WS Coverage: Philadelphia’s Game 7 Pitcher

Game 7, of course, is always living in the realm of “if necessary,” so for all we know any and all analysis on the topic could be moot by tomorrow. However, let’s humor ourselves for a bit. With Cole Hamels having pitched Game 3 on Saturday, he would be on four days’ rest on Thursday for Game 7. With the Phillies now having committed to Pedro Martinez for Game 6, that leaves Charlie Manuel with the choice between J.A. Happ and Cole Hamels.

The real answer here is both. There is absolutely no reason, in a Game 7 situation with essentially every pitcher available besides the Game 6 starter, that a starting pitcher should be allowed to face the lineup more than one time. This is the reason that the league average FIP for starters (roughly 4.45) is so much higher than that for relievers (roughly 4.20). This difference is even more exaggerated when we consider short relievers and remove mop-up types from consideration. This is because the short reliever does not need to pace himself, and doesn’t have to face a lineup the second time, and especially not a third time, where the starter suffers even more.

Apart from Hamels (3.72 FIP as a starter) and Happ (4.46 FIP as a starter), the Phillies could also call on Joe Blanton (4.45 FIP as a starter) off three days rest to pitch an inning or two. They also have Chan Ho Park (2.10 reliever FIP), Ryan Madson (3.23), and Brad Lidge (5.45 FIP, but 3.19 career).

Between these six pitchers, the Phillies could easily get nine quality innings. The difference between starting and relieving comes out to nearly a run, but just for the sake of argument, let’s use a more conservative estimate of .75. Then we see Hamels at roughly 3.00 FIP, and Happ and Blanton sitting at roughly 3.75. Park is probably not a 2.10 FIP true talent, and probably is closer to his 3.90 average from the last two years. Madson has been at 3.20 the last two years, but was at 4.20 as recently as 2007. He fits closer to 3.50 FIP for our estimate. Lidge, on the other hand, has a 2.19 FIP season in 2008 and a 3.88 FIP season in 2007. Giving weight to recent performance, a good estimate for Lidge would be 3.95.

In that case, consider this pitching plan. Hamels starts, pitches three innings. Happ relieves for two innings, and then hands off to Blanton, Park, Lidge, and Madson in some order to finish the game. At no point do the Phillies have to rely on a player with a reliever FIP above 4.00. Leaving Hamels or Happ in past the first part of the lineup would certainly result in a worse pitcher on the mound in the 3rd or 4th inning.

Regardless of how they do it, the Philadelphia Phillies will need any competitive advantage they can get if they reach a Game 7, where they will be facing one of the league’s top pitchers in C.C. Sabathia, and will also have to deal with Mariano Rivera at some point in the game. Runs will likely be at a premium, and this is the Phillies best bet at suppressing the Yankees offense in Game 7.



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Joe R
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Joe R

I don’t understand why managers don’t manage like this more in elimination games. I’d even use Cliff Lee for an inning or two.

Just keep throwing fresher arms out there.

B-R pretty much takes care of this point for me:

Times facing opponent in game, 2009, MLB:

1st PA: 107,978 PA, .253/.328/.398, 2.08 K/BB
2nd PA: 44,477 PA, .270/.335/.434, 2.02 K/BB
3rd PA: 31,192 PA, .282/.347/.460, 1.83 K/BB

There may be some reliever selection bias in the 1st PA (.268/.332/.430 vs. starters against .252/.334/.395 vs. relievers), but it seems pretty clear that by at least the 3rd go around, it becomes much harder to record those outs. 12 points of OBP, 26 of SLG, and a 9.4% drop in K/BB is nothing to sneeze at.

B
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B

I was going to bring up Cliff Lee, too. Why wouldn’t you use the best pitcher on the staff for an inning or two? It’s game 7 of the World Series, there’s no reason to hold anything back at that point.

Also, to further illustrate the points you made about time through the lineup – there’s actually going to be some survivor bias in those numbers I would imagine – higher quality starting pitchers should make up a higher proportion of the 2nd and 3rd time through the lineup, since they’ll pitch deeper into games more often….

Joe R
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Joe R

Yeah, you can actually see that in the 4th+ time faced (which is why I didn’t include it, the only time a pitcher would see a guy 4 times in a game is if he’s dominant…or Dusty Baker is managing your team).

chuckb
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chuckb

Cliff Lee should absolutely be used for an inning or 2. It would be his normal day to throw anyway, if in midseason, so they could get 30 pitches or so out of him, I’d think.

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