Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Letting Pitchers Pitch

Yup. I did it again. I watched the 2018 Red Sox World Series DVD again today. Every time I do, I seem to pick up on something new. Today, it was something I think I probably realized, but just didn't
click until today.

Not only did Alex Cora allow his starting pitchers to pitch on days they didn't start, he actually let them pitch on days they did start too.

In past postseasons, the Sox have been plagued by starting pitching problems. The starters were only going four or five innings at most, taking the bullpen, and spiraling down from there. Hard to win a series when our long reliever pitches more than your starters.

But, that didn't happen this year. Quite a few starters were going six or seven innings during their starts. You might think it's because they were pitching better than in years past. I think it might be something else. Cora was letting them pitch more than in years passed. It was watching David Price's fourth inning of Game 2 that really clicked for me.

Price entered the inning with a one-run lead. While he had pitched well in his last playoff start, he did have that history of not winning in the postseason. This is how the inning started.




Ick. This was the Price people were afraid of. If Farrell were still managing, what do you think would have happened? Would Price have faced the next batter after that "meltdown" with a one-run lead? I'm not sure. 

Price then gave up a flyball. While it got the first out, it also tied the game. Would that have been enough to keep him in the game? I doubt it. If he was still pitching, the strike out of Hernandez may have allowed him to pitch to Puig. But, when Puig hit the run scoring single, I can't imagine Farrell wouldn't be walking to the mound before Price had the ball back in his glove. Sure, there were two outs. But, first and third with a starter struggling in a key game? He'd be on the bench. Heck, Francona might have pulled him there. But Cora doesn't. And, Price rewards him by getting the last out of the inning, and holding the Dodgers to just the two runs.

So, sure the Sox got an extra out from Price? What's the big deal?

The big deal is the fifth inning. Price set the side down in order. Quickly. Easily. Pitching an inning that the bullpen didn't have to.

Then he did it again in the sixth, with a newly minted lead in the game. The sixth was even better than the fifth. Once again, the starter recovered and pitched an inning so the bullpen didn't have to.

By the time Price finally stays on the bench in the seventh, you're into your preferred part of the bullpen. Kelly-Eovaldi-Kimbrel closed out the win. You used the three relievers you wanted to use, and didn't have to pitch together two important innings in the middle of the game. Just because Cora let the starters pitch.

Now, will that work every time? Of course not. Cora let EdRo face one batter too many in game four. And, it almost cost him dearly. But, generally, I like the idea of letter pitchers pitch. Starters can give up three runs and not have terrible games. If the tradeoff is having fresh relievers for when you really need them? I think that's a gamble worth taking.

And, apparently, so does Cora.

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