Nationals Baseball: The Rotation Question

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Rotation Question

Nats lose again, right? Yes. But Mets lose and Dodgers lose so there you go. Tick tick tick.

Buried inside of Verducci's "Bryce is hurt" article (read it if you haven't - we'll get to that another day soon) is a nugget of info that could drastically effect the Nats postseason plans. Turns out Max Scherzer does not think pitching on short rest is a good idea. Here's the quote
“That’s asking a lot,” he said. “You’re trained to give everything you have every fifth day. You might be able to get through it, but where it would really show up is your next start.”
Now I'll never go against a pitcher that says something like this. While I totally think pitchers CAN go on short rest, I also understand they've been trained their entire professional lives to go every 5th day. The body develops a rhythm and anything that throws that off is sub-optimal. Hell, getting an extra day probably isn't good for most pitchers. And remember I noted a week ago or so that Max has never started a game on short rest.

However, we can't deny that this presents the Nats with a problem. Conventional thinking likely had the rotation (at least for the NLDS) going like this

Max - Roark - [OFF] - Gio* - Max - [OFF] - Roark

This way you maximize the use of your healthy and best starting arms. There are days off between games 2 & 3 and games 4 & 5.  That means Max's second game would be on short rest, but Roark's would not. If Max really would prefer not to pitch on short rest though it begs the question what do the Nats do? A lot depends on what we see going down the stretch I imagine. Let's run through some potential plans.

Plan A - Keep rotation as expected, but defer to only use Max on short rest in emergency
Max - Roark - Gio - Max (if down), Ross/Cole/Latos (if up) - Max (if not used), Roark (otws)

While Max says he's not really for it, I'd bet he'd do it if asked. Plus you may not even need him. The Nats may sweep (or get swept).  You may balk at using a lesser option in game 4 but really you don't need Max to go since you can technically afford to lose. Plus you can really go with an all hands on deck (AHOD) rotation. So if someone isn't working you can immediately go to someone else. Would we rather see Max, no matter what? Probably. But this I think, is the most reasonable plan.

Plan B - 4 man rotation
Max - Roark - Gio - Ross/Cole/Latos - Max,  or
Max - Gio - Roark - Ross/Cole/Latos - Max 

This makes some sense if Ross seems fully healthy by the time the season ends. He's been a good pitcher during the year while healthy so giving him a shot (with the AHOD caveat) is reasonable. It would feel a little funny going with Ross if the Nats were down 1-2 at this point but if he looks fine I don't see how you don't consider this option. Now some will note Ross has had issues with lefties and LA hits righties well so it's a bad match-up. That's true, which is why this is my Plan B. I can see doing it but I'd rather do A. In this case it doesn't matter where Gio or Roark go as neither would be called on to pitch later in the series. If Ross doesn't seem ready to go though, this plan loses a lot of appeal and might not even be a recognizable letter grade. Latos or Cole potentially in a must win game? No thank you.

Plan C - Short rest Roark
Roark - Max - Gio -  Roark - Max 

While Max would rather not go on short rest, former reliever Roark might not care as much. Plus Roark, if you haven't noticed, has been real good this year. There's no reason why he couldn't succeed in the playoffs as he has all season long. This also has the added benefit of giving Max normal rest without any tricks. Max is pitching great now, why mess with that at all? The problem would be the idea that you are starting the series with your second best pitcher. Not starting with your best foot forward seems... wrong. Can you get over that?

Plan D - Split Attack
Max - Gio - Roark - Max - Gio

Like I said, the Dodgers don't hit lefties. I told you to look at the splits. Did you? No. Fine. Here. That's a big difference! They are literally worst in the league against lefties. That's a little over-stated - Kendrick is better vs lefties than this season shows and Puig is back and will start, but still worst is worst. If they are a little better than they've shown maybe they are what? 3rd worst? Attacking your opponents weakness is never a bad idea. If you start Gio in games 1 or 2, then you have the option of using him twice. In this scenario, with Gio getting game 2, you get your righty lefty righty mix going. You have to short rest Max, though, as I don't think anyone would be comfortable with the idea of going 5 games and using Max and Roark once each.  The downside is you are using Roark once, since if he pitches game 3 he won't be available game 5, even in relief**.

