2013 Postseason / 2013 Reds

A Sabrmetric Look at the Playoff Rotation

Now that the Reds have clinched a postseason spot, the biggest decision they have in front of them is what to do about the starting rotation in the playoffs. I have a pretty solid idea of what they will do, and I know what I would do (I’ll share that at the end), but I thought it would be interesting to look at what the sabrmetric statistics say they should do.

Sabrmetrics has shown that a pticher can control a few things. He can control how many batters he strikes out and how many batters he walks. He can control his GB/FB ratio and, to a lessser extent he can control his HR rate. Those are the numbers we’ll be looking at along with the advanced pitching metrics FIP and xFIP, which are mostly just compilations of the above numbers.

This season, eight pitchers have started a game for the Reds. They are (from fewest to most IP):

Pedro Villarreal
Greg Reynolds
Johnny Cueto
Tony Cingrani
Mike Leake
Bronson Arroyo
Mat Latos
Homer Bailey

Now, obviously, Villareal and Reynolds are not going anywhere near the postseason roster. So that leaves us with six players. Tony Cingrani would be a great option (he has the highest K/9 rate of the group), but he’s had back problems. Given that, and his rookie status, it’s hard to imagine him in the playoff rotation (though not in the playoff bullpen).

So now we are down to the same five pitchers we started the season with and one of them has to be cut.

Homer Bailey is the most obvious choice in this group. He’s fully healthy. His K/9, BB/9, and home run rates are all second best on the team, as are his 3.19 FIP and his 3.23 xFIP. So he’s in.

The second most obvious selection is Mat Latos. Latos would be the most obvious, but we recently learned he’s been pitching hurt for a while. Still, he’s been pitching and doing solidly. His K/9 is third on the team and he’s been very stingy with home runs. As a result, his FIP is team low 3.12. His xFIP is slightly higher at 3.57 (that actually puts him fourth in our group). But injury or not, given his track record, Latos is a good bet. He’s in.

Now it gets a little muddier. Cueto, Leake, and Arroyo all have issues. With Cueto, we have to worry if he’s really fully ready. Sure, he’s had two good starts since coming back, but they were against the Astros and the Mets – hardly playoff caliber squads. Leake and Arroyo are very similar. One brings a longer track record while the other has had better results this year.

If you look at what the advanced stats tell us, you have to take Johnny Cueto. He has stronger groundball tendencies than any other player in this group. His FIP (3.80) is second and his xFIP (3.23) is first. Cueto also tends to out perform these two numbers, at least partially because he is so good at shutting down the running game.

And so, as we all knew it would, it comes down to Leake vs. Arroyo. On one level, this is an easy decision. It’s certainly hard for me to imagine the Reds taking Leake and putting Arroyo in the pen. Arroyo is a vetran and an important part of the team. He has a long track record, etc., etc. But there is a case for Leake.

FIP likes Leake more than Arroyo (4.00 to 4.20). Their xFIPs are more or less identical as are their K-rates. Leake walks more batters, but Arroyo gives up more homers. In limited action, Leake has performed poorly out of the bullpen, but Arroyo has at least some experience with successful relief pitching, even if it was a long time ago. But really, they’re almost the same pitcher, which is not a bad thing even playoff teams struggle to find excellent 4th starters, and both Arroyo and Leake rank as something like league average pitchers.

The option about which we should not speak is the three-man rotation. I know someone will probably lobby for it. They shouldn’t. it doesn’t work. Yes, you can find select instances of pitcher going on short rest in the playoffs and doing well. That is called cherry-picking. If you look across the board at pitchers on short rest in the playoffs, what you find is that you are turing Johnny Cuetos into Mike Leakes and Mike Leakes into into Pedro Villarreals. Don’t do it. It isn’t worth it.

If I am choosing devoid of emotion, I take Leake over Arroyo because his results have been slightly better this year and I have more faith in Arroyo to provide value in relief. But really, as much as we’ll want to argue about thisl, there isn’t really an argument to be had. Unless you think Cueto shoudl be left out ofthe rotation, the only choice you have to make barely even qualifies as a choice.

If it were me, I’d have a rotation of Bailey, Latos, Cueto, Leake. I think the Reds will probably set it up as Cueto, Latos, Bailey, Arroyo. Either way is good. We’ve felt good about the pitching all year. Now is not the time to stop.

