Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Trying to Debunk a Baseball Myth

It's that time of year my eyes and ears are telling me.  I feel the winds start turning to the North, my allergies are kicking up and newspapers, Internet columnists, TV and Radio hosts and fans, having run out of ideas to debate at the end of a long baseball season, start arguing about some very inane topics.  I guess I am just as much to blame for reading and listening to the self important blowhards in the first place, but the issue that rears its ugly head over and over, year after year, is the concept of resting players for the playoffs.  "If we can just rest our players and set up our pitching staff and rotation, we'll be all set for the playoffs."  The thinking goes something like that.

This is not completely true in the context of a small sampling of recent playoff performances.  I have reviewed the performance of playoff teams from the last six years (hey give me a break, I have a full time job, too, you know) that could not afford to rest their players because they were fighting to even MAKE the playoffs.  While true that, of the 14 playoff teams that could not rest their players before the playoffs only seven of those teams could reasonably be deemed to have been successful in the playoffs, an overwhelming number of those teams were successful or unsuccessful based on one factor - who started Game One of the Division Series.  It is irrelevant, Messrs. Rodriguez, Damon and Texeira if your everyday players and relief corps rest, so long as you have CC starting Game One.  Although ask the Indians fans how relying on the big fella has turned out.  All that really matters, though is that you set up your staff so that one of your best pitchers pitch Game One of the Division Series.  That's it.

2003.  The Red Sox edged the Mariners for the Wild Card.  However, Pedro Martinez was still able to start Game One of ALDS for the Red Sox.  While he lost that game to the Athletics in a well pitched game, the Red Sox ended up moving on in thrilling fashion until losing in Game 7 of the ALCS.  Great memories, I tell you.  Similarly, the Cubs won the NL Central in a tight race over the Astros.  Kerry Wood, their second best pitcher that year after Mark Prior, won Game One of the NLDS, right before Steve Bartman's mother shot his and Prior's right arms off. (2 quality Game One starters, 2 series wins)

2004.  The Angels that year overtook the Athletics in the last couple of weeks of the season.  However, for their efforts, Jarrod Washburn, a mediocre pitcher who continues to pitch because he's lefthanded, was thrashed by the Red Sox.  In the National League, it was a tale of two different teams.  The Astros and the Dodgers fought San Francisco for the last two playoff spots.  While the Astros had Roger Clemens dominate in between cycles and in his first post-Yankees post season start, the Dodgers started Odalis Perez who not surprisingly got shelled by the Cardinals. (2 awful starters, two series losses, one quality starter, one win)

2005.  Matt Clement.  Ouch.  In the National League, Houston and Atlanta overtook Philadelphia to win the Wild Card and the NL East, respectively.  The Braves started Tim Hudson, one of their best pick ups, who lost.  Andy Pettitte, presumably the third best pitcher on the Astros that year despite 17 wins, a 2.39 ERA and the fourth most HGH in his locker, ended up winning over the Braves. (two quality starters, one series win; one awful starter, one series loss)

2006.  The Tigers lost 5 in a row to end the regular season and settled for the Wild Card.  As a result, they started (journey stopping man) Nate Robertson (See Jarrod Washburn above).  Not a good selection as the Tigers got handed the loss; however, they got the last laugh as they ended up beating the Yankees on the way to the World Series.  Both the Dodgers and the Padres had to struggle to enter the playoffs (in fact the Dodgers had to win their last 7 to secure their spot).  Derek Lowe (#1 Starter) and Jake Peavy (#3 Starter, in an injury riddled campaign) both lost their Game One assignments.  (Two awful starters, one series win; one quality starter, one series loss)

2007.  The Rockies amazing run through the National League to the World Series started with a Mets collapse and a tiebreaker with the Padres.  Jeff Francis, their number 1 starter, started and won game one. (One quality starter, one series win)

2008.  Javier Vazquez started the first game for the White Sox after the White Sox defeated the Twins in a tiebreaker.  Vazquez demonstrated why the Yankees got rid of him three years before by getting shelled by the upstart Rays.  Derek Lowe again was the featured starter for a Dodgers team that barely won the pennant over Arizona.  Lowe pitched a solid game en route to leading the Dodgers into the second round.
(One quality starter, one series win; one awful starter, one series loss).

Again, my theory is quite complex, yet very simple.  If a team must scramble into the playoffs, 11 out of the last 14 times, a good Game One starter means a Series win and a bad Game One starter means a series loss.  So go ahead Messrs. Jeter, Cano and Ms. Posada, keep piling on those statistics, just keep AJ and Joba away until Game 2. 

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