Plan E - Maximize Gio
Gio (AHOD) - Max - Roark - Gio (AHOD) - Max

If getting Gio twice is good, then getting him twice as soon as possible is better, right? With this plan they get Gio twice in the first four games with the caveat, that since he'd be looking at short rest, if he seems to not have it (1 in 3 chance, right?) that you shift over to someone else quickly. The downside is now you aren't even starting with your 2nd best option. You are on your 3rd and a severe step down from 1st and 2nd.  Plus you are going with your 3rd best option on short rest. That's a real gutsy call that would probably have to be amended if Game 1 didn't go exactly as planned, and your options on changes are limited. 

I fully expect the Nats to go with Plan A or B. It's defensible. It's traditional. However they aren't the only possible plans available. Plans C or D are interesting and feasible plans that create some favorable situations for the Nats. They may not be the way the Nats go - but they are certainly worth a look. With Strasburg out, it may pay to be creative.

*look at the splits, and how he's pitched in general since break. It's the right move barring complete late September meltdown

**well unless he's bombed. That's how ZNN came back to pitch an inning in relief against the Cards in 2012. 


G Cracka X said...

I vote for Plan B, with Gio starting Game 2. That gives you some righty-lefty-righty mixup, and I feel more comfortable with Gio pitching at Nats Park (assuming HFA of course).

Of course, there always is a Plan F, if say Strasburg could be ready to start Game 5.........

JD said...

I don't care how bad the Dodgers are against lefties. I don't think I could hack two playoff games of Gio.

I could live with option C, though it will never happen.

Anonymous said...

The pitching iks completely and utterly irrelevant. This team can't score runs. 5 scattered hits and 1 or zero runs won't cut it. Kershaw will shut us down and then we're in the hole.

Going to be a very short, depressing postseason. If you think otherwise you'll be sorely disappointed.

Fries said...

Anything can happen in a 5 game series, that will be my mantra for the next few weeks. But dear God the team does not inspire confidence right now after the past few games offensively.

PotomacFan said...

I support Plan C, although I know the Nats would never do this. I think it is a waste to pitch Scherzer against Kershaw in Game 1. Having Max pitch Game 2 gives the Nats the better match up. For Game 4, I would go with Roark/Ross.

Anyone understand why Dusty did not pinch hit for Danny in 8th inning, with runners at first and third and one out. You need someone who can make contact to get the tying run home. Danny is my LAST choice for a contact hitter. Why not Revere (if you want a lefty and want to stay out of a double play) or Heisey, or Murphy (and then pinch run for Murphy if he gets on base).

Harper said...

For those worried about the hitting - just wait. If they start hitting in a couple days and take it through the end of the season you'll forget all about this trouble. If they don't - well you can worry about it then (and also what Fries says)

Robot said...

Let's just get the sweep and not worry about it?

Also, despite yesterday's loss (c'mon, offense, this is getting ridiculous!), Tanner delivered again.

Nattydread said...

Perhaps Max's comments were a bit out of context. He and Roark both froth at the mouth (in a good way) when competing, and neither gets frustrated and mistake-prone as does Gio. Desire to win and focus are what really matter with playoff pitchers. I expect that Max be the ace and will do whatever is reasonably requested of him.

Robot said...

And the other looming question, of course is Strasburg. I haven't seen any updates on him beyond playing catch for five minutes in Atlanta. I think we should be assuming he's out unless we get official confirmation otherwise, but if he's back and has his stuff, that really changes everything.

Robot said...

I expect that Max be the ace and will do whatever is reasonably requested of him.

"Those are some nice kneecaps, Bryant. It'd be a shame if something happened to them...."

Anonymous said...

When Jose Fernandez is on the mound, the Nats may as well just wear special custom jerseys that say "Jose Fernandez's Bitches" on them.