36 thoughts on “A Sabrmetric Look at the Playoff Rotation

  1. Interesting stuff.

    Crazy as it sounds, if we end up in the WC game against the Pirates, do you put Arroyo in the bullpen for the sole purpose of getting McCutchen out in a high leverage situation? He’s 1 for 26 vs Arroyo, which is a small sample size, but…wow.

  2. I realize not all quality starts are created equal, but in conjunction with the other stats you’ve analyzed above, I’d also wonder if Arroyo’s 71% quality starts vs Leake’s 53% should have any bearing on the decision. I’d need to look through the game-by-game logs, but I think that % tips the scales to Arroyo, IMHO.

    • @Greg Dafler: That’s an interesting point. One thing to keep in mind there is that pitchers tend to have a shorter leash in the playoffs. With Leake,you get a little more warning that he’s losing it than you do with Bronson. I see your point, though.

  3. Arroyo and Leake are the same pitcher, separated by about 10 years of major-league experience. I believe in the playoffs, I would trust Bronson a bit more.

  4. I would absolutely love if Cingrani started game three of the first series. Word is that his back is much better right now … I think we might even see him in the bull-pen against the Mets or Pirates.

    The reason why I think Cingrani is the must start on the road is because that’s where he pitches his finest. In Washington, he dominated. In LA, he dominated. In Milwaukee, he dominated (twice, lost one sadly). In Atlanta, he didn’t dominate, but he only gave up 1 ER and Cincy won comfortably. Keep in mind that in no start this year, has Cingrani given up more than 5 hits, more than 4 runs (just once), and more than 2 runs in any inning. In his starts, all of them, he’s given up just four hits with RISP. FOUR. He thrives under pressure, with runners on base, and while he’s not the cleanest of pitchers, there’s nobody on this staff I would rather have away from home pitching, than Tony.

    Now, with Latos today and his “admission” of why he’s been pitching poorly the last month or two; I keep him pitching in Cincinnati. If I was to set the rotation, I would have Cueto pitching in the wild-card game … Bailey, Latos going 1/2 at home, and Cingrani / Cueto / Bailey in ATL (most likely). I keep Arroyo on the staff in case I need long relief, or if God forbid Cueto or Cingrani can’t go the full distance.

    This gives the Reds a bullpen of seven, which SHOULD be Chapman / Hoover / Marshall / Lecure / Parra / Simon / Leake. I include Leake because he can also be used in long relief, as a pinch hitter or runner (if the game is extended beyond the bench). And the fact that I trust nobody else in the Reds pen at this time.

    Starting 8 is most likely the line-up we saw last night … and the five I have on the bench are Hamilton / Heisey / Mesoraco / Paul / Izturis. Covers you in the infield, outfield and behind the plate.

    Isn’t that the 25 that everyone else would bring to the table?

  5. I don’t understand whats going on with Latos and this injury…

    Can someone explain what happened and what the impact is??

    • @BearcatNation:

      Latos comes off a little “punky” to me with what he said today. Apparently, he’s been dealing with an abdominal injury since the day he faced the Rangers a few months ago. I’m not whether I buy that or not, because his starts after that game were flat out terrific.

      But it sure is bothering him now as in his last five starts, he’s not been good. The most alarming stat in those five starts is that he’s averaging under 3K per game, which simply doesn’t make sense for the repertoire he has. He’s been pitching to contact, which suggests why he’s given up 40 hits in those five starts and now learning that he is “hurt” … my confidence is shaken if we send him out there in any must win situation.

      Cingrani didn’t reveal an injury and now Latos. I can understand why Cingrani keeps his mouth shut (because he’s been optioned five times this year and didn’t want to ride the bus back to Louisville for a sixth!) but I don’t know why Latos wouldn’t say something. Baker has said both times he had no idea of the injury, which just affirms he’s not a quality manager.

      • @FrustratedRedsFan: I think the dig at Baker is a bit much. You don’t know the situation there. But it is completely believable that players would hide injuries down the stretch because they want to be involved and think they can help the team.

        Whether or not Baker knows says nothing about him and proves nothing. I’m not Dusty’s biggest fan, but your comment is out of line and neither supports nor elevates the discussion.

        Go back and read the post on commenting policy from a few days ago. Avoid personal attacks. You’re riding the line right here, especially on a post that has nothing to do with Baker.

