2013 Postseason / 2013 Reds

Who should start in a wild card playoff game?

*All stats through games played on September 8th

If the playoffs started today, the Reds would have to travel to Pittsburgh for a one-game, do or die elimination playoff game.  While there is still time for the Reds to make a run at the division title and avoid playing in the wild card game, there still has to be preparation for who would pitch in the wild card game.  This single decision will be the biggest one of the season, and arguably one of the biggest decisions in Dusty Baker’s career.

Here is the case for each of the Reds starters:

Mat Latos
14-5, 3.02 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 175 K, 51 BB, 4.1 WAR

Mat Latos is having a great season for the Reds.  He has simply been the ace-type pitcher that the Reds traded for in December of 2011.  His 3.02 ERA is tied for 10th best in the NL, and his 4.1 WAR ranks 9th best.

The best thing Latos has done this season is avoiding giving up big run totals.  He has only allowed more than 4 ER in 2 of his 29 starts.  In 18 of Latos 29 starts, he has allowed 2 ER or less.  His consistency has been the cornerstone of his 2013 success.

2013 vs. Cardinals: 5 GS, 3-1, 2.38 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 20 K, 5 BB
2013 vs. Pirates: 4 GS, 1-1, 3.57 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 27 K, 10 BB

Latos has been very good down the stretch.  Since August 1st, Latos has a 2.04 ERA and 0.96 WHIP, with 33 K and 8 BB.

The one thing that would scare you about pitching Latos in a do or die game was Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS.  Latos had a chance to pitch in a do or die playoff game last year, and failed.  After a few questionable strike/ball calls, Latos let his emotions get the best of him, and ended up giving a grand slam to the NL MVP.  You would hope that a year later would equal a more mature Latos, who would deal with that adversity better, but that was only 11 months ago.

Homer Bailey
10-10, 3.39 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 190 K, 42 BB, 3.7 WAR

Homer Bailey is having the best season of his career.  His 10-10 record is not nearly indicative of just how good he has been, but more indicative of his team worst 3.93 run support in his starts.  Bailey’s 1.10 WHIP ranks 10th best in the NL, his 190 strikeouts are tied for 4th best, and his 4.52 K/BB ranks 5th best.

Bailey has been one of the most dominant pitchers in all of baseball at times.  That is obvious from his two no-hitters in the last 12 months, but it goes further than that.

Homer is one of only six pitchers in all of the MLB this season to have seven or more starts with a Game Score of 75 or higher: Clayton Kershaw (10), Justin Masterson (8), Matt Harvey (8), Jose Fernandez (8), Adam Wainwright (7), Homer Bailey (7).   Bailey has blown out the rest of the Reds starters in starts with a Game Score higher than 75: Bailey (7), Arroyo (3), Leake (2), Cingrani (2), Latos (1), Cueto (1).

Bailey is also one of just five MLB starters who have seven or more starts going 7.0 innings or more, while not allowing an earned run: Clayton Kershaw (8), Hiroki Kuroda (8), Francisco Liriano (7), Jose Fernandez (7) Homer Bailey (7).  Among Reds starters with 7.0+ IP and 0 ER: Bailey (7), Arroyo (4), Leake (3), Latos (3), Cingrani (1).

The issue with Bailey has been consistency.  As mentioned above, Latos has only allowed more than 4 ER in two starts this year.  Bailey has allowed more than 4 ER in four starts this year.

Like Latos, Bailey has been exceptional down the stretch.  Since July 1st, he has a 2.83 ERA and 1.05 WHIP, with 88 K and 17 BB in 13 starts. Over his last three starts, Bailey has really impressed, dominating the Cardinals and Dodgers: 21.1 IP, 13 H, 2 R, 3 BB, 24 K (0.85 ERA)

August 28 at St. Louis: 7.1 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 7 K
September 3 vs. St. Louis: 7.0 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 8 K
September 9 vs. LA Dodgers: 7.0 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 0 BB, 9 K

If the Reds were to play the Pirates in the wild card game, I think Homer Bailey might intimidate them.  He did throw a no-hitter against them just 12 months ago.

