Pitching on 3 Days Rest: A Bad Idea

Phil Rogers of the Chicago Tribune, in yesterday’s column Forget book; this was Beckett’s shot , says the Red Sox and manager Terry Francona messed up by not pitching Josh Beckett in game 4 on 3 days rest.

I don’t think the idea of pitching anybody on 3 days’ rest, in order to get more appearances in a short series, is very sound.

I’m not aware of much evidence to show that this ever works, other than:

  1. ’68 Tigers pitched Mickey Lolich on two days rest after winning game 5 to win game 7, in a squeaker over Bob Gibson. An outlier.
  2. ’87 Twins used Viola and Blyleven on three days rest, in games 4 and 5, and both lost, then Viola won game 7; not much to hang your hat on here.

Maybe there are other examples I’m not aware of. I didn’t delve into a hundred years of baseball stats. Sue me.

But if not, why would anyone think Beckett is so much different? Because he did this ONE time, in the 2003 World Series? Sorry, you can’t make informed decisions based on n=1.

And even if he is different, and he is that much of a pitching stud, there is the little matter of doing the math. With the Red Sox down 2 games to 1, they have to win 3 games.

Even if Beckett pitches and wins game 4 — which the smart money says he won’t — the Red Sox still have to win 2 more games. To make a desperation move like pitching a guy on short rest is to say “I’m worried about my starters”; say they get lucky and he wins that game, now they have to rely on those shaky starters to win twice as many games as their best guy just won. Huh?

Simply put, if you need 3 more wins, it doesn’t make sense to reduce the odds of winning any single game. If you only needed one win, and you thought Beckett on short rest was the better bet than any other pitcher on your staff, then yes, pitch him on short rest. Or, if you needed two wins, and Beckett could pitch both of those games. Otherwise, no.

I also think that analyzing probabilities would bear this out, generally: 3 games is too many more games you still need to win to risk pitching your stopper on short rest and not getting his best effort.

All else being equal, the team that has the better pitching, top to bottom, almost always wins. End of story. It is not something that can be “managed”, in any sense of the word. Unless you’re Dusty Baker, who has no frigging idea how to use a bullpen. In other words, managers are more likely to screw something up here than to fine-tune it.

Now I could be wrong on the probability and stats stuff, I’m no stats geek, but intuitively it makes sense. To me at least. Your Mileage May Vary.


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