        • @Jason Linden:

          With all due respect, what personal attack did I make? I simply answered a question! (My only dig was at Baker, and rightfully so)

          Listen, when one starting pitcher hides an injury from his team and manager … fine. But don’t you find it odd that the talk when Cingrani didn’t tell the team was “If he had let us know sooner, we could have done something sooner”; and Latos was doing the exact same thing at the exact same time (and decided not to say anything)

          What does it say of a manager if the players you are in charge of are lying to you? I can appreciate the fact that some guys like to tough it out but Latos has not been good lately, his K numbers are alarming … to the point where a good manager (or group of managers) SHOULD be able to figure out that something is wrong. Baker has made it clear that he had no idea of either injury before the player declared it himself, which I think points to a lack of leadership.

        • @FrustratedRedsFan: I would imagine that most players have a “tough it out” attitude. It’s most sore the day after pitching. You feel a little better the next day, so why go to the doctor. It will be better by the time you next play. You can’t not pitch, it’s just annoying. And as noted, he had great results for several starts after that injury.

        • @Greg Dafler:

          I have no doubt that the majority of major league players think “I can play through this. I don’t want to tell anyone because I might not be able to play”

          However, an example was made of Tony when he casually told reporters “I’ve had this back thing for a while”. It was news to the Reds, to Baker, to everyone really. But it was also clear from the start against Arizona, where he was barely hitting 90 MPH that something was wrong wasn’t it? Price goes out to the mound just to calm Cingrani down after a HR, BB, double combo, and all of a sudden Tony is on the DL!

          Now we have Latos saying the same thing. “I know I’m not pitching well, but I’m hurt”. Again, news to the Reds, news to Baker. Correct me if I’m wrong but you’ve got two 24/25 year old kids who are supposed to look up to their manager. They’re supposed to trust that Baker will help them with their injury; and they’ve chosen to conceal it. It sounds to me like a lack of trust.

          After Cingrani was pulled in Arizona, he made it clear he wanted to keep pitching in the game. After the game, he made a bold statement “I am definitely making my next start”. Two days later, Baker and company put him on the DL. Fast forward a month and all of a sudden, the first pitching assignment Cueto has after his injury appears to be a start against Houston. Dusty Baker is asked by reporters if Cueto is in fact getting the start against Houston and his answer is “Well ask Johnny. If Johnny says he’s starting, then he’s starting”.

          Veterans can do what they want / Rookies have to pay the piper. Not a managing style I’m comfortable with.

        • @FrustratedRedsFan: See, now this would have been fine. I wouldn’t have called you out at all because you suport your argument well.

          We’re trying hard to improve the tone here. The comments have gotten pretty toxic and they didn’t used to be. It hasn’t been fun. Your first comment was an attack without substance. Maybe it wasn’t quite a personal attack, but it wasn’t supported either. And it wasn’t topical.

        • @Jason Linden:

          Ohhh Jason. You say the comments have become more toxic than they once were. Guess what my reasoning behind that is going to be?

          I can appreciate you trying to keep thing civil here; this is a message board about the Reds, for the Reds. However, nothing I said was nasty, I did not curse, call anyone out. I simply made an opinion about a manager who I find tiresome. The question was asked what is this Latos thing all about and I answered it. It was on topic, within context; we’re talking about pitching, and Latos.

          Fire Dusty Baker. Watch how the tone improves tremendously!

        • @Jason Linden:

          I’m speechless Jason. From one partial sentence (which just affirms he’s not a quality manager.) you draw the conclusion that my tone was nasty, and I was uncivil. How bout a little slack for being new, as I’ve yet to release all of my Baker hating stats (like most on this forum likely already have)

          And here I was thinking this was a message board for Reds fans. I did not see the disclaimer when signing up that it was for Reds fan who support Dusty Baker … you should add one.

        • @Jason Linden: @Jason Linden: Personal attack? Saying that Baker is not a “quality manager” is now a personal attack? How?

          And it’s a discussion site, so what if the post didn’t start about Baker? He’s the manager of the team, and if there are issues on the team it seems pretty reasonable to think about the manager.

          I don’t get the freak out.

        • @al: “out of line.” HAHA. Speaking the truth about a pathetic manager is out of line? 95% of my comments gets deleted so nobody will probably see this post. Making a negative post on this site and getting your comment deleted is like asking Dusty why Cesar is hitting 2nd. You will get no response.

        • @al: Wouldn’t it be nice, though, if every other post on the blog didn’t devolve into people griping about Baker, though? How much more can be said about it.

          He’s not the manager I would hire, and my issues with him are documented, but there hasn’t been much new to say about this for a long time.

        • @Jason Linden: See, this I don’t like.

          First you say that the poster was out of line for a personal attack, but now it seems like you’re just trying to control what people talk about.

