Texas’ Curious Rotation Choices

We’ve already talked about Ron Washington‘s curious decision to play Vladimir Guerrero over David Murphy in San Francisco, but now he’s made another surprising decision in his World Series rotation. In game 2, he’s decided to hand the ball to C.J. Wilson, and then turn to Tommy Hunter in Game 4. I’m not sure I would have made the same call in either case.

The main difference between starting Game 2 and Game 3 is the ballpark in which you pitch. Washington chose to throw Wilson in San Francisco and Colby Lewis in Texas, but based on their styles of pitching and the respective ways the parks play, it doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Let’s just start with the obvious: 44.5 percent of Colby Lewis’ balls in play this year were flyballs, compared to just 33.5 percent for C.J. Wilson. Wilson has the highest groundball rate of any pitcher on the Rangers’ roster, in fact, while Lewis has the lowest groundball rate of any of their starters. They are complete opposites on what kinds of balls in play they allow.

San Francisco, of course, is a pretty big park, and it knocks down a lot of fly balls that could be home runs in Texas. It is especially hard to hit home runs to right field, which makes it one of the best places in baseball for a right-handed pitcher to throw. The ideal pitcher for AT&T park is a right-handed flyball guy, to which Matt Cain can attest. His skillset is perfect for how the park plays.

Colby Lewis is similar to Cain, but Lewis is now going to pitch in Game 3 in Texas – a place where flyballs often clear the fences. Wilson, who will get less of a benefit from pitching in San Francisco due to his groundball ways and being left-handed, gets the Game 2 start instead. Why? I’m not sure, honestly.

The other curious decision is to give Tommy Hunter another start in Game 4. Derek Holland is simply a better pitcher than Hunter, and he’s been excellent in relief in the postseason. The decision was reportedly based on the Giants having a right-handed heavy line-up, but they actually hit RHP better than LHP this year, and as we discussed yesterday, their options for a DH against LHP are not good. By starting a righty, the Giants will be able to use a better alignment of players in Game 4.

The choices the Rangers have made might not end up mattering much, as I’m sure Holland will be warming up as soon as Hunter gets in any kind of trouble. If Hunter doesn’t pitch well, he won’t last more than an inning or two, and they’ll end up with the better pitcher on the mound anyway. But if Hunter digs them a hole they can’t climb out of, they might regret giving him the start when they have a superior option down in the bullpen.




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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


50 Responses to “Texas’ Curious Rotation Choices”

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  1. this guy says:

    Good points, and more reasons why I like the Giants in 6.

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  2. Zach says:

    While I agree with your broader point about Holland v Hunter, it’s not as clear cut a choice as it might seem. Although Holland certainly looks better this year than last, we’re dealing with a very small sample.

    Tommy Hunter has thrown 135.3 innings this year (incl. playoffs) with the result being 22 HR, 80 K, and 33 BB for a ~4.80 FIP. Since last August, Derek Holland has thrown 129 innings, with 20 HR, 105 K, and 49 BB for a ~4.70 FIP. Maybe Ron Washington is looking that larger sample, and thinking that 1) the difference is all that big, and 2) Hunter isn’t used to relief pitching, so why rock the boat?

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    • Zach says:

      correction: the difference *isn’t* all that big.

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    • Matt Defalco says:

      Interesting idea to get the whole large sample size in. I must admit, though, that while it may display Wash’s thinking, it doesn’t justify it as we all know that Holland has been WAY better than Hunter out of the ‘pen.

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  3. philkid3 says:

    The “why” is because Ron Washington likes “roles.” And Ceej’s role is the No. 2 starter.

    Not that I agree with it.

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  4. timmy! says:

    In regards to Lewis and Wilson, Washington may of taken into account home and road splits. It appears Wilson pitches better away from Arlington, while Lewis pitches slightly better at home.

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    • Jack Weiland says:

      Well that is certainly dumb. Only H/R split that would matter is how he pitches in SF vs. how he pitches in Arlington. And I’m guessing the sample of “zero games” in SF doesn’t provide much insight.

