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Playoff Pitchers on Short Rest

Handicapping Short-Rest Pitchers in the Postseason

By Loot, MLB Handicapper, Lootmeister.com

We see a lot of things in the postseason that force us to adjust our handicapping approach. This is a time of the season where teams are gunning for wins in far more urgent fashion than in the regular season. One element of the adjusted postseason approach is pitchers coming back after a short rest.

As sports handicappers, we need to deal with the changing landscape of the postseason. It won’t take long before we see a pitcher forced to pitch after a short rest. Naturally, there is no conversion chart we can refer to in an effort to figure it out. It’s different for every pitcher and all the different situations they might face.

With the proliferation of easy-to-reference statistics, we can rather easily track a pitcher’s personal history. A veteran pitcher will usually have a sample pool of previous short-rest appearances. See how they have generally performed in that spot. Don’t go back too far in the past, however, as pitchers generally do not get better in this situation with age. Just because a pitcher was able to do it at 26 doesn’t mean he can still do it at 36. Look for pitchers with positive experience coming off a short rest.

Take into account the previous appearance. If a pitcher is coming off a short rest, the texture of his previous outing is important to analyze. Look at the box score, but look beyond it as well. How many pitches did he throw? Was it a massive struggle mentally? Did he get hammered or is he still carrying around the confidence that comes from having a solid outing?

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We can’t allow the short-rest component to blind us from everything else. We certainly want to fully acknowledge when a fighter is being brought back quicker than normal, but it shouldn’t be our only guiding light. One day less rest doesn’t automatically take great pitchers and render them mediocre. If a pitcher is hot, he might still be hot--even when forced to come back quicker than he would like. One day less rest is often times not enough to really change the texture of a game in a meaningful enough way that would cause us to retool our entire approach.

Another element of the game we could neglect by over-obsessing on short-rest starters is the match-up component. Pitchers have different levels of form based on the identity of the opponent. In the postseason, we assume the pitcher will be facing good teams. Therefore, short rest could become more of an issue when playing stiffer opposition. But not always.

We need to do what we did in the regular season--evaluating pitchers based on the specific match-ups they will face. And we should continue looking at it that way in the postseason, even with pitchers who are forced to pitch with a less-than-ideal period of rest. In other words, if a pitcher has shown that he handles the opposing team very well or better than how he fares normally, we need to fully acknowledge that. And we should expect that he will continue doing well. The short rest might tip the scales--it’s just not the only standard we should use.

A pitcher on short rest might not be asked to produce the typical effort expected of him. Take note of the state of the bullpen. If relievers have been run ragged leading up to the game, a pitcher on short rest might not be able to fall back on the bullpen. That could be a problem late in the game when the starter begins losing steam. So when a pitcher is coming off a short rest, look at different things. Note the state of the bullpen. Does the offense have momentum? Is it likely he will get robust run support to bridge the gap in the event that he’s not at his best?

Sometimes, a pitcher is worn-out after a certain point, especially in the postseason. When a pitcher is coming off a short rest, take inventory of how demanding his outings were. Has he cruised or has he been in big-pressure situations in must-win games? A pitcher who has been asked to bail out his team time and again might be depleted by the time he’s asked to pitch after a short rest. Again, it all depends on the pitcher and the situation. Looking for some of these things will hopefully enhance your handling of evaluating postseason pitching.

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