Submitted by Jim Hurley on Tuesday, October 15, 2013 at 5:00 PM
We had planned to write-up a preview of Game Five of the NLCS for you in this edition of the NOTEBOOK. But, that was going to be a problem because St. Louis was being shady about who their official starting pitcher was going to be. Also, publication deadlines would have the piece being finished before the result of Game Four was known! Instead, the very topic of pitching is something that clearly needs to be discussed.
Why is that? THE WORLD OF POSTSEASON PITCHING IS CHANGING RIGHT BEFORE OUR EYES!
*MLB has spaced out the postseason schedules in such a way that it’s easy for ace caliber pitchers to come back just a few games later than their prior appearance. There’s a day for travel whenever it’s needed. Also, the World Series doesn’t begin until next Wednesday…which allows managers to overload certain pitchers a bit in the LCS because rest time is imminent.
*Managers have become very smart about bullpen usage. Analytics has made it commonly known within the game that letting a reliever come in and throw as hard as he can for an inning is very potent when the starting pitcher tires. There’s less pressure to force the starter to go deep because the best teams now have an alignment of men they trust if needed in innings six, seven, and eight before the closer arrives to finish the job.
*Analytics has also made it more well known that starting pitchers are generally at their WORST the third time through a lineup. Believe it or not…even the best starting pitchers are not as good their third time through the lineup as generic middle relievers are who come in and throw as hard as they can for an inning.
Managers were already using platoon possibilities to their advantage. But, the combination of new knowledge and talented staffs has made it very hard for hitters to get much going in this year’s playoffs.
And, THAT’S why St. Louis can take awhile to figure out who they want to pitch whenever Adam Wainwright isn’t in his regular spot. They can tinker with the prior rotation. They can call on Shelby Miller who spent most of the season starting for a late fade. They have options.
What does this mean for handicappers? More than ever before, they need to be aware of middle relievers. For eons, you could focus on the starting pitchers and the last two guys in the bullpen (set-up man and closer) to do the bulk of your work in pitching analysis. This year…whenever every single run has been carrying so much weight in pitcher’s duels, you have to figure out which teams are best positioned to own the growing transitional spot from the starter’s first two times through the lineup to the shutdown innings at the end of the game.
Be sure you’re paying attention to that in BOTH of the current LCS matchups…because this story is going to continue through the World Series. And, it may develop into the linchpin factor that ultimately determines who enjoys a champagne celebration and a hometown parade in a few weeks.
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Friday: early look at UCLA/Stanford
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Monday: Eli Manning tries to finally win a game in Vikings/Giants on ESPN!
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