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      • Hank says:

        Dumb?

        Dumb would be assuming only park dimensions influence how a pitcher pitches and who should start where. Weather, the mound, the defense behind him (Vlad in the OF in SF?), amount of rest, nagging injury?, pitcher batting, etc…. – there are many factors other than the SABR 3 outcome version of baseball (K, BB, HR) that go beyond simple park dimensions and flyball rate.

        While the park should obviously be given strong consideration, to use that as the ONLY consideration is an interesting thesis.

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  5. TexasRanger says:

    Thank you Ronny! This likely means a Sandoval start against Hunter!!

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  6. Stringer Bell says:

    Why can’t he just throw Cliff Lee in Games 1, 4 and 7?

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    • Zach says:

      Stringer Bell WOULD think this was a good idea. Then he’d go sleep with Cliff Lee’s girlfriend, while Lee was on the mound.

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      • Stringer Bell says:

        I made sure DeAngelo’s son was taken care of after I ordered him to be killed, I’m not sure what the problem is here.

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    • Al says:

      That’s a good idea, but I believe Lee has said that he doesn’t want to pitch on short rest. I don’t remember that he did that last year with the Phillies either.

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  7. Scott says:

    If the Rangers really do insist on starting Guerrero in right for both of the games in SF, they might be putting Wilson out there for game 2 because of his groundball tendencies. This way, Guerrero doesn’t have as much of an opportunity to hurt the Rangers with his defense.

    I’m still not sure it’s a good idea, but that could be a reason they’re putting Wilson before Lewis.

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    • chuckb says:

      I think this is probably the reason Washington’s doing what he’s doing. At least, it’s the only possible reason that makes sense to me. The game 2 starter also starts game 6 so he pitches twice in San Francisco. This, in all likelihood, (though he should be using Murphy instead) means that Vlad will start in the OF (probably RF, though it should be LF) in games 2 and 6. Going with the ground ball pitcher reduces the likelihood that Vlad’s horrendous defense hurts you too badly in those games.

      I don’t agree with any of these decisions really, but it’s the only possible explanation that I can come up with.

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  8. Nivarsity says:

    I agree w/ you about Lewis-Wilson. But on Holland-Hunter, you’re missing a major point. Holland has been a huge weapon as lefty RP that go multiple innings in the playoffs. He might be more valuable in that capacity than as a game 4 starter

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  9. Al says:

    I think Hunter is starting over Holland because you get more value from him coming out of the bullpen. Like you said on your Game 6 chat, Relievers > Starters in the playoffs. Holland is not an elite starters, so wouldn’t you be better served using him to get out of a jam in case Wilson/Lewis/Hunter don’t get deep into a game? By putting him into the bullpen, you can use Holland in more important situations throughout the series.

    I’d rather get a couple of quality relief apperiances out of Holland than roll the dice and hope he is lights out for one start in Game 4.

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    • Mark says:

      Is there a more important situation than a 0-0 game?

      I understand what you are saying, in that you have more flexibility to use him out of the pen, but if you’re already down 5-2, how good is that flexibility?

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      • Mark says:

        Clarification: I know that a 0-0 game in the 1st is a relatively low leverage situation. I just meant that it’s probably higher leverage than any situation where your starting pitcher gets bombed.

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  10. Mark Houston says:

    Texas has made it thus far in spite of Washington not because of him. He is under equipped for what he is being asked of him. A lot of his decisions resemble darts at a dartboard. But his luck has held, I will grant him that. His pitching rotation for the Series is one thing but his ridiculous bullpen decisions throughout the ALCS portend bad joojoo coming to the Rangers. Say it ain’t so, Joe: Giants in 5 or 6 and I hate the Giants!

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      Which team made it to the playoffs because of their manager?

      Washington seemed to call some aggressive plays that would be considered “bad baseball” by advanced metrics, and those moves paid off in games that Texas won.

      I’m not saying that the manager’s decisions caused a win, I’m just combating this idea that managers have a big influence on the outcome based upon decisions. IMO, they don’t.