Bronson Arroyo
13-10, 3.62 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 112 K, 27 BB, 3.1 WAR

I don’t believe in giving someone a start in a do or die game out of sentiment.  With that said, if there was anyone who deserved to pitch in this game because of what he has done for this franchise, it would be Bronson Arroyo.  He has been Mr. Reliable for the Reds, and is having the best year of his career since his first with the Reds in 2006.  Arroyo’s 1.13 WHIP ranks 13th best in the NL, his 27 BB are the second fewest among NL pitcher who qualify for the ERA title, and 71% of his starts have been quality starts (most on the Reds, and 9th best in the NL).

In the playoffs last season, Bronson Arroyo was incredible. Even his start in the disappointing 2010 NLDS vs. the Phillies was pretty good:

Game 2 NLDS vs. Giants 2012: 7.0 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 4 K
Game 2 NLDS vs. Phillies 2010: 5.1 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 2 K

Arroyo’s start in the 2012 NLDS was one of the greatest ever by a Reds pitcher in the postseason.  He was the first Reds pitcher ever to pitch seven or more scoreless innings in the postseason allowing 1 hit or less.  Arroyo was just the 5th pitcher in MLB postseason history to pitch 7.0+ scoreless innings, not allowing a run, allowed 1 hit or less, and allowed 1 walk or less. He joined this incredible list:

Bronson Arroyo (Reds): 7.0 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 4 K (Game 2 of the 2012 NLDS)
Roy Halladay (Phillies): 9.0 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 8 K (Game 1 of the 2010 NLDS)
Jim Long (Red Sox): 9.0 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 4 K (Game 2 of the 1967 World Series)
Don Larsen (Yankees): 9.0 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 7 K (Game 5 of the 1956 World Series)
Claude Passeau (Cubs): 9.0 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 1 K (Game 3 of the 1945 World Series)

Mike Leake
12-6, 3.46 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 108 K, 42 BB, 2.8 WAR

Mike Leake is having the best year of his career.  He has his lowest ERA and WHIP of any season, and has already tied a career high in wins.  Between May and July, Leake was one of the best pitchers in all of baseball.  In May-July, Leake posted a 2.12 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP in 21 starts.  Once the calendar switched to August though, Leake went south in a hurry.  Since August 1st, Leake has a 6.12 ERA and a 1.38 WHIP in 7 starts.

Mike Leake has made major strides in 2013, but there is absolutely no way he should get consideration for the wild card game.  Don’t forget, Leake posted this line in Game 4 of the NLDS last season: 4.1 IP, 6 H, 5 ER, 2 HR, 2 BB, 1 K.

Tony Cingrani
7-3, 2.80 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 1.09 WHIP, 119 K, 42 BB, 2.6 WAR

Cingrani has been absolutely incredible in 2013.  After the Reds lost Johnny Cueto for nearly the entire season, Cingrani has stepped in and been one of the most dominant pitchers in all of baseball.

Cingrani’s NL ranks among pitchers with 100+ IP:  2.80 ERA (7th), 1.08 WHIP (t-9th), 10.40 K/9 (1st), 60.0 Average Game Score (t-6th). He has been incredible, but the major knock on him is his inability to pitch deep into games.  In 9 of his 17 starts, he has failed to go farther than 5.2 innings.  He simply uses too many pitches.

Conclusion:

Based on Leake’s struggles down the stretch, and Cingrani’s struggles to pitch deep into game, both of those guys should be removed from the conversation (I do think that Cingrani would be a great weapon out of the bullpen for this game).  That leaves us with Arroyo, Bailey, and Latos.  When you look at the cases listed above, any of those three pitchers are worthy of this game, and they would all be good candidates.

If it were my decision, I would go with David Dewitt “Homer” Bailey Jr.  This man was born to pitch in a game like this.  We have seen over recent years that the big game does not intimidate Bailey.  He thrives on the big stage.  He absolutely dominated the Cardinals in his last two starts, and he no-hit the Pirates just 12 months ago.  He was stellar in the postseason last year.  Bailey flat out gives you the best chance of taking the mound and throwing seven shutout innings.