I get that the guy is a great pitcher, but seriously, this is becoming a joke. A starting pitcher shouldn't be able to what he's doing to us even in a video game.

Bote Man said...

If we must suffer Gio in the playoffs, then it is wisest to use him the game before a day off. Since it is more than 50% likely that he will crumble in the early innings that means it will be a bullpen game, so the bullpen will need that following day off to recuperate and not doom the Nats for the rest of the series.

Is Edwin Jackson available??? Asking for a friend.

Sammy Kent said...

These guys should buy Tanner Roark a steak dinner every night for the next year for the way they let him down last night. 7 innings, 3 hits, 1 run, 86 pitches. What a shame for him to pitch such a magnificent game and get a loss.

Somebody tell the frickin Braves to knock it off. The only silver lining about this losing streak is that it makes it more likely for the Nats to actually clinch at home, perhaps in Monday's game WHICH I BLOODY HAVE TICKETS FOR!!!! But the Braves keep knocking our magic number down in spite of our team's best efforts to reward my forethought with a division-clinching home game. STOP IT!!!! If the Nats are going to stumble and reel and swoon their way to a title, at least let us enjoy the moment in our own ball park.

cass said...

Plan F
Max - Gio - Roark - Ross/Cole/Latos, Max available to come in at a moment's notice if facing elimination - Gio, unless Gio was terrible, then Max

This plan:
1. Allows us to exploit the Dodgers Achilles heel twice. We almost have to do this. The splits are too stark - the Dodgers crush righties and flail helplessly against lefties.

2. Allows us to start off traditionally with Max against Scherzer. Things don't get crazy until game 5 and if Gio was terrible or something in Game 2, you can abandon course and go with Max instead. But if Gio locked em down in Game 2, then you can use him twice.

3. If the series goes five games, your most useless pitcher in the NLCS (Gio) will be the one needing the most rest, so your righty aces are ready to go against the Cubs, Cards, or Mets. If you can avoid using Max in games 4 and 5, he can start game 1 of the NLCS.

4. Unless it's an emergency, no one gets used on short rest.

I get that it'll be hard to go with Gio over Max in game 5, but this will be less hard if the Dodgers have been bashing righties and stymied by Gio the first time through. I think they can do this.

What's wrong with this plan?

Also, gotta say, the Nats need to pump the bullpen full of lefties ready to come in when the righties start. Sean Burnett, welcome to the playoffs! Three or four lefty relievers would be a good idea for this series. Will Solis be back?

Mythra said...

I'm of the mind that you pitch any combo of Max and Tanner in Games 1 and 2. Either gives you a good shot at a win in Game 2, and Kershaw is a 50/50 game (Their best vs one of our 2 best). I believe the Kershaw game will be a 1-0 or 2-1 score, with someone getting to the other team's bullpen.

If the Nats manage to beat Kershaw and win game 2, then Gio in Game 3 not so bad. Worst case scenario, Max or Tanner is available for Game 5 if it comes down to it.

Offense is what it is now. Get guys some rest, like Ramos and Murphy and last 5 games before the playoffs run it out like a 5 game series and get all the gears clicking.

ClassOf87 said...

There's no way, in a short series, that you don't throw your two best pitchers in the first two games. I don't care what Gio's splits vs. LHs are; it's insane to put him against Kershaw or Bumgarner in a potential Game 1 at home. You're giving away HFA. Starting Max in G1 gives you the best chance to bring him back for a potential G4 clinch/save or G5 at home in an elimination game. Max/Roark (unless Strasburg makes a remarkable recovery) in G1 and 2 of the DS is the only way to go. Worry about G3 when you get there.

Harper said...

cass - What's wrong? You could literally lose the series in 5 pitching your Cy Young winner (it's possible!)Max Scherzer one time and your 2nd best pitcher Tanner Roark one time. That's criminal, right? I don't want to see Dusty locked up!

