Every year, MLB managers give their Game 1 starters a chance to pitch on short rest in a five- or seven-game playoff series. The rationale is simple, often when teams need a win, they want their best pitcher on the mound. But every year, fans and experts alike wonder if it is the right move. Small-sample sizes for individual pitchers can be met with skepticism, but the aggregate numbers show starters who go on three days’ rest or fewer have not been very effective.
Starting pitchers get at least four days of rest in between starts during the regular season, so it is rare to see one get the ball with three or fewer days of rest. In 2016, there were just 71 such instances during the regular season, and not a single one went beyond seven innings in the second appearance. Only 14 of those 71 outings provided their team with a quality start.
Since 1995, the first year the wild-card format was used in the playoffs, 77 pitchers have started 121 playoff games on three days or fewer of rest, resulting in a combined 35-40 record with a 4.35 ERA. Considering teams usually use their ace in this way during the postseason, those results are not very encouraging.
The overall performance is just as bad when these pitchers are asked to go on short rest in elimination games: 9-18 with a 4.34 ERA. Only 20 of these 45 performances ended in a quality start and just nine pitchers went more than seven innings. The latest to do so was Clayton Kershaw in 2015, but before that it had been 10 years since the last seven-inning performance by a player pitching on no more than three days’ rest.
The average game score, a metric used to determine the strength of a pitcher in any particular baseball game, of these pitchers on short rest in all postseason games is 50.7, not too far from their regular season counterparts (48.4) in 2016. Both are much lower than the game score of 60 we would expect from a stud pitcher and would be considered a below-average performance this past season.
Sportsbooks understand the role of pitchers and what influences betting lines on MLB and so they offer a choice for betting on MLB. If you choose to bet the “listed” starting pitcher, your bet will only be valid if the pitchers listed at the time you placed your wager take the mound as scheduled. That means if you take the “listed” pitcher then your bet would be canceled if the expected starter is scratched before the first pitch.
If you take “action”, all moneyline wagers will be valid. That means that even if there is a pitching change, you would be locked into your original bet with a revised moneyline based on the new pitchers.
Most sharp baseball bettors avoid taking action because it gives up an element of control and negates all of your previous analysis. It’s far preferable to take the listed pitcher and then decide whether you still like either team at the new, adjusted price.
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