Sunday, June 29, 2008

Hey Neukom! My Giants Business Plan: Great Starting Rotation

As shown in my last post, preventing runs are very important and who has the biggest influence on that? The starting pitchers. That is another pillar in the strategy of creating the best team for success in the playoffs, and ultimately in the World Series.

That is the magic sauce that fans have been missing in baseball, the starting pitchers. In other sports, you can have a player dominate the game and take it other. In football, you got the right quarterback, the right running back, the team will be boosted over other teams. In basketball, you got the Jordans, the Abdul-Jabbars, the Magic Johnsons, the Shaq, who can take over a game and lead the team to victory. In hockey, you got the Gretzky's, the Lemieux's, who transcends the game.

In baseball, it is the pitcher's who has such control over a game. He pitches the most pitches in a game. He sets the tone for the game, both defensively and offensively. The former is obvious but the latter is clear from the games where the starter gives up a crooked number to start, in the first inning. A kick in the gut, when you are suddenly behind 2, 3, 4, 5 runs to start, no?

However, unlike other sports, the starting pitcher only pitches one game in five during the regular season, one game in three or four in the playoffs, and thus most people, including experts, downplay the importance of starting pitching relative to the hitters. That is partly why the hitters have been given more importance to the success of a team (another part is the home run is an offensive weapon that turns on the fans; a great pitching performance hasn't). But even the best offensive teams can face a mediocre starter and be shut down totally (see Met's Jones start against Giants in 2000's playoffs).

However, the best starting pitchers around ARE able to regularly shut down the other team. And if a team is able to put together a great pitching rotation overall, particularly on a 3-4 man basis, then the importance of the starting rotation is that much more important to the success of the team IN SHORT SERIES. They may not be relying on one particular pitcher but on one group of pitchers who altogether, if the talent level is high enough, can pitch as if they were one great pitcher, pitching every game. The key, obviously, is putting together such talent.

10 comments:

  1. Wondering why you skipped great defense up the middle?

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  2. Hello Martin - It is easy to see the Giants last in SLG or nearly last in runs scored and conclude that what they need is another power hitter or two. However, a stat that I saw on the Giant's web site illustrates your point, or illustrates that this offense COULD win -- with better pitching. According to Giants.com the team has an amazing 24-9 record when Lincecum or Sanchez start. Wow, what a number. Imagine if the rest of the staff could give them a 500 winning percentage when they pitched. Instead, the team is 11-37 when someone not named Sanchez or Lincecum start. Imagine what could happen if Cain rediscovers his effectiveness and one of the young studs, Bumgarner, say, develops as hoped/expected.

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  3. Oops, sorry, I guess I juggled the order at some point but then followed the order in the notes I wrote...

    I will be sure to cover that one next.

    About the great team win-loss for Lincecum and Sanchez, you need to remember that both of them are pitching like aces but facing the other team's middle and bottom of rotation starters for the most part. Anytime you do that, the team will do well as the other team's lesser pitchers will generally give up a lot more runs while you have a pitcher who doesn't give up as much in general.

    That's partly why I liked having Zito start the first game of the season - I know he's not our ace, though I still have hopes he can be as good as he was with the A's - as that would mean that Cain and the rest of young pitchers would face - mainly - the other team's lesser pitchers and thus compile a good record. I did not want Cain facing the other team's aces regularly yet (though I think I'm ready for Lincecum to face them in 2009).

    Unfortunately, Cain hasn't held up his end of the bargain else we would be in better shape; Correia too, after his great run last season, I thought both that he would be pitching much better and that he would then easily handle the other team's #4-5 starter.

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  4. I just want to say that this is one of my favorite Giants blogs and I look forward to every new post!

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  5. Cain was a stud last night. I know you're supposed to run your closer out for the ninth but Wilson almost blew it. Cain was rolling, they should've left him in.

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  6. Thanks anon, I try my best.

    Matt, yes, vintage Cain, Cain, Cain! However, he was at 113 pitches, so if Bochy thought he was done, so be it. 120 pitches is the threshold most people don't want to see a pitcher go above, so he was very close and probably would go over it if he finished the 9th.

    I don't mind it every once in a while, though, and it was a shutout going...

    So still, tough call, but again, I have to trust Bochy's (and Righetti's) call on it.

    Plus, we may as well keep Wilson going out there learning. He seems to need the pressure situation - witness how poorly he did pitching in a non-save sitch - and since wins are not paramount in a re-building season like this, we need to give Wilson as many reps as possible to prepare him for the future when the wins will count towards the playoffs and such. Hopefully he can get the shaky saves out of his system this season.

    Plus, people like to complain about the closer making it interesting, but even the best closers have a WHIP of 1.0, which means that he allows at least one baserunner on average in each inning/appearance he makes. So more times than not, there will be baserunner(s) making things interesting for the closer. So I've decided that as long as he is not giving up crooked numbers, I will be OK with the performance. Obviously no hits, no walks, no runs is better, but really, as long as he gets the save, it's all good. And it's been good most times than not for Wilson this season.

    Which is good, just because he was annointed the closer doesn't mean that he would necessarily finally figure things out and do well. He at least is figuring out how to do it and do it well thus far. I hope he keeps up the good work.

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  7. Just to be a devil's advocate I feel I must point out that the team which had far and away the greatest collection of starting pitching in our lifetimes (or really anybody's lifetimes who doesn't remember the great Philadelphia A's) was notoriously bad the post-season, four World Series, fourleague championships and five division series in a 14 year span.

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  8. I love devil's advocacy because I know I don't know everything.

    I guess you are talking about the A's from 1901 to 1914, though the numbers there don't match what you listed, please give me the years you are talking about.

    Back then the only playoffs was the World Series (and really, there was no World Series for their first AL division title). So 3 World Series out of 5 tries is 60% success.

    But in any case, I'm writing more for today's brand of playoff baseball, with the two rounds before the World Series, meaning there is more random luck you have to get over in order to win. Plus, having just an ace starter was sometimes enough, look at the Giants in 1905, with Mathewson pitching in and winning 3 out of the five games. Today, you can't do something like that, the most you can hope for is a 3-man rotation.

    And I'm not saying that a team won't still be bad in the post-season with the advice I'm writing on, just that a team following this strategy will maximize their chances of winning in the playoffs.

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  9. I'm sorry Martin, I thought it was obvious, I was talking about the Braves from 1991 -- 2005. I just mentioned the A's offhandedly (circa the 1900s) as the only comparable I could think of, of a team led by three great hall of famers in the starting rotation. In the A's case Eddie Plank, Chief Bender and Jack Coombs, in the Braves obviously Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz.

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  10. Sorry, I was thrown by your reference to the A's and any lifetime (plus my back pain), but yes, very obvious are the Braves, my bad.

    As I'll try to show with the research I've run across, the type of good pitcher you got on your team affects your success in the playoffs, so while the Braves rotation, and heck even the recent A's rotation of Hudson, Mulder, Zito, are undoubtedly good pitchers, they weren't good enough in this aspect, which could have affected their chances.

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