Getting through a 162-game season means not “going for it” in each game — you need those guys to play the next day. All bets are off in wild card games or postseason clinchers. But some bets are off in a random two-game series, too. I still have visions of Bradley benders dancing through my head, but the D-backs/Dodgers two-game set is quickly approaching.

Depending on how you view the metaphysics of traveling through time zones or over the international date line, the D-backs have about 8 days between their second regular season game in Australia (Sunday for them, late Saturday for us) and their third regular season game on Monday, March 31. That means there’s no reason to save the bullpen, really.

Because of the timing of the two Dodgers games, there’s also unusual roster rules — instead of carrying five starting pitchers on the 25-man roster as eligible for play in the two games, three can stay on the active roster without going on the DL. As I write this, Patrick Corbin still hasn’t technically been put on the DL, so he’s occupying a spot. Brandon McCarthy and Bronson Arroyo didn’t even make the trip. Effectively, that gives the D-backs three extra players on the 25-man* — which points to extra substitutions, and no reason to save the bullpen, really.

The result of these factors could be a kind of NL baseball on steroids (well, figuratively speaking), with frequent substitutions. Why not use the whole roster?

Even without games coming up in the following week, the team won’t want to go to a starter-by-committee format with the starter only going a few innings, because it has a significant interest in making sure they’re built up enough for the regular season once their turns come around again. Wade Miley and Trevor Cahill, the D-backs’ two starters, have not yet thrown 100 pitches in a game.

But they don’t need to do so now, either. During the regular season, there’s only so much bullpen to go around. Now, for the two reasons above, that’s a non-factor. A few of the relievers may not even pitch in either of the games. And so we should be sensitive to what’s called the Times Through the Order Penalty (TTOP).

The Times Through the Order Penalty is an observed phenomenon that, overall, batters do significantly better against a starting pitcher as they face them a second time, and even better when they stand in against the same pitcher a third time. When Mitchel Lichtman (MGL) wrote about this recently, he used wOBA — weighted on base average — to show results. wOBA includes a constant to make it look similarly to on base percentage, but it takes into account all hitter actions that help create runs. Another way to think about this is that wOBA includes things like slugging percentage within it — weighted appropriately to account for how runs are actually created.

When MGL ran his model with 2000-2012 data, he found that in the first time through the order, batters had a .340 wOBA (adjusted for strength of competition). The second time, that jumped to .350 wOBA, and the third time through the order, hitters had a .359 wOBA.

A ten point jump in wOBA is about .35 runs per game (if every batter got that jump). .35 runs per game is pretty significant. Multiply it by 162 games, and that’s about 57 runs — more than five wins’ worth of runs.

Of course, the TTOP is not felt early in games — that’s kind of the point. At the same time, the TTOP doubles the third time through the order. These two things don’t quite cancel each other out (on average, teams threw 146 pitches per game, so barely more than half came from starters), but they come close. Taking out a starter before the third time through the order, so long as he’s replaced by a pitcher of exactly the same quality, could mean an advantage of .15 or so runs per game.

Another way to look at .15 runs per game is as a percentage chance of a single run. In each of the D-backs/Dodgers games, therefore, the D-backs could have a 15% chance at an extra run if they replace Miley (and then Cahill) with another pitcher of the same quality before the third time through the order.

Let me put it differently: there’s an incentive to take the starting pitchers out a little prematurely, rather than a little too late. So why not do that, in these unusual circumstances, in which the D-backs just aren’t going to run out of substitutes to take the mound or field once the starting pitcher is out?

That’s the main thing I’ll be looking out for as I watch these two games at Sydney Cricket Ground. If Miley gets pulled after 80 pitches and five innings, I will be pleasantly impressed. If Miley gets pulled after 90 pitches and six innings, I’ll understand. But if Miley gets pulled after 97 pitches with runners on during the seventh, I’m going to think that Kirk Gibson failed to take advantage of an unusually deep bench. (By the way — if Miley is getting completely shelled in the second inning, I’ll also be annoyed if they don’t give him a quick hook). Getting ready for the season counts, absolutely. But these are real games that also count, and after setting the record for longest season last year (by innings), I’d rather not see the D-backs set the record for most time in last place (which is only possible if they lose both games to the Dodgers).

I hope D-backs fans don’t have any important plans early Saturday morning. Because it would be smart for both clubs to take full advantage of their unusually deep benches and bullpens in this game, and that means they won’t be over quickly.

* I have no idea what to call the “25 guys who are eligible for the Dodger games” list, since technically the Active Roster has 28 players, including the three guys who aren’t eligible. Usually, “25-man roster” is synonymous with “Active Roster,” but here I mean the list of 25 guys eligible for the Dodger games. Just go with it.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.