he brought himself back to the pack (either one way or the other) with this article, and I am disappointed.

Thumbs up anyway for a great article.

Jul 14, 2009 06:44 AM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

I wonder if this kind of system would benefit (or harm) pitchers once it got to the playoffs. I don't really have an answer to that and it would probably have to defer to someone like Marshall or Carroll to judge how this kind of system would affect recovery time in a short series.

Jul 14, 2009 06:56 AM
rating: -1
 
BP staff member Will Carroll
BP staff

That's why I'd LOVE to see a simulation of this. If anyone has some Strat or DMB chops, contact me and I'll put you in touch with Ken. I'd love to see that follow-up.

Jul 14, 2009 07:38 AM
 
Matthew Avery

When I started reading this, I didn't expect the author to get into issues of practicality and implementation. But he did, and it really made the piece work for me. It started out like just another SABR pipe dream, but by the end, it felt like I'd really seen that this might work, and if it ever could, how it would have to go about being implemented. Very nice.

Jul 14, 2009 09:19 AM
rating: 1
 
Morley

Ken--I not only thought this was YOUR best article of the contest, but the best article OVERALL in the contest. Great job!
And thanks to the judges for allowing the writers to choose their own topic this week. For future contests, I would like to see the authors allowed more leeway in subject choices.

Jul 14, 2009 09:26 AM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

Or, perhaps, make an earlier week a "Suggest a Topic" week and the final is author's choice.

I also like the additional "Unfiltered" submissions for the final week, so that the last voting round doesn't come down to just one article.

Jul 14, 2009 09:36 AM
rating: 0
 
Evan
(47)

Given that pitchers who would normally be starters who can gets wins would object to this, and further given that there's a measureable improvement in outcomes with this approach, wouldn't it make sense not to use starting pitchers for this sort of experiment, but to build the entire staff out of swingmen and long-relievers?

These are guys who aren't used to getting a chance at a win, and now they will get that chance every sixth day (assuming they alternate which of them starts the game). The quality of pitching would be lower, but it would also be cheap. You'd be looking for Miguel Batista or Ryan Franklin rather than Felix Hernandez or Roy Halladay. Imagine the hitters and defense on the team if you didn't have to spend on pitching.

Jul 14, 2009 16:21 PM
rating: 0
 
Evan
(47)

I just wrote on Tim's piece that it was immediately clear as I read it that it was one of the very best articles on the entire competition.

This article, though, made me forget there was a competition. It drew me in immediately and made me care about the content. Very good, Ken. You've earned a final vote from me.

Jul 14, 2009 16:31 PM
rating: 1
 
mattseward

I read all 3 pieces and after Brian's piece wanted to vote for him then read Tim's piece and wanted to vote for him and then Ken's piece and wanted to vote for him so after deciding that the only thing I could decide, was that I couldn't decide, I voted for all 3 as all of them would be worthy winners

Jul 14, 2009 16:25 PM
rating: -2
 
John Carter

This is an interesting subject - by the contest's top writer, although, I actually started to lose interest after the first chart. Although, this article has inspired the most thoughts and analysis. That first chart, however, was great and says to me starting pitchers hold up remarkably well the first four times through the order. Although, the stats do go down somewhat, it is not so much that it is clear a reliever would do better. Pitchers have good days and bad ones. If a pitcher is having a good day, why risk sticking in a reliever who might not? Why not let your starters soak up those innings if they can? Relieving - despite requiring fewer innings - can provoke as much wear and tear on its practioners.

Obviously going through the order a 5th time is most detrimental. It may be more plausible and practical for teams to pitch a reliever the first time through the order - of opposite handedness to the real starting pitcher. The the starter would then pitch the rest of the game, if has a good day. He would have the advantage of facing the same sided batters or a reduced bench. He would likely not come close to having to face anyone 5 times.

Jul 14, 2009 19:13 PM
rating: -1
 
Ben Solow

Some mistakes in the analysis in this comment -- the declining numbers of people who go through the order 3-4 times indicates that there is some subset of starts where the starter doesn't get to see the order a 3rd or 4th time. While some of them are, for sure, injuries where the starter is performing (i.e. Matt Cain's comebacker the other day), surely many more of the starters who are taken out early are people who are simply performing badly (a la Chien-Ming Wang this year). This means that the sample of pitchers in the 3/4 categories is not the same as the sample in the 1/2 categories, and you can't draw conclusions like "Pitchers hold up well over 4 times through the order" based on raw means. To clarify the point -- people only get to pitch to the 3rd/4th time through the order if they're having a good day, which means that their performance is better than the averages presented in the 1st table, and therefore if those averages are staying relatively constant, it means that the starters performance is declining over times through the lineup.

