Monday, November 02, 2009

Three thoughts on three days' rest.

1. For most of baseball history, three days of rest was the norm for starting pitchers, not some sign of super-duper-awesome-super-toughness.

2. If I had a horse like C.C. Sabathia or Cliff Lee in my rotation, you're damn right I would plan on using them in Games 1, 4, and 7 of an LCS or World Series. At a maximum, that schedule would go on for two rounds of the playoffs, i.e. three weeks, after which the pitcher is guaranteed a winter of rest.

3. Three days' rest isn't for everybody, and I certainly wouldn't force it on, say, today's Pedro Martinez. But would it really be that hard to go with your horse for Games 1, 4, and 7, then apportion the other starts for Games 2, 3, 5, and 6?

Your thoughts?


Bryan Person said...

100% agree with you, Tim. In fact, I bet Charlie Manuel is wishing he'd brought back Lee on three days' rest last night.

The argument managers often use against three days' rest is that they don't want to ask their pitchers to do something they haven't done all season--if ever (isn't that what Manuel said about Lee the other day?). And for a sport that's so often about routine, it really can throw guys off.

My response to that (as a non-professional athlete): These are the playoffs, or the one of time of the year--or your career--when you're supposed to step it up another notch, to go above and beyond.

Since it's also obviously needed, managers on (likely) playoff-bound teams can also start preparing their pitchers mentally for the very real possibility of starting on three days' rest, in September.

So says the guy whose baseball career ended at age 15 :)

Tim Walker said...

Bryan -- You make good points. Basketball players know that they may have to play more minutes in the playoffs, and backups in every sport know that they could be pressed into starting duties at a moment's notice if a starter goes down.

Jim Storer said...

Is throwing a baseball that much more taxing on a professional athlete's body than the actions in other sports? I understand pitchers put a lot of stress on their shoulder during an outing, but come on. Football players get banged up and occasionally play on short rest, hockey players get the crap kicked out of them and still play... sh!t, golfers sometimes put it all on the line for a major championship by playing on what's typically a day of rest (a US Open playoff is a full 18 holes played on the day following the final round).

ok, that last one's a bit of a reach, but I completely agree with you guys here. It's time to man up and put it all out there. Suggesting they need to prepare for playing on fewer days rest makes me a little sick to my stomach. These are professional athletes being paid piles of cash to play a game... suck.. it.. up!

p.s. if we thought Pedro was going to throw his shoulder off in game two, wait until game six. i expect to see it dangling from a frayed rotator cuff tendon. he can use his other arm to hold a fruity drink while sitting under a mango tree.

Tim Walker said...

Jim, I actually *do* think that pitching a baseball taxes a starter's shoulder/elbow/etc. more intensely than many of the other sports you mentioned tax any one body part for other athletes. They *do* need rest days after a start.

They just don't need FOUR rest days after every start.

Aaron_Strout said...

Tim - interesting thread. I go back and fourth on this one but here are some immediate thoughts based on the World Series so far...

1) As you state in bullet number three, three days rest works for some pitchers (Sabathia) and not for others (Pedro). The impetus for your post (I think) was your questioning of why the Phils didn't go with Cliff Lee in game five. My guess is that Phil's skip, Charlie Manuel, was thinking that if you pitch Lee in game four on short rest and he's 80% of the pitcher that he normally is. While this is good enough against most teams, the Yankees lineup is just too touch. Ironically, game four pitcher, Joe Blanton, was actually pretty effective vs. the Bronx Bombers and instead, it was the bullpen (ahem) Lidge, that spit the bit in that game. If Lee pitches game four on three days rest and loses --- which it looks like they might have thanks to Mssr. Lidge -- the Phils are looking at Pedro in a do-or-die game five. Not the same confidence that Lee in game five inspired.
2) At the end of the day, you have to win four games. And while you don't like to leave yourself zero margin for error, the Phils likely gave themselves a better shot at being down 3-2 vs. eliminated by pitching Lee in game five instead of game four (either Blanton or Pedro on short rest would have had to pitch last night).
3) Getting back to your historical argument, the only caveat is that many of the players who pitched on three days rest a) didn't consistently throw 92+ mph and didn't throw nearly as many sliders and cut fastballs which take a greater toll on a pitchers elbow b) didn't play 162 games/year and c) weren't throwing to the likes of A-Rod, Jeter, Teixeira, Damon, Posada et al. every game. They likely faced 1-2 really good hitters, 1-2 good hitters and then 5-7 mediocre hitters (including the pitcher).

Either way, I love this thread. Interesting food for thought.


Jim Storer said...

Tim - Yep. I understand, but just don't think baseball managers (and players) consider other options (like having a pitcher throw a few innings on short rest vs. throwing a side session). While I'm not an expert of how to "rest" a pitcher, I'm sure there are creative ways to get the most out of your entire staff without doing permanent damage.

Nice analysis Aaron.

Tim Walker said...

Good stuff, guys. A follow-up question: how do the rules for starting-pitcher wins (must pitch at least 5 innings) and reliever saves affect usage patterns.

Because in an ideal world, pitchers would be used in a way that maximizes *TEAM* wins . . . but in the real world, that's not how starters are used.