PITCHERS ON THREE DAYS REST IN THE MLB PLAYOFFS
Some of the most iconic performances in Major League Baseball history have been starting pitchers going on three days rest in the playoffs. At one point in history, it was common for pitchers to take the mound with three days rest. In emergency circumstances, there have been instances of pitchers starting with even less rest. In the modern game, however, pitchers need their rest and more often than not managers are willing to give it to them regardless of the circumstances.
That being said, there have been situations where managers feel that their best chance to win is to bring a star pitcher back with less than his usual amount of rest. Although serious baseball analysts get worked up about this situation as if a crime has been committed it’s become common enough that casual sports fans and baseball bettors don’t get overly worked up about it. But should they?
The conventional wisdom is that even if a pitcher doesn’t have his usual rest that the gravity of the situation in the playoffs will allow him to ‘push through’ the fatigue. It often works this way in other sports where teams fight through a grueling schedule to win games and series. Hockey and basketball frequently play double and triple overtime games in the playoffs, often requiring teams to come right back and play again less than 48 hours later.
In Major League Baseball, however, the tendency for fans is to remember the successful outings on three days of rest. Some of the most impressive ones since 2000 have been turned in by top notch pitchers including Curt Schilling (who did it twice in the 2001 playoffs) along with Josh Beckett, Hiroki Kuroda and Clayton Kershaw. Unfortunately, amid all of these legendary performances there’s a lot of mediocre to downright bad pitching performances on short rest that have all but been forgotten. That might be fine for a sports fan to forget the bad, but for a baseball betting enthusiast it’s potentially harmful to the bankroll.
Between 2000 and 2013 there were 54 instances of pitchers starting on short rest in the post season. Note that we’re not talking about starters making relief appearances—only subsequent starts on less than usual rest. The statistical breakdown isn’t good, but we’ll get to that in a moment. These 54 pitchers turned in 287 innings of work despite the fatigue and strain on the arm. Their managers though that their superior skill justified using them at less than 100% over a marginally less talented pitcher with full rest.
Like so much else in baseball, it can seriously backfire when a manager starts to think too much. These pitchers going on three days rest did no favors for their teams who posted a record of 20-34. Assuming a ‘pick’em price’ (which is an estimate at best) a bettor backing these 54 pitchers would have lost 14 units. On the other hand, blindly betting against pitchers on short rest would have produced double digit profits over the time frame in question.
Maybe it wasn’t the fault of the starting pitcher? Maybe, but based on the aggregate statistics they put up they didn’t do anything to help their cause. Here’s some of the stats posted by the 54 postseason pitchers on three days rest:
The good news—8.2 strikeouts per nine innings is very solid. The bad news—everything is substandard. These statistics suggest that on average using even the best starter on three days rest is not advantageous. Most teams good enough to make the playoffs likely have another starter in the rotation—if not more than one—capable of much better than these mediocre numbers.
So with statistics like these readily available to baseball managers why do they persist in using starters on three days rest? It’s simple human nature—a baseball manager facing a difficult situation would rather do something than just maintain the status quo. It’s like the old cliché–‘desperate times call for desperate measures’. A manager would rather go down ‘over-managing’ a game than sitting on his hands and letting the game play out on its own.
The nature of baseball managers has changed little in over a century of the sport and there’s no reason to expect it to any time soon. For that reason, the astute baseball handicapper will keep his eyes open for opportunities to bet against postseason pitchers on three days rest with various sportsbooks like Bovada. Don’t let the ‘big name’ fool you—even the best pitcher is nowhere near his peak abilities without adequate rest.