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November 1, 2009

You Could Look It Up

He Should Have Picked Lee

by Steven Goldman

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The present World Series has been notable for the way that both managers, facing rotations that are just a bit shorter than either would like, have struggled with the question of whether to bring back their Game One starters on short rest for Game Four. The managers tested their staffs and came to opposite conclusions: Charlie Manuel, fearful of pushing Cliff Lee too hard despite his terrific start in Game One and seeing that Joe Blanton had pitched relatively well this (and disregarding a poor track record against the Yankees), chose to wait until Game Five for Lee's encore. Joe Girardi, despairing of losing a World Series game with the wild and rarely utilized Chad Gaudin, decided to pitch big CC Sabathia on short rest, a move that paid off in the last round of the playoffs.

Girardi's move is wholly understandable and seems almost inevitable, while Manuel has opted for a more conservative course, especially given just how completely Lee anesthetized the Yankees in Game One. As such, I thought I would look back at the look at the last several times that a manager received a World Series Game One start so dominant that he would be tempted like a sailor on shore leave to bring that pitcher back to pitch Game Four on short rest. Manuel had opted not to push Lee, but other managers have made different decisions.

To isolate the truly great Game One starts, I utilized Bill James' Game Scores, an old but useful system of rating the quality of a pitcher's start by adding or deducting points based on what he does in the game, for example adding a point for each strikeout, but taking away two for each hit allowed (see the link for a complete explanation). A score above 50 is considered a quality start; in looking for greatness, I did not consider games that scored below 75. Many of the scores here are in the '80s; the best, a five-hit, 17-strikeout shutout by Bob Gibson in 1968, scored 93 (as a point of comparison, Don Larsen's perfect game scored 94 points). Cliff Lee's Game One start in this year's Series scored 83 points.

Cutting off the list at 75 points reduced the universe of great Game One starts to 38 games stretching from the present to the very first World Series in 1903. Space and declining relevance the further back in time we reach prohibit considering all 38 in detail. Instead, we will look in depth only at the most recent half-dozen or so occurrences, followed by a bullet-points accounting of the remaining games. Because the list is long, I will present the conclusion at the beginning rather than at the end: the payoff for bringing your best pitcher back on short rest is high. Historically, managers have not had a hard time making this choice-with a few notable exceptions, they start their best instead of going to an inferior pitcher. The fatigue factor is outweighed by the pitchers' excellence-if the hurler started Game One of the World Series, he's usually a pitcher of some note (there are exceptions, some of which we will encounter below)-and the benefit of skipping the fourth and fifth starters of the world. In short, lacking a convincing reason that Lee cannot be effective on short rest, Manuel should have gambled on his best arm. Proceeding in reverse order:

  • Orlando Hernandez, 1999 Yankees, 79
    What he did: Allowed one hit, a solo home run to Chipper Jones, in seven innings, walking two and striking out 10 as the Yankees beat the Braves 4-1.
    Did he start Game Four on short rest? No. Manager Joe Torre used David Cone in Game Two and Andy Pettitte in Game Three, and had a 3-0 lead in the Series. Rather than pressure the always-fragile el Duque, he used his fourth starter, a pitcher who had had some success in getting strikeouts but had posted a weak 4.60 ERA. His name was Roger Clemens. He held the Braves to one run in 7 2/3 innings and the Yankees completed the World Series sweep.

  • Greg Maddux, 1995 Braves, 83
    What he did: Pitched nine innings of two-hit ball against the Indians, walking none and striking out four. However two unearned runs scored, one in the first inning after Kenny Lofton reached base on Rafael Belliard's bobbled grounder, then worked his way around the bases on two steals and an RBI groundout by Carlos Baerga, the other in the ninth when Lofton singled then scored when Fred McGriff threw the ball away trying to keep Lofton at second base on Omar Vizquel's 4-3 groundout. Fortunately, the Braves were up 3-1 at the time.
    Did he start Game Four on short rest? No. These were the Braves of the '90s. They had so much pitching they couldn't quite fit 22-year-old Jason Schmidt onto the staff, though he put up a 2.25 ERA at Triple-A Richmond. Tom Glavine started Game Three, John Smoltz Game Three. They split these two games, leaving Bobby Cox's Braves with a 2-1 advantage. Lefty Steve Avery was already in his premature decline in 1995, having gone 7-13 with an ERA of 4.67, while fifth starter Kent Mercker had pitched in relief of Smoltz in Game Three. Maddux had not pitched on three-days rest during the season. Cox went with Avery, who battled through six innings, allowing just one run (an Albert Belle solo shot) on three hits and five walks. With some help from the bullpen (not including a portentous Mark Wohlers blow-up), the Braves held on to win the game 5-2.
    After: Maddux pitched Game Five on full rest and lost, but Glavine threw eight innings of one-hit shutout ball in Game Six, with Wohlers recovering for the series-ending save of the 1-0 game.