      There are a few times when a manager will designb a team to play a certain way based upon stadium, personnell, minor league talent, etc that will lead them to be mor successful than others … but those are rare.

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  11. t ball says:

    I think both Hunter and Holland are wild cards right now. Holland is definitely the better pitcher long term, but he’s had an up and down year with injuries and inconsistency. I’d start him over Hunter if it were up to me, but I wouldn’t be sure what I’d get even so. I like Holland being available in multiple games as a reliever.

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  12. ElJimador says:

    This was my first reaction when I heard the Rangers’ rotation too. Surely you’d want Lewis as a RHP w/greater fly ball tendencies pitching at AT&T and the groundball lefty Wilson going in Arlington. But on second thought I think that’s probably over-thinking it. In terms of actual home/road splits Wilson has been better on the road and Lewis better at home. And more important, Wilson is clearly the Rangers best pitcher besides Lee. Don’t you usually want your best guys at the top of the rotation?

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  13. bflaff says:

    The head scratcher for me is on the other side, with Sanchez (or did I hear this wrong?) going in game 3. Didn’t seem to be at his best when hostile fans were giving him the business, so I’d be more inclined to give him a nurturing environment for a high-stakes game.

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    • Graham says:

      Disagree strongly. Sanchez pitched well on the road all year, was absolutely dominant in his first road start of the postseason, and very good in his second (his one rough patch in the first could’ve been mitigated either by Mike Fontenot not making an error or by the ump calling the 3-2 pitch to Rollins a strike instead of a ball, which would’ve been entirely defensible). In game 6, he was off before the game started == in his postgame comments he noted that he had no life on his fastball even in his bullpen.

      Also — even with a six-pack head start, Ranger fans can’t hope to be anywhere near as hostile as Phillie fans.

      All told, given Sanchez’s strikeout stuff and Cain’s righty-flyballer characteristics, this is absolutely the right decision.

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    • Bigmouth says:

      Only thing that scares me about Sanchez pitching Game 3 is that it means he’ll be on the mound if there’s a Game 7. That’s a little too reminiscent of Atlee Hammaker in the 1987 NLCS for my taste.

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      • Graham says:

        I hear you — but on the flip side, he’s less likely to make two starts. Game 7 won’t exist unless a lot of circumstances conspire, so I’d rather be assured of having our best on the mound for the contingencies of games 5 and 6.

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  14. Pat says:

    I noticed no one on this site has mentioned it yet, but Tommy Hunter has turned in an ass backwards performance in the playoffs thus far. During the season, he was the poster boy for a “lucky pitcher”, getting very few strikeouts and somehow neutralizing the runs and hits he gives up. Now in his two playoff starts, he becomes a strikeout machine, 11 K’s and no walks in 7.1 innings, but he has nothing to show for it.

    If he can combine the controllable numbers that he’s put up so far with everything else he’s done during the season, he won’t be so bad. However, I’m very confident that everyone will dismiss his numbers as a fluke but I’m just pointing it out for fun.

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    • Bill says:

      yep, hunter was lucky in the regular season. a little unluck in the postseason.

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    • Graham says:

      Well — as a Giants fan, I’d personally rather see him combine his peripherals from the regular season and his luck from the postseason. But in any case, I do think it’s important to measure that “controllable” stats (K, BB, HR) aren’t really “controllable” in a small sample size. Or rather — it’s impossible to tell whether even these stats are reflective of a pitcher’s true talent or are just aberrations owing to any number of variables in a small sample.

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  15. dhbooty83 says:

    I agree that Lewis is probably the better choice for game 2; however, I think CJ Wilson might have a stroke if he doesn’t get a chance to bat in the World Series. I guess the real question is if this rotation (in this order) worked against the Rays and Yankees, do you really need to mess with it against the Giants?

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  16. Bill says:

    Derek Holland can NOT start a game in the World Series, he’d be peeing down his leg all day long. Hunter can handle it.

    You put Holland in the bullpen, where he doesn’t know when/if he’s going to pitch, then just give him the ball. If he does too much thinking, he’s toast.

