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Thursday, October 11, 2018

The Biggest Problem With Bullpenning - The Ringer

In his 1970 treatise on punishing pitchers, The Science of Hitting, Ted Williams advised aspiring sluggers that their first time at bat in a given game is “a key to effective hitting, a key to the day you are going to have and therefore a key to your baseball life.” For Williams, the primacy of the first plate appearance was simple. “You figure to face a pitcher three or four times in a game,” he wrote. “The more information you log the first time up, the better your chances the next three. The more you make him pitch, the more information you get.”

Williams was right. Decades later, sabermetricians quantified what’s come to be called the “times through the order penalty,” a tendency for hitters to perform better each time they face a starting pitcher in the same game. As best we can tell, the phenomenon stems from familiarity, not pitcher fatigue. And as Williams asserted, it’s magnified the longer the look the hitter gets in his first trip to the plate. “The big advantage seems to come from seeing a lot of pitches, especially in the first [plate appearance],” wrote Mitchel Lichtman, who found that hitters who see more than four pitches their first time up gain 2.5 times the advantage in their next PA than hitters who see fewer than three pitches. (Ironically, Williams himself didn’t have a huge times-through-the-order advantage and was no better the third time he faced a starter in a game than he was the first.)

Jim Furtado Posted: October 11, 2018 at 06:35 AM | 17 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: bullpenning, strategy

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   1. villageidiom Posted: October 11, 2018 at 09:06 AM (#5764495)
If a times-through-the-order effect is real, and if it's not related to pitcher fatigue, wouldn't it make sense that the effect would carry over from game to game, at least in a short span of time? If it's really driven by familiarity of pitches, why wouldn't it carry over?

In that sense, then having Sale face Hicks, McCutcheon, and Torres in relief in Game 4 was a horrible thing to do, as he had faced each of them at least twice just a few days earlier. It was his third time through that part of the order. (4th time, for McCutcheon.) It would have been akin to having left him in longer in Game 1, absent fatigue effects.
   2. Rally Posted: October 11, 2018 at 09:23 AM (#5764499)
It was several days later, and the Yankees had to deal with plenty of other pitchers in between Sale appearances. I don’t think it would apply.

Do relievers in a long postseason series suffer a penalty when hitters see them day after day? Maybe, but it would be hard to separate that from fatigue.

Brandon Morrow pitched all 7 games in the WS last year. He started off well, got rocked in game 5, came back to pitch a scoreless inning in 6, and struck out the only guy he faced in 7. One example means nothing of course, and Morrow is far from a durable pitcher. For that one my first instinct would be to chalk game 5 up to fatigue, since he pitched in each of the previous 2 days, then reset with a travel day before game 6.
   3. Jose is an Absurd Force of Nature Posted: October 11, 2018 at 09:23 AM (#5764500)
Has there ever been a study of that issue? One thing that anecdotally has always seemed true is that when a team faces a starter for a second time in short order they tend to have success. Just as an imperfect example, the Sox handled JA Happ a lot better on October 5 than they did on September 28. Just looking at it;

1st time through (9/28) - 0 for 9
2nd time (9/28) - 1 for 8 (BB)
3rd time (9/28) - 3 for 5 (BB, 4 runs)
4th time (10/5) - 2 for 8 (BB, 3 runs)
5th time (10/5) - 2 for 2 (2 runs)

It's not perfectly linear of course but the Sox did seem to gain familiarity with him. Like I said, this is an example of something I've noticed that may or may not be true. I think it's ripe for a good SABR study. I think you see it in relievers as well. I think relievers, who tend to be one trick ponies, lots of exposure in a short time run into issues.

As to why the effect might not carry game to game rather than within a game I'd ask if the fact that there are other pitchers mixed in there makes a bit of a learning curve. You start from a better place but you still have to reacclimate yourself to Happ's stuff after seeing Tanaka and Severino or whoever.
   4. PreservedFish Posted: October 11, 2018 at 09:46 AM (#5764510)
If a times-through-the-order effect is real, and if it's not related to pitcher fatigue, wouldn't it make sense that the effect would carry over from game to game, at least in a short span of time? If it's really driven by familiarity of pitches, why wouldn't it carry over?