  • Tom Glavine, 1992 Braves, 81
    What he did: Pitched a four-hit, one-run (Joe Carter's solo home run) complete game against the Blue Jays, walking none, striking out six, and beating supposed postseason great Jack Morris in the process.
    Did he start Game Four on short rest? Yes, though he had started on three days' rest just once during the regular season. This reprised the shortened rotation that Bobby Cox had used during the NLCS, except Smoltz had started Game One in that series. As it had taken seven games to vanquish the Pirates, Smoltz was not available to start Game One of the World Series, and even Glavine's Game One start was on three days of rest. Smoltz started Game Two and pitched well, but the Braves lost on Ed Sprague's home run off of closer Jeff Reardon. Avery started Game Three but was outdueled by the wild but often effective Juan Guzman. Thus, the Braves were down 2-1. Glavine allowed just two runs in a complete game, but Braves hitters couldn't score more than one run off of Jimmy Key, Duane Ward, and Tom Henke. Cox made a good decision, but got a bad result. The alternative to Glavine would have been Charlie Leibrandt, who had pitched well during the regular season but had been consigned to the bullpen for October.
    After: It was Smoltz's turn to beat Morris in Game Five, but the Braves bowed in Game Six, losing in extra innings. Cito Gaston brought Jimmy Key out of the pen on two days of rest, and he picked up the Series-clinching win.

  • Dave Stewart, 1989 A's, 82
    What he did: Pitched a five-hit shutout against the Giants, walking one and striking out six.
    Did he start Game Four on short rest? Actually, he started Game Three on long rest because a horrific earthquake shut the series down for 12 days. The A's, up 2-0 in the Series, won the game 13-7, with Stewart allowing only three runs in seven frames. With luck, this game will continue to have no application to future postseason series.
    After: Mike Moore started and won Game Four to complete the sweep, the A's pausing only to allow reliever Gene Nelson to come in and get smacked around for the second game in a row.

  • Bruce Hurst, 1986, 78
    What he did: Pitched eight innings of four-hit, no-run ball, walking four and striking out eight. Calvin Schiraldi pitched the ninth for the save in what was probably one of the last good innings of his career. Hurst's opponent, Ron Darling, just missed making the cutoff here with a start that scored 74 points, pitching seven innings of three-hit ball, walking three and striking out eight. He allowed one run, unearned, the result of an improbable walk to Jim Rice, followed by a wild pitch moving Rice to second and a highly probable Tim Teufel error. That run was the margin of defeat as the Mets went down 1-0.
    Did he start Game Four on short rest? No. Roger Clemens started Game Two for the Red Sox, a win for the team though Clemens got yanked too early to get the credit for it. Oil Can Boyd started Game Three and lost, getting thrashed early, while the Mets' Bobby Ojeda pitched well. With a 2-1 lead in the Series, Sox manager John McNamara must have felt that he could spot the Mets a game because there is no other explanation for his next decision. The Red Sox had no fourth starter. Tom Seaver had been acquired in June to bolster the rotation, but was injured and could not pitch in the postseason. Rookie right-hander Jeff Sellers had substituted for Seaver in September and had been largely thrashed, something that would become commonplace in his brief, 13-22, 4.97 ERA career. That left McNamara with this choice: bring back Hurst on short rest, something the lefty had done successfully in the ALCS, or start Al Nipper, a low-strikeout punching bag who had posted a 5.38 ERA on the season (the league average starter had an ERA of 4.25). Mets manager Davey Johnson did bring Darling back on short rest. His team took full advantage of the mismatch, as Darling shut out the Red Sox for seven innings, while Nipper allowed three runs in six innings, then tacked on three more against reliever Steve Crawford for the 6-2 win.
    After: Too much craziness to recount here. Suffice it to say that the Mets lost Game Five against Hurst and faced elimination, but won in improbable fashion in Game Six and then came from behind to win Game Seven-a game that Hurst did start on short rest thanks to a rainout. Had the rainout not occurred, the decision to hold Hurst for Game Five would have forced the Sox to turn to Oil Can Boyd, who had pitched poorly in two of three postseason starts.

