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Baker knew what he was doing

10/6/2003 - Chicago Cubs

Congratulations to the Chicago Cubs. While it's likely that if the current postseason format had been in place since 1908 rather than 1995, the Cubs probably would have won at least one postseason series since '08, it's still a wonderful accomplishment, after 95 years of fall futility. Especially since they beat the team with the best record in the majors this season.

I'm not going to use this space to wax poetic, because there are many columnists who are much better at that sort of thing. Rather, let us engage in a brief bit of analysis, led off by this summary of a message I received from a guy named Rich ...

    Rob, I was watching Game 5 in the bottom of the eighth, and was shocked to hear the announcers expressing their disbelief that Dusty Baker would pinch-hit for Kerry Wood. The way I see it, it was not only the right move in the eighth inning, but probably would have been the right move in the seventh as well.

  • This isn't the World Series. If the Cubs are going to continue winning postseason games, they need their best pitchers rested. Sending Kerry Wood out there for more than 117 pitches when he's already pitching on short rest would have been idiotic, especially considering they had a three-run lead.

  • One minute, the announcers were saying how bad a move it was for Dusty to pinch-hit for Kerry because of how "shaky" the Cubs pen is. The next minute (literally), they said the Cubs are 79-2 this year when leading after eight innings. Their bullpen must be doing SOMETHING right.

  • Joe Borowski was 33 for 37 in saves this year with a 2.63 ERA, and he didn't pitch Saturday. He's not Eric Gagne, but he's good and he was rested. There was no reason not to use him.

    As much as you criticized Bob Brenly's pitching moves during the 2001 World Series, I hope you comment on this situation. Thanks.

    Rich Reggero

Well, it's not exactly the same thing. I don't mind criticizing managers (though I enjoy it less than I used to), but criticizing broadcasters doesn't give me any pleasure at all. Plus, for a number of reasons it's not something I'm encouraged to do.

So I'm not going to criticize the guys in the booth for thinking that Kerry Wood should have been allowed to pitch a complete game. It's true, the chance of the bullpen blowing a three-lead -- which, by the way, became a four-run lead after Dusty's pinch-hitter rapped an RBI single -- was exceedingly small.

The Braves have a great lineup, but even they're not likely to score three or more runs against Borowski. And it's also true that even if we assume that Wood after 117 pitches is better than Borowski after zero, you have to consider the short-term damage that might be done to Wood if you ask him to throw more than 117 pitches.

No, the manager played this one exactly right.

So what got into the announcers? The moment, methinks. It's hard to think straight when you're in the middle of 40,000 people screaming their heads off, and it would have been "fun" to see Wood cap his Division Series with a series-clinching strikeout. Fortunately for the Cubs, the one man who needed to keep his wits about him -- the man in the dugout -- did.

Red Sox-A's: More rest is best
Last night I got home from a trip to the grocery story, and found a message on my answering machine, from a friend of mine who's a betting man. His tip?

Hey man, if you've got any cash in the house, put it all on the Red Sox for (Monday) night's game. If you look at the postseason records of pitchers on four days' rest going against pitchers on three days' rest, the Sox are a lock. Especially considering who is pitching for on four days' rest for the Sox.

"Who" being the planet's best pitcher, of course.

But are the Sox really a lock? There's only one way to find out.

Actually, two ways. But Googling didn't work, so I actually did the work myself. There were two things I wanted to know: the composite ERA of pitchers working in the postseason after three days ("short") rest, and the composite wins and losses of pitchers working in the postseason on three days against pitchers not working on three days rest.

On its immediate face, the data is stark. Since the introduction of the current postseason format -- six divisions, two wild cards -- there have been 31 games in which one of the starters was going on three days rest and the other had at least four.

The short-rested starters won only six of those 31 games. Ouch.

On the other hand, the short-rested starters lost only 15 games. That's a lot more than six, obviously, but there were plenty of well-pitched no-decisions in those 31 games.

From 1999 through 2002, short-rested starters faced full-rested starters 18 times ... and won only twice. Both were Angels last fall, as Jarrod Washburn beat David Wells in the Division Series, and -- who could forget? -- John Lackey beat Livan Hernandez in Game 7 of the World Series.

But even aside from those two well-pitched games, there were a number of others over that four-October span: Curt Schilling twice in the 2001 World Series, Tom Glavine in the 2001 NLCS, Kevin Millwood in the Division Series last year ... they just didn't get the W's.

Still, it's hard to sugarcoat this. Pitchers starting on three days' rest simply haven't fared well. Since 1995, short-rested starters collectively have a 5.20 ERA. I don't have the numbers for all other postseason starters since '95, but I do know that full-rested starters in games against short-rested starters have a 4.01 ERA. (I also know that both Theo Epstein and Billy Beane do have all the numbers. And as Epstein said Sunday, "The track record of pitchers on three days' rest in general is not good.")

Oh, and by the way, that significant difference is more significant when we consider that generally only the better starters are asked to pitch on short rest.

Does all this mean Barry Zito shouldn't pitch tonight? Absolutely not. Even on short rest, Zito probably gives the A's a better chance to win than Rich Harden or John Halama would. The Red Sox are not a mortal lock. But considering who's pitching for the Sox, the A's have to hope that three days (Zito's rest) will turn out to be less important than 130 pitches (what Pedro Martinez threw, just five days ago).

That's a thin hope. Martinez has thrown more than 120 pitches in four games this season. While he's not been his typical brilliant self after those four games, he was still very good: 2.52 ERA with 34 strikeouts in 25 innings.

I wish both teams could win. But they can't. And I think Martinez will pitch well, I think Zito will have problems putting the ball in the right place, and I think the Yankees and Red Sox are going to meet in the biggest American League Championship Series ever played.

Senior writer Rob Neyer writes four columns per week during the baseball season. His new book, "Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Lineups," has just been published by Fireside. For more information about the book, visit Rob's Web site.