A Plan For The Tigers Postseason Rotation

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

Now that the trade deadline has passed and the Tigers replaced their fifth best starter with one of the better starters in the American League, the questions have been flooding in. What are the Tigers going to do when they go to a four man rotation in October? Which of these aces, erstwhile aces, or Rick Porcello’s are going to pitch out of the pen come playoff time?

If we went by reputation, we’d just ship Porcello to the bullpen where he’d have to make small talk with Phil Coke and avoid catching whatever disease has befallen Joe Nathan. Verlander, Price, Scherzer, Sanchez, Porcello. Which one of those names sounds like it belongs in the bullpen? Certainly Porcello, but you’re at New English D and we love Porcello so much that the girls who had crushes on him in high school think we talk about him too much, so you know we have a different idea.

Justin Verlander!

Gotcha. Not exactly. You see, Verlander to the bullpen is the popular idea these days. He’s having a down season and might really benefit from shortening his game down to two or three inning sprints. Let him gas up to 98 over 40 pitches and use him as a super reliever the way the Giants used Lincecum in 2012. That’s not a horrible idea. It makes plenty of sense if you’re willing to ignore people who think being sent to the bullpen in the playoffs is some kind of demotion. Take ego out of it, and Verlander seems like the obvious choice because for whatever reason, he hasn’t been himself.

But he’s made a few good starts lately and is looking a little more like a diminished but still very good Verlander. We saw what he did last year down the stretch after a rough summer, so maybe we’re hurting ourselves if we cut down his innings come October.

So I have a different idea. A very different idea. One the Tigers probably won’t do, but have been willing to explore in individual games. One that almost no team would consider, but it’s hardly a crazy idea. And it just might win them a title.

What if they put everyone in the bullpen? 

No don’t worry, I’m not suggesting they use Phil Coke as a starter again (Remember that?! I feel like we should talk about that more), I’m suggesting we use all five starters in the bullpen during the postseason while also using them in the rotation. The actual order would depend on which team they face from a matchup perspective, but run with me here.

Day 1, Game 1: David Price faces ~18 hitters, Verlander faces ~9 hitters, bullpen the rest of the way

Day 2, Game 2: Max Scherzer faces ~18 hitters, Rick Porcello faces ~9 hitters, bullpen the rest of the way

Day 4, Game 3: Anibal Sanchez faces ~18 hitters, Price faces ~9 hitters, bullpen the rest of the way

Day 5, Game 4: Verlander faces ~18 hitters, Scherzer faces ~9 hitters, bullpen the rest of the way

Day 7, Game 5: Porcello faces ~18 hitters, Sanchez faces ~9 hitters, Price for as long as he can go, bullpen the rest of the way

So if the series goes five, Price threw in Game 1 and pitched in relief on two days rest twice. Scherzer starts Game 2 and then pitches in relief on two days rest once. Sanchez starts Game 3 and then goes on two days rest in relief in Game 5. Verlander pitches in relief in Game 1 and then starts on three days rest in Game 4. Porcello pitches in relief in Game 2 and then starts Game 5 on full rest.

You can jumble the pitchers based on handedness and style depending on the opponent, but the basic idea holds. Instead of trying to get seven innings out of your starting pitches in October, shoot for five innings and then use one of your other starters as a bridge to the bullpen. There are two extra off days built in, so you an do it safely, but more importantly, you avoid asking your starter to face the opposing lineup for a third time. And you do this because everyone gets worse when facing the lineup a third time. Instead of yanking a guy for the Tigers middle relief, you yank them for another excellent starter.

It works because the Tigers have five very good starting pitchers. You’re going to get two starts from one guy and one start from three others if you do it the traditional way, but this way you get essentially the same number of batters faced for everyone but they face them when they are fresher.

You’d have to sell it to them, but I think they’d go for it without any problem. They’re all starters and relievers instead of one of them getting dumped to the pen. The virtue of the system is that if Price is cruising in Game 1, you can let Verlander enter after 23 batters instead of 18. You can adapt to the game situation but the basic premise works.

No one faces the lineup a third time unless they’re doing great and the bullpen only has to get six or eight outs among them.

The Tigers will probably just pick a guy and use him in relief, but knowing Ausmus’ hesitation to use his relievers out of order, he’d probably only use them in long relief because he wouldn’t realize that they are better than all of his relievers. But I think this alternative has a lot of merit.

Five starters, five relievers. No hurt feelings and no third time through the order. Flexibility, limited need for the bullpen.

It’s kind of perfect.

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4 responses

  1. Price and Scherzer don’t show any effect the third time though the order, though, and JV isn’t a very good starter this year. He’s gassed after 75 pitches, although Ausmus hasn’t picked up on that and let him blow the game in the 7th inning tonight when he was over 100 pitches.

    game 1 Price
    game 2 Scherzer
    game 3 Sanchez
    game 4 Porcello
    game 5 Price and then Scherzer in relief.

    Price should pitch really deep in the 1st game, so Soria-Joba-Nathan should be able to pitch all of the relief innings in games 2 through 4 (if necessary). They’ll let JV pitch in middle relief for Porcello or Sanchez if either of them have bad starts. Pretty straight forward assuming they make the playoffs although Ausmus will likely screw it up in at least one game by leaving in a starter too long.

  2. Is there any evidence that Verlander has been pacing himself for the postseason, so that he has a lot left in the tank for then? (The corollary would be that he wasn’t 100% sure how to pitch in ‘toning-it-down’ mode; hence the bad outings.)

    By the way, Eric Byrnes on MLB Tonight hesitantly made a similar suggestion to yours last week, namely putting Verlander in the pen, and having Porcello number 4. Maybe you’ve converted him!

    1. It’s possible, but there’s no evidence one way or the other.

  3. Kinda reminds me of the tandem starting that the Astros use in the minors.

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