  • Mike Caldwell, 1982 Brewers, 83
    What he did: Pitched a complete game, three-hit shutout at the St. Louis Cardinals, walking one and striking out three.
    Did he start Game Four on short rest? No, but then there was really no right answer to that question for Brewers manager Harvey Kuenn. The ALCS against the Angels had gone the full five games (the league series wouldn't expand to seven games until 1985) and the World Series started two games later. The Brewers had two good starting pitchers-eventual Cy Young winner Pete Vuckovich, and August 30 acquisition Don Sutton. Vuckovich had started the final game against the Angels, so he couldn't go in Game One, and though Sutton could have gone on short rest, something he had done once during the season, Kuenn opted to preserve his 37-year-old righty for a Game Two start on full rest. So the Game One assignment fell on lefty Caldwell, a ground-ball pitcher who had enjoyed a brief period of dominance in 1978-1979, but had been roughly a league-average pitcher since then. In 1982 he had won 17 games, including three shutouts, albeit with a slightly subpar 3.91 ERA; Kuenn had completely passed him by in the ALCS. Sutton pitched Game Two, a loss for the bullpen, and Vuckovich lost Game Three. Down two games to one, Kuenn could have gone back to Caldwell, who had made short-rest starts twice during the regular season. Instead, he turned to Moose Haas, who had posted a 4.47 ERA in a league in which the average starter had an ERA of 4.26. Haas hadn't pitched well since 1980, and his selection was an act of faith which sort of paid off-Haas game up five runs in 5 1/3 innings, but the Cardinals' defense let down start Dave LaPoint, and the Brewers managed to come away with a 7-5 victory to tie the series at 2-2.
    After: Caldwell pitched Game Five, and somehow won despite giving up 14 hits in 8 1/3 innings. Sutton followed, having rested for five days, but was creamed, the Brewers losing 13-1. Vuckovich started Game Seven against Joaquin Andujar. He had little to give, but left with a lead. The bullpen, which on this day included Haas and Caldwell, quickly gave it away.

Other Dominant Game One Starts

1970s

Luis Tiant, 1975 Red Sox, 78
Did he start G4 on short rest? Y
Did his team win? Y

Dave McNally, 1971, Orioles, 82
Did he start G4 on short rest? N
Did his team win? N

1960s

Mike Cuellar, 1969 Orioles, 75
Did he start G4 on short rest? Y
Did his team win? N
Cuellar allowed only one run in seven innings, but the O's dropped the game in the bottom of the tenth.

Bob Gibson, 1968 Cardinals, 93
Did he start G4 on short rest? Y
Did his team win? Y

Bob Gibson, 1967 Cardinals, 80
Did he start G4 on short rest? Y
Did his team win? Y

Sandy Koufax, 1963 Dodgers, 79
Did he start G4 on short rest? Y
Did his team win? Y

Whitey Ford, 1961 Yankees, 88
Did he start G4 on short rest? Y
Did his team win? Y

Prior to this point, many World Series did not have scheduled days off, so the moment of "short rest" would have come in Game Five. Some managers opted to force their Game One starters into Game Four anyway. It should probably be understood that at this time, a pitcher making a second start on only three days' rest wouldn't have been considered to be doing anything extraordinary. However, some managers clearly did not favor rushing things even when offdays, whether intended or created by rain, created the possibility.

1950s

Vic Raschi, 1950 Yankees, 87
Did he start G4 on short rest? N*
Did his team win? Y
* With no offdays in the first four games of the World Series, Raschi could only have rested two days before Game Four, the final game of the series.

1940s

Don Newcombe, 1949 Dodgers, 79
Did he start G4 on short rest? Y*
Did his team win? N
* There were no offdays scheduled in the first four games, but Newcombe pitched Game Four on two days of rest. It didn't go well.

Allie Reynolds, 1949 Yankees, 88
Did he start G4 on short rest? N*
Did his team win? Y
* Facing the same schedule as Newcombe, manager Casey Stengel came to the opposite decision of Dodgers manager Burt Shotton and started Ed Lopat in Game Four. However, Reynolds did pitch the final 3 1/3 innings of the game for the save. The World Series concluded with the Yankees' win of Game Five, a contest started for the Yankees on two-days' rest by Game Two pitcher Vic Raschi. As with Newcombe in Game Four, the results were not pretty.

