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Desperate Times Call For Logical Measures

If the Texas Rangers win Game Three of the ALCS tonight, the Tigers will find themselves down 3-0 in the series and would face elimination tomorrow. Rick Porcello is the scheduled starter for Detroit in that game, but there has been some rumblings about moving Justin Verlander up and have him start tomorrow if the Tigers season is on the line.

Jim Leyland won’t even consider doing that, however.

“He’s pitching Game 5,” Leyland said prior to a 7-3 loss on Monday in Game 2. “That’s a slam dunk. That is the end of the conversation.”

“What people don’t realize is, you’ve got to win four games,” Leyland said. “Nobody might believe this — the public, the TV people might not want to and everybody else — but let me tell you something: At this point, from what I’ve seen, pitching Justin Verlander on the fifth day is two-fold. It’s the best thing for Justin Verlander, and it’s the best thing for the team. Trust me when I tell you that.

“In my heart, it is a no-brainer. It might read better if I said I changed my mind. Everybody would love it. But it’s not the best thing for him, and it’s not the best thing for this team. He needs the day. That is a no-brainer.”

Leyland is going to get some grief for this stance if the Tigers get eliminated with Porcello on the hill and Verlander in the dugout, but in this instance, he’s exactly right.

The Tigers have to win four of the next five games in order to keep playing baseball this year. A loss tonight would put them in the position of having to win four straight. Yes, they’d need to win game four in order to keep on playing, and they’d probably have a better chance of winning that game with Verlander on the hill, but moving Verlander up would lower the Tigers’ chances of completing the comeback and moving on to the World Series.

Leyland nails it when he says that the Tigers have to win four games. Moving Verlander up to start Game Four would simply be robbing Peter to pay Paul, as it would reallocate some of their win expectancy from Game Five and shift it forward by a day. However, it wouldn’t be an equal shift.

Let’s say that their odds of winning with Rick Porcello in Game Four are 50 percent – they have the worse pitcher on the hill, but they also have home field advantage, so we’ll call it even. With Justin Verlander pitching in Game Five, we’ll give them a 60 percent chance of winning.

Now, if the Tigers move Verlander up to pitch in Game Four, we’d give them something like a 57 percent chance of winning that game – still better than with Porcello on the mound, but lower than their odds if Verlander was going on full rest. By moving Verlander up, they’d increase their odds of playing Game Five, but they’d be decreasing their odds of winning that game by more than they increased their odds of winning Game Four, and as Leyland correctly notes, they’d have to win both. Flip-flopping Verlander and Porcello wouldn’t make any sense, because whether it’s Game Four or Game Five, you’d still have to win an elimination game with Porcello on the mound.

The only way to argue for Verlander to start Game Four would be an advocacy of a three man rotation, abandoning Porcello’s start altogether, and asking Verlander, Scherzer, and Fister to each pitch on three day’s rest for the remainder of the series. You could theoretically argue that moving a start from Porcello to Verlander is worth the hit that they would take in the other games by using short-rest starters, as the gap between the expected performance between the two is fairly large.

However, even that extreme measure is unlikely to produce any real actual advantage for the Tigers. Let’s assume that their odds of winning each of the final four games of the series on normal rotation look something like this (the odds reflect which teams have home field advantage):

Game Four w/Porcello: 50 percent
Game Five w/Verlander: 60 percent
Game Six w/Scherzer: 45 percent
Game Seven w/Fister: 45 percent

Odds of winning all four games: 6.1%

Now, if we shift everyone up one game and apply the five percent performance discount to each starter, we get this instead:

Game Four w/Verlander: 57 percent
Game Five w/Scherzer: 53 percent
Game Six w/Fister: 43 percent
Game Seven w/Verlander: 53 percent

Odds of winning all four games: 6.8%

Either way, the odds of the Tigers coming back from down 3-0 are not good, and they don’t change much no matter when Justin Verlander takes the hill. While I thought Jim Leyland may have been overly conservative with Verlander’s usage in the ALDS, in this scenario, I think he’s handling it exactly right. If the Tigers are going to win this series, it’s going to have to be a team effort, and they might want to start by not getting down 3-0 to begin with.