Giants show why four man rotation is best in division series
Last night, the Giants rolled into the NLCS behind solid starting pitching of Madison Bumgarner and the great hitting of midseason acquisition Cody Ross. Tim Lincecum, just coming off a 2-hit shutout performance in Game 1, would have been available for Game 5 if needed. Fortunately for the Giants, they can now save him for a NLCS matchup against Roy Halladay. Simply put, the plan worked perfectly.
The debate over whether to go with Lincecum or Bumgarner was framed as just that; should Tim Lincecum pitch on three days rest or should we trust in the rookie? Actually, the choice that a manager is making is whether the extra days rest is worth the drop off from the second starter to the fourth starter. In the case of the Giants, this is the drop from Matt Cain to Madison Bumgarner. This is because the Game 1 starter will pitch again in the series no matter what, and bumping up Lincecum doesn’t increase the amount of games you can get out of him, only the amount you can get out of Matt Cain.
But what about the advantage of wrapping up the series a game early? Typically, you’d like the extra day off to help reset your rotation, but if the ace of the staff is pitching Game 4, he may not be able to go in Game 1 (depending on scheduling and the rest of the rotation) and thus won’t be able to pitch in three NLCS games if needed (Games 1, 4 and 7). The lack of a fifth game may rest the bullpen a little more, but the time off between rounds is enough where bullpens can be reset.
On the other hand, the advantage of going with a fourth starter in the opening round is one I’ve already mentioned; the ace of the staff can pitch in three championship series games if needed. Also, the pitcher is better positioned to open up the World Series in Game 1 and pitch three games there if the NLCS/ALCS wraps up in less than seven games. If the division series goes to five games, as is the case in the Rays and Rangers series, the team is just about as out of luck as they were going with the ace in the fourth game. In the case of Cliff Lee, though, the decision was already made considering his unwillingness to throw on three days rest.
So when should one consider going with a pitcher on three days rest? Well, as always, the pitcher needs to be just as effective on three days rest as four days, otherwise you are wasting a potential productive outing. The other condition is that the second starter is significantly better than the fourth starter. Think back to the old Diamondbacks World Series teams and you had just that with Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson being co-aces. The teams who fit the bill this year were the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies, and both opted for a three man rotation despite the decision being irrelevant by the end.
However, it could be plenty relevant for the Giants as the next series could easily go to seven games and us fans could be treated to a possible third showdown of the Cy Young winners.