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Earl Weaver Percentages vs. Kevin Cash Percentages

February 15, 2019


              It is actually a very interesting question of whether the advantages of the old Earl Weaver style platooning would outweigh the advantages of pitching in short windows, what we could call the Tampa bay style.   If you’re going to platoon at four or five positions you have to have 15 of 16 position players on your 25-man roster.  If you’re going to move pitchers in and out of the game to throw 25 pitches each you have to have 12 or 13 pitchers.   It’s one or the other.

              There are theoretically measurable advantages to each approach.  A pitcher is measurably more effective when used in a short window, but a hitter is also measurably more effective when used with the platoon advantage, and platooning enables the manager to get better offensive production out or more or less replacement-level performers.   It is actually not clear which set of advantages is larger.  Working it out is a tremendously complicated math problem requiring sets of assumptions which no one has taken the time and trouble to create. 

              And it matters, because it determines the ultimate path forward for the game.  Weaver relied on defensive excellence to keep his starting pitchers in the game; he was getting almost 7 innings a game out of his starters.   There is no REAL evidence, in my view, that this approach is not as workable now as it was 40 years ago.  We have just chosen to focus on the other set of advantages, but the fact that almost everybody has chosen to do that is not actual evidence that that set of advantages is larger; it is merely evidence that most people currently BELIEVE that that set of advantages is larger.  It would be extremely interesting to see if a team which was short of resources could build a competitive team, as the Baltimore Orioles did, by building a four-man rotation of pitchers pitching 250 innings, outstanding defensive players in the infield and center field, and platooning at catcher/first base/left field/right field.  I am 0% convinced that that approach is not workable. 


COMMENTS (15 Comments, most recent shown first)

I'd still like to see the #s.

4:31 PM Feb 20th
Shthar: That wouldn't do it, because it's not like teams that carry more pitchers vs. fewer pitchers are random and that the respective groups of teams are essentially equal in all relevant respects.
11:17 AM Feb 20th
Someone needs to actually count up the W-L records, or runs scored/allowed by the batter/pitcher ratios.

Do the teams with 13 pitchers prevent more runs than they don't score? We all assume they do, I mean, they got 13 pitchers! But do they?

Obviously you'd have to do the whole league over maybe 2-3 seasons to get a good 'average' number. Does baseball even keep track of batter/pitcher ratios?

3:24 AM Feb 20th
Perhaps tinkering around the margins is the way to go. Instead of 12 or 13 pitchers, carry 11. That gives you 5 (AL) or 6 (NL) bench players. Instead of a 5 man rotation, use a 4 1/2 man starting corps - skip the number 4 or 5 starter each time there's an off day. That gives you an additional reliever that week. During the weeks you have to use all five starters, you can monkey with the roster by moving pitchers back and forth between MLB and AAA. (this is already being done on a regular basis). The net effect is the same as if you had five starters and seven relievers, but instead of using 12 roster spots to do it, you're only using 11.

That leaves room on your bench for a backup catcher, a utility player, and three or four hitters for pinch hitting and platooning.

Problem solved. Any team that decides to utilize this solution is welcome to send me a check.
4:16 PM Feb 19th
Right. My assumption, though, is that the team that goes into the year planning to platoon at four positions is going to have more platoon-specific players than the team that goes into the year planning to platoon at none. That second team's regular may well be worse against righties than the first team's lefty hitter, and worse against lefties than the first team's righty hitter, but he probably declines less against the same side than both of the first team's hitters. You don't platoon e.g. Jim Thome, even though he was a lot worse against lefties than he was against righties, relatively speaking. You platoon guys who are no good at all against the same side.
10:27 PM Feb 18th
But you can flip that. What does the team with only 3 bench players do when the other team brings in a lefty?

I tell you what it does most of the time, nothing.

so thier players are ALWAYS gonna be hitting against the wrong side in the late and close innings.

Course if you can get 8/9 guys who hit both sides, then you can carry 16 pitchers.