41 thoughts on “Who should start in a wild card playoff game?

  1. From a practical standpoint, if the rotation continues as it is today, either Latos or Bailey could pitch with at least four days of rest:

    9/24 Latos
    9/25 Bailey
    9/26 OFF DAY
    9/27 Arroyo
    9/28 Cingrani
    9/29 Leake
    9/30 OFF DAY
    10/1 WILD CARD

    Latos will be on 6 days rest, Bailey on 5 days.

    • @renbutler: You can’t go wrong with either guy, so maybe it should be based on matchups with the other wild card team. Then let the other guy take NLDS game 1, with Arroyo in game 2.

    • @renbutler:
      Do you really not Bailey or Latos in that final series, I am not sure if they could stack it a bit differently. Maybe use Reynolds for a couple of 6th man rotations

      Latos could pitch the 9/27 game and come back for the 10th on short rest?

      Otherwise there really is no decision other than skipping Latos over Bailey

      • @vicferrari:

        “come back for the 10/1 (wildcard game) on short rest’
        also if they stack the rotation, Latos and Bailey face the Pirates in bother series. Latos faces them a third time possibly for the WC, then Bailey starts off the playoffs should they get that far

  2. One school of thought says you pitch your best pitcher. There is no tomorrow if you lose. Hence, Latos.

    On the other hand, do you really want to go into the next series able to pitch Latos only once? And, you’ve not discussed the Cueto Factor. If you hand Game 163 to Cingrani and let Johnny relieve for 3 innings, that gets you to the back end of the bullpen.

    Good discussion.

    • @Richard Fitch:

      I agree with the first sentence. If you end up in the one-game playoff, you do whatever it takes to win that game. If that means that my best guy only pitches once the next series, so be it. If I don’t make it out of the elimination game, it doesn’t matter who I’ve got lined up to go the nest series.

  3. The separation will not allow for a rotation to be juggled to allow for anybody except whoever’s turn it is to pitch. Could be, you could swap one guy out … maybe if Cueto is back, go to a 6-man rotation for part of a week.

    Otherwise, who’s next?
    That’s who pitches. If you had a 6-game lead with 2 to play, you could maybe spike Reynolds in to reset the rotation.

    This is coming down to the last weekend, however. Everybody pitches his turn.

    And as is pointed out, if the Reds WIN the division, THEN you can start to set a rotation. All the same, I think the process is folly. Anyone can be an ace for 7 innings — we face enough of them to know that.

  4. To expound upon my last post, you have to do whatever it takes to win that elimination game, no matter how bad it sets you back for the next series. If that means burning Latos or Bailey, do it. If that means Chapman pitches 3 innings, go for it. Can’t worry about the next series until there is a next series to worry about.

  5. this is assuming no tie for the division which really messes things up. LOL. Since I also agree with Sultan above comment, this is just a mental exercise. :-)

    but there are only 2 choices: Latos or Bailey. I would pitch Latos vs Cards, Bailey vs Pirates. And have Cingrani/Hoover ready to pitch at first sign of trouble.

    • @doctor: The tie really does present a number of interesting scenarios and decisions the Reds would have to make.

      Going to St. Louis to break the tie and then immediately flying home to have to play Pittsburgh would create a situation where Pittsburgh would actually benefit from finishing third rather than second.

      I wrote over in the recap thread that it could possibly come down to both teams really wanting to lose the 9/29 season finale. The Reds wanting to avoid the scenario above while the Pirates want to force the Reds into that situation.

      Fascinating stuff!

      • @Kyle Farmer: Wait, what? You’re forgetting the possibility that the Reds could actually WIN the tiebreaker in St. Louis.

        There’s no way in heck you lose the finale on purpose to avoid playing a tiebreaker for the division.

        • @renbutler: Yeah, I am discounting the possibility of going into St. Louis and winning in my scenario. The Reds 3-6 record and our overall history there make me a pretty big pessimist about going into Busch and winning a tie breaker.