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  17. mowill says:

    I can’t believe even when it gets down to the World Series no manager has the cajones to start their ace in games 1, 4 and 7. If Lee only starts twice the Rangers will lose the same way the Phillies did last year and they will deserve it.

    This is so stupid I can’t get past it. Two starts on 3 days rest are not going to hurt anyone.

    This is why baseball keeps losing ground. Most players, managers and front offices are viewed as gutless, which is the correct view of the facts.

    I for one will now be watching the NBA instead of wasting my time with a World Series that the Rangers are not doing everything they can to win.

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    • mowill says:

      I also can’t believe that Cameron doesn’t bring up Lee starting thrice in the article either. Another example of gutlessness.

      Whither Curt Schilling?

      Whither Jack Morris?

      Whither Bob Gibson?

      Whither Christy Mathewson?

      Modern pitchers, players and managers are freaking cowards.

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    • Anon says:

      Oh, that’s why baseball keeps losing ground? Okay then.

      Have fun with the NBA, which certainly isn’t losing any ground, right?

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      • mowill says:

        Allright Kofi.

        At least the teams in the basketball games will be doing everything to win, which the Rangers are not.

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      • Anon says:

        Wait what? Have you ever watched an NBA game? I think you may be confusing it with a college basketball game.

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    • wobatus says:

      Enjoy watching meaningless early season NBA games.

      Also, did you notice the Rangers beat the Yankees with Cliff Lee only starting one game? I don’t think the Giants are guaranteed to win if Lee can only start 2 games.

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    • todmod says:

      You really believe nothing bad could possibly happen by asking a pitcher to do something twice potentially in a series that HE has never done before? We can’t treat pitchers like complete robots here. The Rangers have talked to Lee about short rest. He isn’t comfortable with it.

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  18. cs3 says:

    the rangers shouldnt care about lee getting hurt in a possible 3rd start anyway, because it would be his last as a ranger regardless off the outcome

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  19. rick p says:

    “Derek Holland can NOT start a game in the World Series, he’d be peeing down his leg all day long. Hunter can handle it.”

    This is my impression too. Ive been hearing how great Holland is for a while now, but there is Hunter 13-4 and there is Holland in the pen. Last year it was Feldman

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    • ACWNS09 says:

      Way to go, you brought up win-loss and Feldman’s results last year in support of Hunter. Are you lost?

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  20. NotDave says:

    After Cameron told us Sabathia shouldn’t be used in game six, because “the Yankees have to win both games anyway,’ I’m thinking big Dave should just refrain from the embarrassment of making any more recommendations to big league managers.

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  21. Sprezzident says:

    Buster Olney just tweeted that CJ Wilson is “mashing” and spraying line drives to all fields. Think there’s any chance Washington was taking Wilson’s hitting prowess into account? Or, perhaps more importantly, *should* Washington take something like that into account?

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  22. Rob says:

    I can’t imagine this was the only reason-but apparently CJ Wilson can really hit according to Buster Olney and some scouts…maybe trying to maximize production from pitcher’s spot

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  23. seanathan says:

    I think Ron is making a (small) mistake going Wilson-Lewis but is making the right choice going with Hunter in Game 4.

    First, as philkid said Ron loves his roles and “using what got us here.” Also, Wilson didn’t get a hit in interleague play this year but he was a strong hitter in college and is generally considered to be a fairly good hitter for a pitcher. Of course, Lewis is also a decent hitter, posting solid numbers this year and the last two years in Japan.

    Hunter in Game 4 is the right call though, I think. Lee has never pitched on short rest and the reward doesn’t outweigh the risk of finding out how that would go for the first time during the World Series. The advanced stats are obviously down on Hunter as they should be, but the Giants are a team he should be able to have success against. Add to that the benefit of Holland coming out of the pen and I think the argument is made.

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  24. the electrician says:

    i think ron washington is gonna choke as a coach, hes stubborn and is gonna coach like its regular season in the w.s. you have to be agressive….

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