25 October 2007

Maximizing Beckett

When JD Drew came up in the first inning of World Series Game 1, I thought he would hit a home run. Really. That would have made the score 5-0, and put the game firmly in Boston's control, especially with Beckett pitching. But Beckett is just gravy, you know? The Red Sox would have been firmly in control even with Matsuzaka or Schilling or Lester starting as well. Near locks to win the game, being up 5-0. Beckett would have been made superfluous. Frakly with the game well in hand up 5-0, his excellence would have been wasted.

So my Drew flight of fancy inspired another flight of fancy. If Drew hit that home run to make it 5-0 in the first inning, why not pull Beckett from the game? Save him for game 2, or even game 3 if he can't start a day after throwing an inning. Look, he's scheduled to start only two games anyway. It's not as if the Red Sox would be losing any of his starts by pulling him from a lopsided game and holding him back to start a possibly closer game when his great pitching would be more useful.

There are so many objections to this idea, I know. I can just imagine the consternation and outrage this would cause McCarver and Buck! It would be worth it just to hear them spit bile and indignation at the decision. "You can't run a real baseball team like a strat-o-matic team! You have to win the game you're playing first!" McCarver would be even more outraged than he was when Manny loafed to first on his home run single in the ALCS!

This idea wouldn't work if Schilling or Matsuzaka wasn't ready to come in and "start" game 1 after Beckett was pulled with the 5-0 lead. It could also possibly screw up Beckett, though this objection I find unpersuasive. It would be unorthodox, and leave the manager open to all kinds of criticism if the unlikely happened and the Red Sox gave up their 5-0 first inning lead.

Of course, JD Drew did not hit a home run in the first inning to make it 5-0. He hit a double down the right field line, that unclutch bum, to make it just 3-0. And Beckett stayed in the game, of course. And the Sox went on the win 13-1. So his great effort was kind of wasted anyway. It could have been Schilling in there giving up 4 runs in 6 innings and the Sox would have won just as comfortably. Not that there was an obvious moment to pull off my crazy plan. By the time the Red Sox were up by 5 runs Becket had already pitched 4 innings. I wonder if it would have been possible to pull Beckett at this point and have him be fresh enough to start game 3. I think so, but I'm not the manager.

This is an extreme case of creative pitcher usage, I guess. But even the mild cases of creative pitcher usage are rare now, outside of a do-or-die playoff game. I wish we'd see creative, leverage maximizing pitcher usage out of managers more often. The most obvious flaw in pitcher usage these days is in the deployment of closers, of saving the best reliever for only a ninth inning lead, and not using him often when the game is truly on the line. This has been covered by countless other bloggers; I won't belabor the point. In the Dodgers' case it wasn't so bad most of the year, because they had two elite closer-type relievers in Broxton and Saito. But even with these two there were times when Beimel would pitch in the seventh with the game on the line, because Broxton was the eighth inning guy. The only defined role a pitcher should need is that he gets outs!

The Red Sox won game one, and that's great for them. But they merely held serve, with a home game with their ace going. Let's assume Beckett wins his game 5 start as well. The Sox still have to then win 2 of 5 non-Beckett games to become champions. That doesn't sound too hard, but they are counting on their rather thin second-line pitching to hold down the deep Rockies offense in all of those games. This thing isn't over yet.

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