Originally written on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 11/15/14
A few weeks ago, I advocated for a wild card play-in game strategy that involved beginning the game with a reliever and relying heavily on a team’s bullpen to get them through. In that scenario, we used the Atlanta Braves as the example of how it could work. Well, we’re not yet to the wild card play-in game, but with Texas and Oakland going head to head for the AL West title in a few hours, we’re presented with another situation where skipping the starter makes a lot of sense – specifically, the Oakland A’s should try to maximize their chances of winning Game 162, and they can do so by diminishing A.J. Griffin‘s role in today’s game.
Make no mistake, Griffin has pitched really well for the A’s since they called him up from Sacramento in late June. While his ERA is heavily dependent on an unsustainably low BABIP, his FIP and xFIP are both above average as well, as his 3.76 K/BB ratio is the kind of thing that usually leads to success. This isn’t a knock on A.J. Griffin – the A’s can simply maximize their chances of winning by minimizing the amount of batters he faces.
The times-through-the-order effect has been well chronicled, but this table is worth repeating whenever we have discussions about pitcher usage in games where the outcome has dramatic consequences.


Split
BA
OBP
SLG


1st PA, SP
0.256
0.317
0.410


2nd PA, SP
0.268
0.328
0.430


3rd PA, SP
0.267
0.326
0.447


1st PA, RP
0.237
0.308
0.372


2nd PA, RP
0.281
0.339
0.463


Whether it is due to repetition, fatigue, or a combination of multiple factors, the reality is that hitters perform better against pitchers the more times they face them in the same game, and by the second or third time through a batting order, even the best starting pitchers aren’t much better than an average relief pitcher. And, while A.J. Griffin has had a nice run as a rookie, he simply can’t yet be considered part of the class of pitchers who can be expected to outperform their teammates in the bullpen.
Notice in that table that starting pitchers as a whole simply don’t perform as well the first time through an order as relievers do, even though starters are generally better pitchers than relievers. This truth goes against the modern way of starter usage in high leverage games, which calls for a starter to essentially pitch until he gets into trouble. The reality is that in many situations, a rally can happen to quickly for the bullpen to get warmed up in time to shut it down, and the game can be lost before the relievers can come in and put out the fire.
The A’s simply shouldn’t ask A.J. Griffin to face more than nine batters tomorrow. By letting him face batters multiple times, the A’s risk allowing Texas to put up runs in a hurry that could end up being the deciding factor. They don’t need to take that risk.
With the September roster expansion, the A’s have 18 pitchers currently on their active roster, though two of those – Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson – are injured and will be unavailable to pitch tomorrow. You can probably add Travis Blackley and Jarrod Parker to the list of unavailables as well, as they started the first two games of this series and would be going on zero and one days rest respectively. That brings the total all the way down to 14 available pitchers. Fourteen!
Even if we relegate guys like Jeremy Accardo and Jesse Chavez to the very end of the bullpen, the A’s have enough arms to play match-ups from batter one today. With Grant Balfour, Ryan Cook, Pat Neshek, and Evan Scribner from the right side and Sean Doolittle, Jerry Blevins, and Pedro Figueroa from the left, the A’s have some serious match-up options, and that’s before we even consider starters like Griffin or Tommy Milone, who should be available to throw an inning or two on his normal throw day. Realistically, the plan should probably be to get nine innings out of those nine pitchers, with the rest of the bullpen and Dan Straily being available in case it goes to extras.
Because there are so many specialists in that group, they’ll need to get multiple innings out of several guys, so Griffin, Milone, and perhaps Cook or Doolittle might be needed to pitch across several frames. But, with so many arms available, there’s no reason for any of them to face a single hitter more than once.
The A’s success this year is one of the great examples of baseball being more about the collective efforts of the many rather than the spectacular efforts of the few. That collective approach to winning should be on full display today, as the stakes for this afternoon’s game with Texas couldn’t be much higher. A win today gives them a pass into the playoffs and an extra day off to rest those arms, while a loss forces them into a win-or-go-home situation. The downside of losing is just too large to stick with a traditional starter/bullpen alignment. Griffin should essentially be viewed as just another cog in a very deep bullpen that should be used from the outset to do whatever they can to keep Texas from scoring. If he gets you six outs, that’s great. If he gets you nine, that’s a miracle. He shouldn’t be asked to even attempt to get a 10th. Not with expanded rosters, and not in a game that means this much.
GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Six teams have done background work on Adrian Peterson

NBA set to earn $700M through streaming deal in China

Wade Phillips is the best coordinator hire this offseason

Bill Belichick gives understated scouting report of Tom Brady

Five teams that failed to improve this offseason

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Steelers fans were more profane on social media

Seahawks praise Tom Brady's trash-talking ability

Richard Sherman's girlfriend talks possible Super Bowl baby

DeMarco Murray: I don't pay attention to being replaced

Bucs believed to be going for Marcus Mariota with No. 1 pick

Report: Wrigley Field renovation causing massive rat problem

The Super Bowl and the things that can't be controlled

DeMarcus Cousins calls out writer for five-year-old tweet

What if Drew Bledsoe didn't get injured in 2001?

Who should make up the 2015 Hall of Fame class

WATCH: Porn sounds played during Predators broadcast

Five worst teams to win a Super Bowl

Matt Damon, Ben Affleck defend Patriots on Kimmel

Watch: John Oliver tackles the Super Bowl

The Washington Redskins and their forgotten dynasty

WATCH: Katy Perry cracks Deflategate, Marshawn jokes

Devon and Leah Still write a book for kids fighting cancer

Five potential heroes of Super Bowl XLIX

MLB News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

Super Bowl: Things you can't control

LeBron and the Cavs are ready to make a run

Cousins calls out writer's old tweet

Seahawks praise Brady's trash-talk

Who should be in 2015 HOF class

Five potential Super Bowl XLIX heroes

Rex Ryan downplays Deflategate

Brady hopes Manning comes back

The worst Super Bowl commercials of all-time

SB anthem, halftime performers through the years

Super Bowl should smash TV records

Super Bowl records unlikely to fall

Today's Best Stuff
For Bloggers

Join the Yardbarker Network for more promotion, traffic, and money.

Company Info
Help
What is Yardbarker?

Yardbarker is the largest network of sports blogs and pro athlete blogs on the web. This site is the hub of the Yardbarker Network, where our editors and algorithms curate the best sports content from our network and beyond.