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Thursday, May 19, 2005

THREE DAYS
Yesterday, The Big Mango pitched on three days rest, and the short layover didn't bother him at all. As you know, he allowed only eight runs in four innings, allowing only four hits.

Caveats? Only three strikeouts against four walks, and he was pitching against the team that runs forgot -- a team that, somehow, has managed to have been outscored by even the Angels to this point in the season (166-153, for those keeping score).

You may recall, as there have been abundant reminders of late, the last time Colon went on three days rest in an Angels uniform. It was on Friday, October 1, A.D. 2004, when Colon went seven shutout innings against the A's in NetAss, striking out six and allowing only three hits en route to a division-tying victory.

I was trying to find Colon's career stats on three-day vs. four-day rest, and though they have been recently quoted to some small degree in papers, I could not find them. I think it's safe to say that Colon loses nothing coming back from three days rest every once in awhile, based on yesterday and October 1, A.D. 2004. But could he sustain that over an extended period of time?

My honest answer is that I have no clue, and I can't prove a yes or a no on that one. My gut belief is: of course he could. My gut belief is: just about every starting pitcher will be just as effective on three days rest as on four days rest. Yes, you might -- actually, probably should -- pitch each guy less per start. But even in so doing, you'd be giving more of your total innings to your best pitchers. And isn't that a good thing?

Y'see, I'm one of those people that believes re-installing the four-man rotation would go a long way towards solving the problems faced by modern society. I looked at this before last season, and came to an Earth-shattering conclusion: fifth starters are horrible. Every fifth day, most major league teams are putting out a guy with an ERA over 5.00. Does this make sense?

Look at it this way: last season the Angels threw 1454 1/3 innings. The top four starters -- Escobar, Colon, Washburn, and Lackey -- threw 764 1/3 innings: 52.5% of the total. That's artifically lowered because Wash got hurt, so let's go ahead and say he really threw 198 1/3 innings just like John Lackey did. Doing that means that our top four pitchers would have thrown 55.9% of the team's innings, not a big difference.

In the meantime, Aaron Sele and Ramon Ortiz threw 200 2/3 innings in the rotation, or 13.8% of the total innings of the team.

The top four guys, who had an ERA of 4.56, averaged 6.16 innings per start. The two guys that flopped in the fifth spot, to a tune of a 5.20 ERA, averaged 5.28 innings per start.

Let's pretend that we could have the top four guys start every game. We would have 162 games x 6.16 innings = 998 innings for those guys. With a 4.56 ERA, that's 505.65 earned runs allowed.

How many earned runs did the Angel rotation really allow in 2004? 503. But in only 964 innings: the team takes thirty more innings -- over three games worth -- to get to the same number of runs allowed in the four-man scenario*.

The first objection to this reasoning is that, if pitchers were in a strict four-man rotation, they could not actually pitch 6.16 innings per start. Let's say the average would drop to 6.00. In that case, they would allow 492.48 earned runs in 972 innings. The team would pick up ten runs and eight innings; the ten runs is about one win and the eight innings is about a game's worth, so that's still a good trade-off.

And you might have noticed that giving the four guys 162 starts at 6 innings per -- or 972 innings -- is more than if you gave them 131 starts (162 less 31 starts for the fifth guy[s]) at 6.16 innings per -- which is only 807 innings. That's 165 innings you don't have to waste on middle relievers, in this hypothetical perfect world. The four allegedly top pitchers now account for 66.8% of innings thrown instead of ~55%.

The big pragmatic question, which of cousre will never be answered, is: Can these guys actually pitch consistently on three days rest, even with a reduced workload? This is never going to be answered because no one's going to risk it unless circumstances get overly dire.

The Angels came into this season with five solid starters, plus Kevin Gregg, plus Scot Shields (who will return to the rotation when Darin Erstad, who I cannot make fun of for six more days, returns to center field). So it probably wouldn't make sense to have gone to a four-man rotation at the beginning of the year. (Of course, the need for the fifth man meant that The Wyrd had to be signed, which took money out of our pool to sign a DH and a center fielder instead of a DH to play center field, but I digress.) But right now, what seems like a better alternative while Escobar is on the DL:

1. Start Kevin "7.06 ERA" Gregg,
2. Start Ervin "I'm Too Young for this S**t" Santana, or
3. Get the four guys to sack up and go on three days rest for two weeks?

Maybe the Angel arms couldn't take it, and my four-man vision is an unattainable Utopia. But I trust Bartolo Colon more after three days than four days, and he did a hell of a job yesterday.


*If you give Wash as many innings as he would have had had he averaged as many per start for 33 starts, he would have allowed 102 ER in 197 IP instead of 77 in 149.3; taking those innings away from Ramon Ortiz (the worst starter) gets Ortiz down to 19 ER in 31.3 innings. Add it all up, and the revised number is 499 earned runs allowed by the rotation in 964 innings -- so we're looking at the same comparison, really.

Comments:
In the short term, in this specific situation, the Angels don't have to worry much about a four-man rotation as such if Escobar can come off the DL when he's eligible. He was put on the 15-day on May 12, so he's eligible to come off on the 27th. The Angels will only need a 5th starter once before then, and they've announced their intention to start Santanta on Tuesday versus Jon Garland, who is currently 8-0. Yowza.

On the subejct of four-man rotations in general, I suspect that the real problem is that some guys could handle it and some guys couldn't, and you can't exactly mix and match those two types in a rotation. Plus, if you had a four-man rotation your starters would all cost that much more, without saving you money on the elimination of a fifth starter because you'd still fill that roster spot with someone.
 
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