Friday, September 10, 2004

Post-Season Rotation

Everyone seems to be talking about the Cards playoff rotation, especially after Morris' start on Wednesday. (I've never seen a guy go from completely dominant to completely horrible in 5 days.) Is Morris going to be someone that can be counted on in October? Should he be in the rotation? Should he even be on the roster? All questions that I don't know the answer to. What's more, I don't think he will get enough starts between now and the beginning of the playoffs to answer this question in my mind.

If, however, we ignore the erratic pitching of Matt Morris - what should the Cards do? They have an outside shot at 4 starters with 17 wins each! Now, I'm not here to claim that wins are a great measure of a pitcher. With that being said, however, Morris is going to be considered for the playoff rotation by LaRussa because, among other things:

  1. He has playoff experience
  2. He could end the season leading the team in wins (and losses, but I digress)
  3. He's been with the team the longest of any starter, and Tony rewards veteran players
Rather than try to figure out which starters deserve to be in the rotation more, let's look at which starter might be best suited for relief.

Using ESPN's sortable stats, I looked up the OPS allowed for all Cardinals starting pitchers in 2004, including Dan Haren. However, we shouldn't stop there. You can further break down the OPS allowed to just look at the first 3 innings of work during a start. After all, one would expect a starting pitcher to be used in long relief situations, but no more than 2 or 3 innings at a time. Listed below are starters, number of starts, AVG/OBP/SLG, and OPS for the first 3 innings of a start.

Haren - 3 Starts, .200/.278/.267, 544 OPS
Carpenter - 26, .237/.292/.367, 659
Suppan - 27, .254/.317/.389, 706
Woody - 27, .281/.335/.438, 773
Marquis - 27, .277/.348/.446, 794
Morris - 29, .303/.343/.511, 854

A few comments on the above numbers. Dan Haren, who's bullpen numbers already look outstanding, looks even better if you look at his first 3 innings of work. He only allows a 544 OPS over the first 3 innings, but a 1250 OPS in innings 4-6, 1833 in innings 7 and beyond (only 3 at-bats). While I have no problem with Haren getting a shot at the rotation next year, he really might be a good bullpen pitcher in the future.

Carpenter gets off to a strong start, and doesn't let up much after that (677 OPS allowed on the season.)

Woody, Marquis, and Morris all start of a little shaky before settling in during the later innings. This is obviously the case with Matt Morris, who's early inning numbers are severely skewed by some of his more horrible outings. San Diego, San Francisco, and Chicago come to mind (all potential playoff teams to boot.)

The one guy that stands out in this scenario to me is Jeff Suppan. Suppan allows a 706 OPS in the first 3 innings of each start, with his numbers drifting up slightly over the course of the game (734 OPS allowed overall).

What can we take away from this? Well, in my opinion you don't want Marquis or Woody in the bullpen. They don't seem to hit their stride until the 4th inning and on. Besides - it's hard to argue against those two, along with Carpenter, in the rotation. That leaves Jeff Suppan vs. Matt Morris, in my opinion. Simply looking at their numbers in the first 3 innings of play, Jeff Suppan looks to be the pitcher of choice out of the pen. He does his best work during those innings, and if he knew he was only going to throw 2 or 3 innings in a night, he might be able to pitch a bit more effectively (which could be said for all starters, of course.)

As far as Matt Morris goes - well, do you want a guy coming in out of the pen who allows an 854 OPS over his first 3 innings of starts? "But Robb," you say. "Why in the heck would I want Morris starting a game and pitching for 6 innings or more if I don't trust him to come in out of the pen?" Well, my logic may be flawed, but it goes like this.

If you use Morris in relief, you don't know what you're going to get. He could be great for an inning or two, could get shelled quicker than you can blink. With that being the case, you would only trust him to pitch in mop-up situations. And if you were only going to use him in a mop-up role anyway, you would probably rather see someone else like Haren or Ankiel in the pen in the first place.

If you start Morris, however, there is a big upside. You could get a start out of him similar to the one we saw a week ago today, which was the 3rd best game score start of 2004 behind Randy Johnson's no-hitter and Jason Schimdt's one hitter. And if he stinks? Keep a short leash on him, and have - how convenient! - Jeff Suppan in the bullpen, ready to work 3 innings after Morris implodes. Suppan should be able to get the team into the late innings, where the rest of the pen could take over.

So, to round things out let's take a look at where Suppan would fit into the bullpen, looking at the overall OPS allowed of the relievers compared with his numbers over the first 3 innings.

King - 542
Ankiel - 583 (1 inning)
Isringhausen - 584
Calero - 585
Kline - 585
Haren - 617 (relief only)
Tavarez - 618
Suppan - 706
Eldred - 783

Only 7 of those 9 guys will be on the post-season roster. I suspect that Ankiel will only be in if Kline is out, and that Haren will only be in due to an injury to another right hander. That would leave Suppan in the bullpen, available to start in emergency situations, and basically taking a little work away from Eldred. Seems like a good situation to me. Of course, I would have plenty of Rolaids on hand in any Matt Morris start, and be praying that Tony would have someone warming up on a hair trigger.

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