Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Fire Lou Piniella

This might be the dumbest proposed playoff rotation I've ever seen.

"Barring injury or another scheduling glitch, that makes a playoff rotation of Zambrano, Lilly and Dempster, with either Marquis or Harden as the final pitcher in a probable four-man rotation."

Let's consider how an intelligent manager would set his rotation. First, he'd slot Harden--by far the Cubs' best pitcher--in at the front of the rotation, to ensure he pitches twice in the NLDS if necessary. Number 2 is a surprisingly close decision: Zambrano is the best of the rest, but if he pitches Games 2 and 6 of the World Series, he doesn't get to bat in either game, since both will be at the AL team's park.

Based on that, I'd slot Big Z in at number 3. If the series goes to seven games, he will still pitch twice, and he wouldn't go twice in a 5-game series either way. Lilly and Dempster are also pretty close in value, and I wouldn't argue with either permutation of them in the 2 and 4 spots. It could come down to matchups: if the Cubs are poised to face the lefty-heavy Phillies in the NLCS, having Lilly pitch twice rather than Dempster would be a boon, while the converse would be true of the overly right-handed Brewers.

Contrast that proposal with this one outlined in the article. Rich Harden (who is currently leading Major League Baseball in ERA, strikeout rate, and rescuing kittens from trees) is a candidate to not make the playoff rotation at all.

Read that sentence again. Now imagine Phil Jackson sitting down for a heart-to-heart with Michael Jordan and telling him: "Kid, you've played your heart out this year, but we only have five spots in the playoff lineup to go around. I hope you'll understand."

Here are the Cubs' five candidates and their xFIPs this year:

Harden: 3.47
Dempster: 3.95
Lilly: 4.38
Zambrano: 4.54
Marquis: 4.99

If--and it's a big if--the Cubs are smart enough to excommunicate Marquis from their playoff rotation, they'll be slotting in their pitchers 4-3-2-1 in xFIP rank. It could be worse: that list reads 4-3-2-5 with Marquis in.

How does this affect the Cubs' odds of winning the World Series? With my rotation, they end their 100-year drought 16.0% of the time. Not bad. In Lou Piniella's world, he would rather win it 14.0% of the time.

If 2% of a World Series title doesn't sound like that much to you, you're not thinking straight. MLB teams spent around $3 billion this year in player salaries to compete for one title; 2% of $3 billion is $60 million. That's a whole lot of value this team is throwing away because they can't hire a competent strategist to make decisions like this.

1 comment:

Mark said...

Please don't confuse Gordon Wittenmyer with Lou Piniella.