Johnny Sain, 1948 Braves, 85
Did he start G4 on short rest? Y*
Did his team win? N
* Pitching on two days' rest, Sain allowed only two runs in eight innings, but Indians starter Steve Gromek was better.

1930s

Red Ruffing, 1939 Yankees, 78
Did he start G4 on short rest? N
Did his team win? Y

Carl Hubbell, 1936 Giants, 76
Did he start G4 on short rest? Y
Did his team win? N
After holding the Yankees to one run while striking out eight in the opening contest, Hubbell didn't fool them too badly in Game Four, allowing four runs (three earned) in seven innings while whiffing only two. Yankees starter Monte Pearson allowed only two runs in nine innings.

Lon Warneke, 1935 Cubs, 76
Did he start G4 on short rest? N*
Did his team win? N
* No scheduled offdays in the Series meant that Warneke started Game Five on three days' rest. He won, though the Cubs would lose the series in six.

Carl Hubbell,1933 Giants, 81
Did he start G4 on short rest? Y*
Did his team win? Y
* Hubbell started Game Four on two days' rest and went 11 innings, allowing only one unearned run. It was a different time.

1920s

Howard Ehmke, 1929 A's, 81
Did he start G4 on short rest? N
Did his team win? Y
The rag-armed, 36-year-old Ehmke was on his way out of the major leagues. A's manager Connie Mack gave him, no exaggeration, about four months to rest up for the first game of the World Series. Ehmke shocked baseball with a complete-game, 13-strikeout victory. Not wanting to push his luck, Mack gave him five days until his next start, the last of his career. Ehmke didn't pitch well, but the A's won the game, the series clincher, anyway.

Waite Hoyt, 1928 Yankees, 80
Did he start G4 on short rest? Y
Did his team win? Y

Herb Pennock, 1926 Yankees, 78
Did he start G4 on short rest? N
Did his team win? Y

Walter Johnson, 1925 Senators, 82
Did he start G4 on short rest? Y
Did his team win? Y

Carl Mays, 1921 Yankees, 78
Did he start G4 on short rest? Y
Did his team win? N

Stan Coveleski, 1920 Indians, 75
Did he start G4 on short rest? Y
Did his team win? Y

1910s

Babe Ruth, 1918 Red Sox, 78
Did he start G4 on short rest? Y
Did his team win? Y

Hippo Vaughn, 1918 Cubs, 76
Did he start G4 on short rest? N*
Did his team win? N
*Rather than let Vaughn face Ruth again, manager Fred Mitchell, a former pitcher, started him in Game Three on one day's rest. He dropped a 2-1 decision to Carl Mays. Vaughn also pitched Game Five on two days' rest. He threw a five-hit shutout, suggesting that Mitchell wasn't completely mad, even for the Deadball Era.

Dick Rudolph, 1914 Braves, 80
Did he start G4 on short rest? Y
Did his team win? Y

Christy Mathewson, 1911 Giants, 75
Did he start G4 on short rest? N*
Did his team win? Y
Mathewson started Game Three on two days' rest and lost. Six days of rain ensued, so Mathewson was able to start Game Four as well. He lost that game too.

Chief Bender, 1910 A's, 85
Did he start G4 on short rest? N*
Did his team win? N
Bender started Game Four on four days' rest. The Cubs beat him in the tenth inning.

1900s

Wild Bill Donovan, 1907 Tigers, 83
Did he start G4 on short rest? Y*
Did his team win? N
*Two days' rest. We're in primitive times now.

Nick Altrock, 1906 White Sox, 77
Did he start G4 on short rest? Y*
Did his team win? N
* Two days' rest.

Three Finger Brown, 1906 Cubs, 79
Did he start G4 on short rest? Y*
Did his team win? Y
* Two days' rest.

Christy Mathewson, 1905 Giants, 85
Did he start G4 on short rest? N*
Did his team win? Y
* Mathewson stated Game Three on two days' rest and pitched a shutout.

Deacon Phillippe, 1903 Pirates, 75
Did he start G4 on short rest? N*
Did his team win? Y
* Phillippe started on four days' rest.

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

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