Sometimes you hear that a team should vary its rotation for exactly this reason - I remember Skip Bayless screeching once about how the Red Sox needed to start Tim Wakefield in between Beckett and Schilling in order to mess with the hitters' timing.

It's a fascinating question IMO. But there are any number of explanations for why the carryover might be negligible.
   5. Textbook Editor Posted: October 11, 2018 at 09:52 AM (#5764512)
It seems like you *could* study a times-through-the=order thing with relievers pitching within the same series too, but you'd have to think there'd be an awful lot of noise in any data set you come up with.

For example, if a setup guy faced the same group of batters in Game 1 and 3 of a regular-season 3-game series, do the same batters do better in their Game 3 appearances? Is there an effect if the same P faces the same hitter on back-to-back days?

I think the problem would be that it's probably pretty rare for a reliever to see a hitter 3 times within one 3-game series (or even 4-game series), and doesn't the effect only really kick in the 3rd time through? Granted, it could be there's some positive effect if a hitter faces the same reliever twice on back-to-back days, but you'd have to pull all of THAT data and then compare it to how hitters fared when NOT facing the same reliever on back-to-back days, but you'd have to figure out how to control for the quality of the reliever (mop-up guy vs. closer), etc.

If a times-through-the-order effect is real, and if it's not related to pitcher fatigue,


Yeah, it seems this is where things get tricky, right? Because as P are throwing less innings, it stands to reason that your baseline average P isn't really even used to getting 3 times through the order, and so it very well could be the "times through" effect is equally fatigue and familiarity, but good luck sorting out one from the other. In fact, as starting P throw less and less innings, I suppose it's possible that the 2nd time through the order could become as problematic as the 3rd time (if starters start averaging only 3-4 IP)...
   6. Pat Rapper's Delight (as quoted on MLB Network) Posted: October 11, 2018 at 11:41 AM (#5764592)
Sometimes you hear that a team should vary its rotation for exactly this reason - I remember Skip Bayless screeching once about how the Red Sox needed to start Tim Wakefield in between Beckett and Schilling in order to mess with the hitters' timing.

That's what the 1980 Astros did, dropping Joe Niekro's knuckleball in the rotation between the extreme heat of J.R. Richard and Nolan Ryan. Such a shame that arrangement could only last half a season before Richard's stroke.
   7. SandyRiver Posted: October 11, 2018 at 12:19 PM (#5764613)
Any carry-over thoughts assume that a pitcher's stuff stays the same. However, the slider that got hammered on day 1 may be breaking more sharply, or merely better located, on day 5 - day 2 for a reliever. I mean, how else does one explain Matt Barnes?
   8. villageidiom Posted: October 11, 2018 at 12:30 PM (#5764620)
Do relievers in a long postseason series suffer a penalty when hitters see them day after day? Maybe, but it would be hard to separate that from fatigue.
Relievers don't necessarily see the same hitters in each game, even when pitching in consecutive games.

The Chris Sale example is a bit more convenient, as he had faced every batter in the lineup at least twice in Game 1. Pretty much anyone he faced in relief would be for the 3rd time.

Yeah, it seems this is where things get tricky, right?
MGL and others will be happy to tell you that his studies controlled for fatigue, and that the TTOP is unrelated. For the sake of argument I'm willing to grant that.

Brandon Morrow pitched all 7 games in the WS last year.

And nearly all the 5 hitters who faced him at least 3 times in the WS, faced him for the 3rd time in Game 5. The only one who didn't (Bregman) grounded out in his 3rd time against Morrow, but singled his 4th time. That single was in Game 5.

In the same WS, Kenley Jansen faced 8 hitters at least 3 times.

The third time had 4 flyouts, 2 K, 1 HBP, and a HR.

The first time was 4 flyouts, 2 K, 1 single, and a HR.