I don't concern myself with NLCS pitching match-ups (win the DS first then worry about it or at least go up 2-0) but if I did I also wouldn't like potentially giving Max 7 days rest. That's getting up there.

I can however see a plan D/A where you flip Roark and Gio. If you like Gio vs LA then it makes a certain amount of sense. Basically whoever pitches G3 has the most chance to have a very limited impact on the series as a whole. That's going to be either Roark or Gio, your choice.

Sammy Kent said...

Copy/paste from another discussion--since this Harper entry is actually about the subject a couple of us delved into earlier:

My rotation for the division series would be Max, Tanner, Gio, and Joe with Max pitching Game 5 if it goes five. If we should advance, obviously Max would go Game 1 in my world if he didn't pitch Game 5 of the NLDS. If he did, then I'd use Tanner in Game 1 and put Max in at the first available start on his normal rest (probably Game 4). I honestly don't know if my fifth starter would be A.J. Cole or Mat Latos at this point. I think it's a good problem for Dusty to have, as they are both capable of pitching us into a position to win. You just don't want to pick the wrong one.

Of course if we're all fooled and Stras comes back somehow, that would change everything.

ETA: Because of the built in off days, I might be persuaded to go with a four man rotation in the NLCS if we get that far, but only if we lose the first two games. If we split or win both, stick with the five man crew and hope for a six game series. Should by some combination of luck and pluck we actually make the World Series, I would seriously plan on a three man rotation to get Scherzer (or Roark) on the hill three times if it goes seven. No need to rest anybody then. But would Gio be my third starter? IDK. That's why they pay Dusty the big bucks and I do other things for a living.

Bote Man said...

Don't count on Strasburg at all. You're looking at your post-season pitching staff. Use them wisely.

NotBobby said...

love you Roark

1natsfan said...

Interesting article about Gio in the Washington Post
Still, really don't know if there is enough antacids around to watch him more than once in the post season even if the Dodgers are the worst against lefties.

WiredHK said...

My trouble with this idea that Gio is the Dodgers' series key is his utter and predictable penchant for being wild as hell. It doesn't really matter how bad a team is at hitting the ball vs lefties if that lefty can't throw strikes (and is mutter-cursing into his glove all night). And, that's precisely what "bad" Gio does when he's "bad" Gio. Watching a bunch of lefty hitters walk and then cursing my DC sports life as Puig puts one in the upper deck on a "get-me-over" first-pitch fastball is going to make me lose my mind.

Start Max and then Tanner. Done and done. This isn't rocket science, don't overthink it.

cass said...

Dodgers vs. R: .263/.329/.438 wRC+ 108
Dodgers vs. L: .210/.288/.330 wRC+ 71

All vs. Scherzer: .192/.246/.348 67/75/82 (ERA-/FIP-/xFIP-)
All vs. Gonzalez: .257/.320/.402 108/93/92 (ERA-/FIP-/xFIP-)

Scherzer vs. everyone is about the same as the average lefty vs. the Dodgers. If you weight ERA and FIP/xFIP equally, Gio is an average lefty. But the Dodgers are an above average team vs. righties so you expect something worse than his numbers vs. everyone. This seems to indicate Gio will be a little better when just considering handedness and their overall numbers.

If you are also thinking about the NLCS, where Gio will be worth much less, it seems to make sense to use him up in the NLDS where he is much, much more valuable.

The case for too much rest for Scherzer makes some sense too, though. But there is a case for Plan F, I think.

Froggy said...

Plan C is the logical rotation. I have confidence Roark will handle himself nicely against Kershaw. Besides, whether it's Max or Tanner the offense would have to show up to beat Kershaw anyway.

Anonymous said...


Plan F?

Is that anything like Plan 9 From Outer Space?

JE34 said...

This is my kind of thread! A welcome distraction from the offensive offense lately.

Does anyone really want to give Gio additional pressure? I sure don't...

I'd feel a whole lot better about Joe Ross needs if he were to pitch a solid 6-7 inning outing at least once before season's end. That said, If Plan C can't be done, I'd go Plan A, with the Game 4 "up scenario" being a Ross/Cole combination, such that no one gets more than 2 at bats against either pitcher (which of course varies depending on bullpen use at that point).

Harper said...

Sammy - if Max goes in G5 in the NLDS, G3 of the NLDS would be his normal rest. That would put him in line to go G6 short rest or G7 normal rest. If he goes G7 this pattern repeats for the WS

Fries said...


I have to agree. Max, Roark, Gio/Latos, Cole/Ross/Latos(if available), Max would be my rotation. Gio on a short leash for game 3 with Latos waiting in the wings, and then both Cole and Ross pitching game 4 no more than twice through the order (unless someone gets hammered or is pitching a perfect game)

PotomacFan said...

Harper: Here's a future blog post: identify the pitchers on the playoff roster.

Fries: this won't work. The Nats have to go back to a 25 man roster for the playoffs. I don't see that they can carry both Cole and Latos. For now, I see the pitcher roster as follows:

Starters (4): Max, Roark, Gio, Ross
Long relief/back-up starter(s) (1): Cole
Relievers (5): Melancon, Kelley, Treinen, Zep, Belisle,
Choose one (or two): Koda Glover, Oliver Perez,
Not on roster: Giolito, Lopez, Burnett, Petit, Trevor Gott, Rafael Martin
Injured: Strasburg, Solis, Latos

Zimmerman11 said...

Start Max, Then Roark, Then Max... Then Roark...

Froggy said...

As if the wheels aren't wobbly enough, Murphy is hurt worse than originally thought. However, "Our trainers are still working on him. They are trying to get to the bottom of it." Baker said on Wednesday.

Oh geez...can we trust the Nationals medical / training staff, who lies more than Hillary Clinton does, to:

A) Get to the bottom of it
B) Make a proper diagnosis
C) Tell the truth

Sammy Kent said...

So we just finished a series where one team averaged 3.67 runs per game, and the other averaged 2.67 runs per game. Guess which team actually won the series.

I hope the Giants, Cards, and Mets finish tied for the wild card spots. All the extra weirdness required to get to one opponent for the Cubs will be entertaining to say the least.

Have the Nationals and Mets really gotten that bad or have the Cockroaches really gotten that good in the second half? If the Mets hadn't totally tanked against the Braves we'd stand a fairly good chance of having the clincher at Nats Park, which would have at least put some silver lining in that four game losing streak. I guess the Pirates could sweep us this weekend, but you still can't count on the Mets to win, and you don't want your clinching game to be a loss like it was in 2012, so I guess we'll just have to be happy winning it on the road. I wish I could justify the time and expense to go to Saturday's game in Pittsburgh.

Fries said...


You're absolutely right, forgot about the 25 man. I stand by my argument, just switch out Latos for whoever we decide in long relief. Though that gets scary if it's Petit

Fries said...

and by Petit I meant Perez

Gr8day4Bsbll said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gr8day4Bsbll said...

Oh geez...can we trust the Nationals medical / training staff, who lies more than everyone named Trump does, to:

A) Get to the bottom of it
B) Make a proper diagnosis
C) Tell the truth

There -- fixed it for you, Froggy... But otherwise, your comment is absolutely accurate...

Froggy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Froggy said...

More specifically, I was referring to Hillary's constantly changing health status, and her doctor's inability to be truthful about it. But generally speaking my riginal comment was fine thanks! :-)

Ole PBN said...

Not sure I agree with Max vs. Kershaw in game 1, especially if its in LA. He's almost unbeatable there. Why use you silver bullet if you don't have a clear shot so early? If we're going to lose game 1 against Kershaw, I'd much rather still have my horses ready for games 2 and 3. My vote is Tanner game 1, Max game 2, OFF, Gio game 3, Tanner game 4, OFF, Max/AHOD game 5 if necessary. He gets his rest this way, we stay competitive against Kershaw with Tanner and if we're up or tied going into game 3, we have the favorable matchup with Gio on the hill. What's not to like?