Jul 15, 2009 10:32 AM
rating: 1
 
macolyte

This is a BP article from start to finish. Well written, well researched, well presented and well argued. Bravo!

Jul 14, 2009 19:28 PM
rating: 1
 
cliffcook

Two things before I delve into a few questions:

I agree with almost everyone else, this is a great read; it truly gives us some insight into the world of "what-if". That being said, I wish there was more focus on how this might impact the game and less on the actual statistics behind it all.

What I mean is that I wish there was more of a discussion in regards to how managers would handle a pitcher that just didn't have their best stuff; how agents and pitchers would feel about not getting a chance to get the win; if the rules were changed so that a Win can be had at the beginning of a game, would there be an asterisk next to the stats?

As I said, this is a great article and one that will always keep us wondering. Perhaps one day we'll see this implemented (I think we've moved farther away from it rather than closer, as fewer teams have those Ramiro Mendozas who could pitch 3-4 innings every 2 days). Anyways, it's gotten my vote.

Jul 15, 2009 06:08 AM
rating: 0
 
dcarroll

Interesting and thought-provoking. Ken's writing is confident and polished, albeit more understated than in previous columns. Some thought he needed to take it down a notch or two. I appreciate Ken's willingness to listen to feedback, perhaps more than the feedback itself.

Jul 15, 2009 09:52 AM
rating: 0
 
jtrichey

We want the Funck. Gotta have more Funck. owww

Jul 15, 2009 10:37 AM
rating: 1
 
Ken Funck

Thanks. One thing I've been trying to improve on during the contest (based on feedback from both the judges and readers, which doesn't always agree) isn't so much "toning things down" in general, but rather pitching the tone to better match the content.

This topic is a fairly serious one which I also personally find very interesting, so I didn't want too much "flavor" in the writing to overwhelm or obscure the analysis -- the topic should hopefully be fascinating enough to hold the reader's interest. For other stuff, like in the blog post, a lighter or more irreverent tone seems more fitting -- so depending on the topic and goal, I'm trying to aim the tone appropriately.

Sometimes it's appropriate to wear a suit and tie -- but I would still always want my tie to be unique and interesting.

Jul 15, 2009 11:09 AM
rating: 0
 
Ken Funck

The above meant as a response to dcarroll's comment -- wow, am I ever having trouble clicking the right button this week!

Jul 15, 2009 11:14 AM
rating: 0
 
dcarroll

I get it. This is both good writing and good strategy.

Jul 15, 2009 13:33 PM
rating: 0
 
Tim Lowell

Re: SOMA Strat simulations. You can't simulate SOMA in Strat, anyway. A few starters are allowed to pitch every 4th day (the ones with asterisks - almost always the staff ace of some MLB team), the rest can go every 5th day, but none are allowed to pitch every 3rd day. If you start them any more frequently then they are allowed, they have hugely penalizing fatigue factors, regardless of how many innings they pitched in their last start.

I've been a Strat player for decades, and I've tried to consider a scenario where you pair up 8 starters into four pairs, one lefty and one righty, and alternate them starting every 4 days with the other guy relieving after 4 innings (alternating lefty and righty pitchers would help mitigate any platoons by the opposing manager, forcing him to replace players in the 5th inning if he wanted to take advantage of the new pitcher). Even then, they would all have to be asterisk starters, and to get 8 asterisk starters, you would have to trade every other decent player on your team.

I suppose you could try a pitching staff with 10 starters, 5 lefty and 5 righty, and then maybe throw in a closer and a LOOGY for a 12-man staff. The problem is getting 10 starters with decent numbers (almost impossible), and also the fact that starters in Strat are usually only allowed to relieve for one inning before their fatigue numbers start going kablooey. You would have to locate 10 starter/relievers with reasonable numbers - another near impossible task.

So, in Start anyway, SOMA is not workable. Players are assigned capabilities relative to what they ACTUALLY did last season, not relative to what they MIGHT be able to do.

Jul 16, 2009 12:09 PM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

It might be an idea to try using Scoresheet. They already translate major league stats into fantasy games and they have threshholds on player usage.

Jul 16, 2009 14:43 PM
rating: 0
 
madriver

Interesting idea but flawed. We can not assume a pitcher will have the same statistics with 3 days rest compared to 5 days rest. In my experience managing pitchers on the high school level, pitchers arms are much less effective after 3 days rest vs. 5 or more.

Rosters would need to be expanded beyound the current 25 man limit because you would need at least 2 or 3 more pitchers (6 starters needed in tandem example) as well as additional relievers if the starter blows up in 2 innings.
The most efficient way to get "innings eaters" is to stay with the hot hand for more than 6 innings today to take stress off the bullpen and give your team a better chance of winning today, tomorrow and the next day.

Jul 17, 2009 10:09 AM
rating: 0
 
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