Are pitchers less effective after taking a break between innings? And if so, should teams do anything about it?
When the third out is recorded, the pitcher goes back to the bench, puts on a jacket (or wraps a towel around his throwing arm), and sits on the bench for the other half of the inning. When his teammates are retired, he slowly trots back to the mound and delivers a handful of warm-up pitches, and he’s ready to go.
In one of my previous columns, I noticed that pitchers throw their fastballs slowest when there is nobody out and the bases are empty—in most of the cases, that’s at the beginning of the inning. One of the questions that came to my mind was whether they are a bit rusty after spending some time doing nothing on the bench.
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The managerial decision tree for picking Game Four starters has had a number of offshoots, but how often did they lead to victory?
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.
To answer the question I ended last week's column with, it is very important to
understand that my support of the four-man rotation is not, in any way, mutually
exclusive with my belief in the importance of limiting pitch counts. It is
fairly well-established (albeit not as well as I would like) that high pitch
counts increase the risk of pitcher injury. But it does not follow that
starting on three days' rest is more dangerous than starting on four days' rest.
This is not a paradox at all, as both phenomena can be explained by one simple
principle, which is important enough that it ought to be named and capitalized.
Let's call it the Principle of Pitcher Fatigue: