Managers Explain this One to Me

I made it pretty clear a few weeks ago that I love creative managers. Ones who don’t just play by the book, but guys who actually try something new to give their team advantages. I like ones that use common sense like bring in their best reliever (the closer) into the game in the 8th if it’s necessary rather than just letting him rot on the bench. That’s just one such example. But here’s one thing that’s been floating around in my head after a baseball conversation earlier in the season. Riddle me this: why don’t managers of poor teams throw their top pitchers in the bottom of the rotation to create favorable matchups? Why do all teams set their pitchers up 1-5 in order of best to worst?

Just looking at the MLB schedule for the day, if you’re Charlie Manuel and the Phillies for instance, why would you throw one of your better starters like Brett Myers against Brandon Webb who’s 7-0 and a perennial Cy Young contender, instead of say Adam Eaton or Kyle Kendrick? Wouldn’t it be in your best interest to set up Cole Hamels and Brett Myers against Micah Owings or Edgar Gonzalez instead? That’s not even a top example because we’re talking about two good teams. If you’re a poor offensive team like San Diego or San Francisco, this seems like it would be absolutely ideal. Your teams can’t hit so your aces lose matchups against other aces. Why not throw Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain against 4’s and 5’s, ditto with Jake Peavy and Chris Young? At worst, you probably end up with the same record. At best, you’re getting yourself more wins, which sounds appealing to me.

It’s not like it’s the playoffs where it’s a best of seven and there’s a need to win games early on. It’s not like the number one starter gets a whole lot more opportunities to pitch than fours and fives — they all usually get between 32 and 34 if they stay healthy. And if you wanted your aces to get one more start in, you could adjust the rotation to make it happen. So answer me this one: why don’t managers of inferior teams start creating mismatches by throwing their aces against other team’s worst starters, exploiting weaknesses? I can’t figure out why not, so maybe you can.

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  • Gene

    Great article. Of course you are corect, but starting pitching isn’t the only way a manager has become predictible. Why does a team have to have definitive roles for relief pitchers? Why can’t a manager just select a reliever to pitch the eighth inning, and if he’s going good, to finish the ninth? This is especially valid when you have two excellent relievers, like the Dodgers have with Broxton and Saito, and the Angels have with Shields and Frankie.

    I sat at Angels Stadium for the seventh game of the 2002 World Series, and watched in amusement when Frankie Rodriguez pitched a masterful eighth inning, only to be replaced by Troy Percival for the ninth. Percy was not on his game and all of us Angel fans had to sweat a bit until the final out was achieved. By pulling a successful pitcher, you are taking a chance that the next guy will be on his game. If you leave the first guy in, then you can always bring the other guy out of the bullpen later, instead of having used two relievers. The next night, you can rest the guy who threw two innings the in the previous game.

    Obviously, agents and stats have limited the manager’s flexibility. Egos and arbitration decisions have more to do with managerial moves than sound baseball strategy.
    I know there are many other instances where managerial moves have become stereotyped. It has hurt the game and it’s too bad.

  • SpinMax

    We certainly agree on this one. I’ve always thought it stupid to put your ace up against another ace. It’s like I said about Zito, don’t move him to the pen, put him at the back of the rotation against the worst guys and he’ll get you a win now and then. In 5 of his 7 starts he’s given up 4, 3, 1, 3 and 2 runs…in those same 5 games the Giants have scored 4 runs TOTAL against guys like Penny, Sheets and Webb.

  • http://baseballmastermind.com Alan Hull

    This is an interesting idea. I don’t know how it would work exactly because you have a few things at play:

    Your Idea:

    1) You would give yourself a better chance to win when the ace is on the mound, but
    2) You give yourself significantly less of a chance when you drop Kyle Kendrick against Brandon Webb.


    The Convention:

    1) Decent chance against an ace and
    2) Decent chance all the way down the rotation.

    I don’t know which is better. I wouldn’t do it with a strong team because they can win on any given night, but like you said, it’s a good idea for teams with poor offenses.

    Cool idea.