          Can’t a mathematical argument be made that a game that you have only a 30% chance to win and that blows one of your best pitchers and that may force you to play back-to-back games in different cities actually lowers your chances to win the World Series rather than enhances it?

          Does that even make sense outside of my Cardinal-phobic mind?

        • @Kyle Farmer: I get where you’re coming from, but no.

          There’s no way you play for home field in the wild card over a division tiebreaker.

  6. As I said over in the recap thread, with less than a 20% shot of winning the division, I think this becomes THE question for the Reds down the stretch. Isn’t it nice that even with our ace on the DL we have two guys really capable of starting this game? Amazing considering where we were just a few years ago.

    With it increasingly likely that the Pirates will be the wild card opponent, I would lean towards Bailey and be absolutely certain if the game were at PNC. The key, as others have already said, is having the bullpen in good shape so that Hoover/Marshall/Cueto/Etc can be in the game at the first sign of trouble. Unfortunately, I worry about Dusty in this regard big time.

    The obvious bonus of having Bailey start the play-in game is having Latos available to pitch two games in the NLDS. And, since I would view another loss in the NLDS in pretty much the same way as losing the play-in game, this is important.

    • As I said over in the recap thread, with less than a 20% shot of winning the division, I think this becomes THE question for the Reds down the stretch.Isn’t it nice that even with our ace on the DL we have two guys really capable of starting this game?Amazing considering where we were just a few years ago.

      With it increasingly likely that the Pirates will be the wild card opponent, I would lean towards Bailey and be absolutely certain if the game were at PNC.The key, as others have already said, is having the bullpen in good shape so that Hoover/Marshall/Cueto/Etc can be in the game at the first sign of trouble.Unfortunately, I worry about Dusty in this regard big time.

      The obvious bonus of having Bailey start the play-in game is having Latos available to pitch two games in the NLDS.And, since I would view another loss in the NLDS in pretty much the same way as losing the play-in game, this is important.

      20% shot today. In two days the Reds could be tied for first. I don’t take a whole lot of stock in the percentages when it’s this close.

  7. Not worried about the pitching. Worried about this streaky, often anemic offense in a do-or-die game. Shades of ’99 vs. Al Leiter. That sort of thing.

  8. It’s hard to believe we Reds fans are watching a rotation with Latos having a “great season,” Bailey having the “best season of his career,” Arroyo having “the best year of his career since joining the Reds” (best year of his career – period IMO), and Leake having “the best year of his career.”

    As a fan from WAY back, this is just amazing to me. A good/great Reds starting rotation is a rare thing. It’s really something to enjoy. With that said, we can’t go wrong with either Latos, Bailey, or Arroyo starting a play-in game (I’m still hoping for the division title though).

  9. For what it’s worth – against the current Pirates lineup this year:

    Arroyo (31 Plate Appearances): .259/.355/.407
    Bailey (47 PA): .222/.255/.378
    Cingrani (9 PA): .125/.222/.250
    Latos (95 PA): .205/.298/.373
    Leake (101 PA): .300/.357/.444

  10. I feel like it’s a little unfair to say that Latos had his shot to pitch in a big game and failed. Or at least to extrapolate from last year that he can’t handle the big games.

    Latos had a tough road in last year’s division series and pitched the Reds to a huge win in the fist game on short rest.

    I don’t really care who starts between the two for the play-in game. Latos’s ERA is half a run better than Bailey’s on the road, maybe the home/away thing could be the deciding factor. I just don’t think that Latos should be disqualified based on last year.

  11. I would have fully confidence in either Latos or Bailey, and personally would make the decision based on match-up (Bailey vs. Pirates, Latos vs. Cards).

    To throw another hypothetical wrench in the situation: what impact do you think the decision between the two would have on the (hopefully) impending contract decisions with both Latos and Bailey in the off-season. Clearly, this shouldn’t be a factor in the decision, but I wonder if it would (or will) have an impact. Would either guy be more willing to commit to the Reds knowing that he’s seen as the “ace” of the staff? Would a successful (or god forbid, unsuccessful) outing play a role in contract negotiations? It’s probably not worth thinking about too much, but an interesting complication nonetheless since both need to be locked up long term and it’s unclear whether the Reds will have the ability to extend big contracts to both this offseason.