Individual data points aren't really very useful. But they sure are fun.
   9. villageidiom Posted: October 11, 2018 at 12:40 PM (#5764624)
Anyway, my broader point was that I don't think this has been studied much. If the argument is that hitters' familiarity with a pitcher produces greater success, independent of pitcher fatigue, then in short spans of time it's possible we could see an effect carry between games.

The catch there is that it's a lot easier to evaluate "times through the order" than "times faced batter within game", which in turn is easier than "times faced batter within a series". They're all possible, but some take more effort than the others.
   10. PreservedFish Posted: October 11, 2018 at 12:40 PM (#5764625)
Not that fun.
   11. Nasty Nate Posted: October 11, 2018 at 12:47 PM (#5764630)
MGL and others will be happy to tell you that his studies controlled for fatigue, and that the TTOP is unrelated. For the sake of argument I'm willing to grant that.
I guess I could read the studies myself instead of asking here, but the only way to control for fatigue is by looking at performance against pinch-hitters, right? Or I might not be thinking about this in the right way.
   12. GuyM Posted: October 11, 2018 at 05:04 PM (#5764823)
I guess I could read the studies myself instead of asking here, but the only way to control for fatigue is by looking at performance against pinch-hitters, right?

There are two (at least) pieces of evidence:
1) the decline in performance as they face hitters a second and third time is just as steep for pitchers who throw relatively few pitches as those who throw a lot of pitches -- that shouldn't be the case if fatigue is the cause.
2) pitch velocity does not decline very much in the later innings (at least that's my recollection).
   13. Eric J can SABER all he wants to Posted: October 11, 2018 at 07:56 PM (#5764898)
Brandon Morrow pitched all 7 games in the WS last year. He started off well, got rocked in game 5, came back to pitch a scoreless inning in 6, and struck out the only guy he faced in 7. One example means nothing of course, and Morrow is far from a durable pitcher. For that one my first instinct would be to chalk game 5 up to fatigue, since he pitched in each of the previous 2 days, then reset with a travel day before game 6.

I would subscribe to this interpretation as well. (Especially because the pregame coverage in Game 5 specifically stated that Roberts did not want to use Morrow, since he had never pitched on three consecutive days. It also didn't help that he was thrown into the fire against the top of the order for the highest-scoring team in the majors.)
   14. Tony S Posted: October 11, 2018 at 09:27 PM (#5764937)
Speaking of J.R. Richard, have the Astros featured him or honored him in one of their home playoff games yet? I know there were bad feelings between him and the organization for awhile, but there have been enough ownership changes that I hope they've reconciled. J.R. was a devastating pitcher, the best starter the team ever developed.

I remember the Richard/Niekro/Ryan sequencing. The Astros did win the division that year, but they played just as well after Richard went out as they did with him. Vern Ruhle picked up the slack, even though he was stylistically the polar opposite of J.R.
   15. PreservedFish Posted: October 11, 2018 at 09:34 PM (#5764938)
Did Richard pitch again after Ryan? Did that negate the Niekro change-o-pace thing?
   16. Tony S Posted: October 11, 2018 at 09:48 PM (#5764943)
Their fourth starter was Ken Forsch, another power pitcher, though certainly not at Richard's or Ryan's level. Ruhle was pure finesse.
   17. bobm Posted: October 11, 2018 at 10:14 PM (#5764948)
Re: familiarity with starting pitchers in a playoff series

The Playoff Familiarity Effect Is a Myth - The Ringer

The more relevant takeaway, though, is that while the pitchers on three days’ rest decline significantly in their second starts of the series (and go a lot less deep into games), the pitchers on regular rest don’t. The regular-rest starters recorded almost the same ERA in their first and second starts, and their collective OPS allowed actually improved in their second go-arounds. Even though the more talented starters in the short-rest group perform better in their first start of a series than the guys in the regular-rest group do, the difference disappears in their respective second starts. Unless there’s a familiarity effect that applies on three days’ rest but wears off a day or later (which seems far-fetched), that strongly suggests that across postseason starts, fatigue is a more powerful force than familiarity.

[Emphasis added]

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