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.

We hoped you liked reading Texas’ Curious Rotation Choices by Dave Cameron!

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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