11:42 PM Feb 17th
Also, baseball is a permanent substitution sport. If you're the team that's platooning everywhere facing the team with 13 pitchers, what do you do when they replace their righty pitcher with a lefty pitcher in the 3rd inning? Never mind when they do that switcheroo twice more before the end of the game. You can't carry e.g. two lefty catchers and two righty catchers, and do the same at other positions; that's not plausible. If you're carrying 15 hitters, that means you have six bench hitters, and that's in the AL with the DH. If you have to further worry about having to pinch-hit for the pitcher a couple of times, that really messes with it.

So, you're not going to be able to respond to many if not most of the pitching changes. Your players, chosen specifically for their ability to hit one side, are going to be hitting against the other side quite a bit.

Permanent substitution isn't nearly as big an obstacle to carrying more pitchers, because you only start one pitcher, and pitchers all play pitcher.
8:47 AM Feb 17th
FrankD makes an excellent point. There could be a couple of undervalued positions in the market right now - What value is currently placed on hitters who have a big platoon split but aren’t good in the field? What about league average relievers who can pitch up to 6 innings per week?

And Bill mentioned a four man rotation. Why not? The focus on pitch counts as a means of preserving arms would not go away but your top 3 starters would get 36 starts each instead of 30. That would free up a roster spot without forcing anyone to stretch their pitch counts.
4:38 PM Feb 16th
Maris, the correction is to the point, but take it a step farther: if recent postseasons are any indications, those superfluous starters become key bullpen assets. So maybe in a short series a roster spot that in the regular season is occupied by a pitcher can more productively go to a bench player.​
6:42 AM Feb 16th
(ooops, I forgot that you don't need as many starting pitchers on the roster in a short series.
I don't know that this is a "Never mind," but.....)
10:40 PM Feb 15th
How about this: Isn't it another angle of the question that maybe there are different answers for (a) a 162-game season, and (b) crucial short series, including the post-season?

I'd guess that for a crucial short series the more-pitchers approach does better in this match-up -- by which I don't mean that it's necessarily the better answer for a crucial short series, just that however this dilemma would sort out for a 162-game season, it would sort out more in favor of more-pitchers in a crucial short series.

And of course (I think it's an "of course"?) there are necessarily other variables connected to this question. Like, with the "more-pitchers" approach, there's a far greater need for versatile defensive players, and extremely good 'everything' guys like Ben Zobrist or Tony Phillips become more valuable. It's not just numbers, it's what kinds of players are needed for the 'extra' spots on the roster, and so, the relative values of the respective types of collections of extra players becomes part of the original question, doesn't it.....
10:37 PM Feb 15th
Isn't this kind of what Belichick does with the Patriots? He finds role players that buy into his system and he wins consistently. You need a star (Brady) or 2 but look at his receivers, run this exact route at this time and catch the pass if it comes to you. And didn't Stengel do this: find players who accept a role that maximizes the players ability to contribute to winning? Even if it reduces the players overall apparent value. It is hard to find guys like that now. Would a Lowenstein or even a Woodling put up with a limited but a very effective role? But, find an Edelman (Patriots) type or 3 and you would win.
9:57 PM Feb 15th
That's a very interesting question. I think Weaver's strategy would work today. Especially if everybody else goes all relievers - then you can pick up better role-players, pinch-hitters, etc. There is only so much talent around. If the common meme is way skewed toward relievers, then buy hitters. Being ahead of the curve is often a 'cheap' way to be good .......
9:13 PM Feb 15th
Which team would beat which? The team with 15 position players or the team with 13 pitchers?

This may not be possible to answer. And may be completley hypothetical.

Did any major league team play with only 10 pitchers for a extended period last season? How did they do?​
3:43 PM Feb 15th
Fireball Wenz
But it is generally held that relievers now benefit from being used for short stretches, as they need not pace themselves, while hitters being shuttled in and out to get a platoon advantage are seen as being disadvantaged, as they are "cold," and in effect pinch hitting, in which role they generally underperform their usual capabilities?
12:16 PM Feb 15th
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