    • @MDredsfan:

      We do have an extra year on Latos (FA after 2015) compared to Bailey (FA after 2014).

      So if management was so moved, they could front-load an extension for Homer with a big salary for 2014, then dip down a bit after that to accommodate a salary bump for Latos.

  12. I’ve seen any or all of these guys come out and lay and egg … and turn around the next time and go 7 shutout innings. So really, if it’s about who is likely to be your best bet … mostly it depends on the other lineup, if it’s a day game (probably not) and who’s umpiring home plate.

    After that, if the Reds score 9 in the first inning, they can let Mike Lincoln pitch.

  13. Latos is the clear ace right now and we need him to start Game 1 of the NLDS. The Pirates lead the league in OPS against LHP. Meanwhile, the Pirates’ OPS against RHP is 12th. St. Louis is the opposite – 1st in OPS against RHP, and 13th in the league against southpaws.

    If the play-in game is against the Cards, I’d load up on lefties with Cingrani (despite 5 ER in 10.1 IP against StL), Duke, Parra and Chapman.

    If the play-in game is against the Pirates, I’d load up on righties with Bailey (whom he traditionally owns), LeCure, Hoover and Chapman.

  14. Nice post. Agreed that it’s great to have two excellent options. Here’s a bit more data:

    FIP – Bailey 3.06, Latos 2.94
    xFIP – Bailey 3.12, Latos 3.34
    SIERA – Bailey 3.16, Latos 3.55

    Refresher: FIP measures what the pitcher can control, much of ERA is out of the pitcher control. xFIP is similar to FIP except it normalizes home runs. SIERA further accounts for ground ball/fly ball mix and values strikeouts a bit more. Bailey does now have a fairly clear advantage over Latos in K/9.

    More on Homer “being born for” the big game, he did pitch a near no-hitter against the Giants in Game Three (1 hit, 1 walk, 10 Ks, 7 IP). He’s also shut out the Cardinals the last two games he’s faced them.

    Mat Latos would be a great choice, too.

  15. It’s funny, because up until 2 weeks ago, you would have said Latos over Bailey against St. Louis. But then Homer went out and made the Cards look silly twice in the span of a week. So who knows?

    Baseball is a funny game. In a one-game crapshoot, anything could happen. For all we know, we could get no-hit by Charlie freakin’ Morton.

  16. Against the Cardinals, I like the idea of throwing a LHer at them but certainly Latos or Bailey also stack up well. Against Pittsburgh, Latos or Bailey. No way Arroyo or Leake see the ball against wither of those two teams in a one-game playoff, which is the dumbest idea ever. It should be at least a three-game playoff.

  17. Latos, if all goes as scheduled, is the pitcher slated for the first playoff game. If that’s the WC, then it’s him.

    And it’s who I would want to win one game.

  18. All in all, I think the playoff game would probably still come down to a bullpen. So, that established, I think Homer gives us a better chance to go deeper into a game.

  19. I just want to chime in here and say that pitchers should never, ever, ever start on short rest in the playoffs. Yes, there are select instances where it has worked out, but the overall numbers show a bunch of all-stars who magically turn into back of the rotation filler on a second-tier club. It’s just not worth the risk.

    • @Jason Linden: Which is all the more reason to sustain the rotation … who is supposed to pitch that day, pitches that day. It could be it’s Leake’s turn.

  20. Latos against the Cards, Bailey against the Pirates. I would put Cingrani in front of Arroyo or Leake.

  21. Would you start Cingrani in the wild card and then be able to leave him off the NLDS roster and be able to carry and extra reliever/Billy Hamilton?

  22. It wont really matter if the offense doesn’t show up for that game. They have failed to show up for many a game this year.
    That said, if the game is in Pittsburgh, go with Bailey. If the game is in Cincinnati, go with Latos.

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