Today’s newsletter is barely even out, and I’ve already received a couple of notes on the omission of Red Sox starters Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz from today’s column on prospective playoff rotations. Things change in a hurry this time of year; I had originally compiled the data for today’s column on Friday (anticipating a not-so-productive Labor Day Weekend), at which time Lester was in the minor leagues and Buchholz had yet to catapult himself to stardom with a no-hitter (and an interview here at BP).
The complete QERAs for the Red Sox’ pitching staff, with Lester and Buchholz now included as options, are as follows:
The QERAs for Lester and Buchholz are primarily based on a very quick-and-dirty sort of minor league translation; as such you should put an error bracket around each of those numbers. Nevertheless, it’s clear that we’re dealing with two very different pitchers, both now and going forward. Lester is a great story who hopefully can eventually settle in as a #4 starter, but he doesn’t have any place making an October start for now. Buchholz, on the other hand …
…I’m of the opinion that if you make it to October, the long term needs to take a back seat. Buchholz is supposedly on a pre-determined innings pitched limit. At 140.1 IP and counting following Saturday’s no-hitter, he should have some wiggle room left, but it’s unlikely that the Red Sox budgeted for October, which could easily add 25 high-pressure innings to that total.
Assuming that their QERAs are accurate, and that each starter can be expected to pitch six innings in an October start, with the bullpen providing three innings of 3.50 ERA ball to fill in the balance, the Red Sox will allow an average of 4.66 R/G when Wakefield is starting, and 3.67 when Buchholz is starting. In conjunction with their 5.29 runs scored per game, that translates to a pythagenport winning percentage of .665 when Buchholz is on the mound, as compared to .561 for Wakefield.
Skipping a bunch of math, and assuming that Buchholz or Wakefield would be slotted in as the #4 starter — #4 starters generally make about 17% of their team’s playoff starts — the way this translates is that the Red Sox increase their chances of winning a 5-game series against a .600 opponent from .581 to .641 if Buchholz starts instead of Wakefield, and their chances of winning a 7-game series from .608 to .644. Accordingly, they increase their chance of winning the World Series from .215 to .255 — about a 4% jump.
That might not sound like much, but it’s really quite a substantial number. When a team that expects to win 92 games — roughly where the Red Sox usually find themselves — adds a 5-win player to its roster in the winter, it increases the chances of making the playoffs by about 16%. But, it can only expect to win the World Series roughly one out of every eight times that this happens, meaning that their chances of winning the championship have increased by perhaps 2% — only half as much as displacing Wakefield for Buchholz would help the Red Sox now. So essentially, putting Buchholz in the playoff rotation increases the Red Sox’ chances of winning the World Series by as much as signing a 5-win player to a two-year contract would in the off-season, something that could easily cost them upwards of $25 million. Those 4-5 starts that Buchholz could expect to make in a World Series run are worth the equivalent of 10 regular season wins; that’s how much things get magnified in October. Under those circumstances, there is every incentive to gamble.