          Who gets to decide just how far away from a topic we’re allowed to stray now? Is that in the new commenting policy too?

        • @al: The post recently encouraged people to elevate and contribute to the discussion. Dusty Baker bashing every single post doesn’t do that.

          This isn’t a public street corner. Those of us who contribute to the site do it because we like it. Most of the commenters are the same way. A few make things really toxic. We’re trying to get back to the fun. I’m hardly ever in the comments here anymore because it’s so negative I can’t take it.

          We have game threads and other open threads all the time. I don’t see why the need of certain commenters to constantly gripe about a manager who we all agree is less than perfect trumps others who would like to not have that conversation over and over again.

        • @Jason Linden:

          I made two posts with hundreds of words and many points. Yet you called me out as “almost crossing the line” for just one sentence that was harmless.

          I’ve been a member on these boards for two days, I’ve made 10 comments, and my screen name is “FrustratedRedsFan”. How can you say “certain commenters to constantly gripe” when I’ve been a member for 36 hours!

  6. Pitchers don’t control K’s and walks (unless ibb), pretty much little if anything can they control. All stats show is a trend if anything, nothing else.

      • @al: Very incorrect, Al. Pitchers can’t control when the batters swing. They can’t control what the umps call. You are only talking about trends. The trend may be very consistent. But, the pitchers can’t control anything. If the pitchers could control anything, why would you think they would stop at just, for example, 6 strikeouts per game. I would think all the pitchers would use their control to throw 81 strikes everytime, throwing the absolute perfect game everytime they go out. They don’t because they don’t control anything.

  7. On the topic of quality starts again, I compared Leake to other pitchers at the beginning of this season. And as luck would have it, his past results (compared to Arroyo) are the opposite of what we’ve seen this season.

    Leake QS% from 2010-2012: 62%
    Leake QS% in 2013: 53%

    Arroyo QS% from 2010-2012: 57%
    Arroyo QS% in 2013: 71%

    Is Arroyo’s 2013 % more credible than Leake’s 2010-12?

    Though, the by-year splits are probably relevant also. Here it is:

    Leake:
    2010 59%
    2011 69%
    2012 57%
    2013 53%

    Arroyo:
    2010 64%
    2011 47%
    2012 59%
    2013 71%

    Arroyo has had a higher % every year except his mono year.

  8. If the Reds could just make up one game on the Cards in the next two days, they might get some help from an unlukely source. I see where Travis Wood is scheduled to pitch for the Cubs Friday night vs. the Cards. Wouldn’t it be nice if our ole buddy Travis Wood gives the Reds a big assist Friday night and shut down or shut out the Cards. Reds beat the Pirates Friday night,Travis beats the Cards and were all even going into Saturday, game #161.

  9. To some end, I agree that pitchers have control over their K’s and BB’s … but as I have witnessed this year — more than ever — the home plate umpire takes a lot of control over the strike zone. With pitchers like Arroyo, the strike zone is way more important than the pitches he throws. Cingrani can get away with some wildness, as can Chapman and Bailey, to some degree.

    Umps allegedly call to a fixed zone but I’ve seen a strike zone that made no logical sense. If a pitcher can get one that moves around, he’s in.

    Over 30-35 starts, I’d agree that trends are pretty much — we can expect the HR ball more from Leake and Bronson, more ground balls from Homer … and a gutsy effort from Cueto.

    Latos is still a powderkeg, IMO … and the metrics can’t really measure that.

    Every pitcher has more command of the strike zone if he has a 3- or 4-run lead.

  10. Nice work, Jason.

    If the Reds can find out that Cingrani’s back is healthy the week, I don’t know how he gets left out of the equation. I believe the Reds are going to need all the power pitching they can muster against the Dodgers and/or Cardinals. St. Louis in particular is a patient bunch that seems to have had no problem with the back end of our rotation this year. Cingrani only faced St. Louis once and didn’t have his best stuff, but was still the only pitcher that was successful in that early August series. Games can get out of hand very quickly in GABP with Bronson and Leake.

    Tony Cingrani kept the Reds in the race this year. Pitching in Johnny’s slot, he had a sub-3.00 ERA and he misses bats. He is a rookie and that is a concern. But he sure hasn’t pitched like it this year.

    • @Richard Fitch:

      Cingrani faced St Louis twice … 2-0. His second start was better than his first / during the series the Reds took three of four from STL at home.

      Even more reason Cingrani needs to be there.

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