What Playoff Pitching Staffs Do Well That the White Sox Don’t

What Playoff Pitching Staffs Do Well That the White Sox Don’t

It feels like pitching strategy in the major leagues is evolving, or at least the approach in preventing runs is open to new ideas. We saw “The Opener” technique in Tampa work well for a Rays team that won 90 games in 2018. There has been a significant uptick in bullpen usage this season that might be partly because of weak starting pitching, or managers are trying to limit the damages of TTOP. Pitchers are combating launch angle and exit velocity by making adjustments to their pitches changing axis planes and increasing spin rate.

How teams went about keeping their opponents off the bases is much different in 2018 than it was in 2014. That’s why in this second part of identifying the gaps between what postseason teams do well, and what the current White Sox don’t, isn’t just pointing out the differences but also finding the trends. Instead of pitching “better,” the White Sox might have to throw differently than they have.

Previously covering the gaps in offensive production between the Chicago White Sox this season and postseason teams, this exercise is identifying areas in run prevention that need improvement. Consider this a warning; if you thought the difference in postseason teams offensive production to the White Sox was ugly, it’s probably best to skip over the table below.

Avg. Playoff Team 2018 White Sox
RA/G 4.01 5.23
ERA 3.72 4.84
ERA+ 111 87
FIP 3.85 4.73
WHIP 1.26 1.43
SO/W 2.70 1.93

It’s easy to point out all of the White Sox pitching flaws from this season. Starters, no team since 2008 has made the postseason with a sub 2.0 SO/W rate. Both the 2008 Philadelphia Phillies and 2009 Anaheim Angels made the postseason carrying a 2.03 SO/W rate. All the 2018 White Sox need to hit that mark was strike out 67 more batters or reduce the number of walks by 33. Nothing outrageous would need to happen to meet the minimum, but hitting the ten-year postseason average would look drastic. If the total strikeouts remain the same at 1,259, then the walks would need to reduce their total by 187 walks to 466 on the season. Or, if the White Sox wild command continued and the 653 walks remained the same, they would need to find an additional 504 strikeouts.

Dramatic improvement in cutting down on the walks will help the team FIP which has a similar impact on runs allowed as OBP has on a team’s runs scored total.

Another major contributor is home runs allowed. Let’s start by comparing the ten-year average which is 157 allowed. The 2018 White Sox allowed 196 home runs which are a number that’s eye-opening until you compare to the recent trend. This season, the five American League postseason teams combined to allow 889 home runs or 177.8 per ball club. A bit of a drop compared to 2017 when the five postseason teams allowed 966 home runs or 193.2 per ball club.

The American League Central champion Cleveland Indians allowed more home runs than the White Sox with 200. Key differences are the Indians struck out 285 more batters and walked 246 fewer batters for a 3.79 SO/W ratio that fueled a team FIP of 3.79. Home runs don’t hurt as bad when there are not many runners on base. Cleveland had a team WHIP of 1.21 which is below the ten-year postseason teams average of 1.26. Much lower than the 2018 White Sox team WHIP of 1.43.

As long as hitters continue to swing for the fences finding ways to get more loft in their contact plus maximizing exit velocity, I predict the recent trend of home runs allowed will continue to be higher than 170 in a season. Postseason teams are combating this by keeping those home runs the solo variety by avoiding walking hitters. If the White Sox had allowed the same amount of walks as the Indians pitchers, the team WHIP would reduce from 1.43 to 1.26, right at the postseason teams average.

The White Sox have to find a way to reduce significantly the number of runs allowed before being considered a contender. In the table above, the ten-year average has been 4.01, but there is a noticeable difference between the two leagues over that time span.

Season American League (RA) National League (RA)
2008 4.30 4.16
2009 4.65 4.13
2010 4.17 3.92
2011 4.11 3.89
2012 4.15 3.80
2013 3.96 3.57
2014 3.86 3.73
2015 4.15 3.62
2016 4.33 3.77
2017 4.17 4.15
2018 3.92 4.07

National League teams should have the advantage in runs allowed because of not having the designated hitter. Interesting enough the American League postseason teams have fared better this season than their NL counterparts for the first time in ten years. The White Sox were close in 2015 and 2016 to the postseason team average thanks to a starting rotation with Chris Sale and Jose Quintana, but since their departure, it’s been a predictable struggle.

When you break down the runs allowed per game to runs allowed per inning it’s pretty easy to highlight when the issues start for the White Sox. 

Inning White Sox MLB AVG
1 0.73 0.55
2 0.62 0.44
3 0.62 0.48
4 0.59 0.52
5 0.61 0.51
6 0.43 0.52
7 0.48 0.5
8 0.72 0.5
9 0.4 0.45

The first inning across the league has been the highest scored for quite some time. Jacob Peterson wrote about this very topic in 2011 for Beyond the Box Score. Starting pitchers are not in rhythm, and they are facing a team’s best hitters right away. That’s why I think there is something to the Rays opener idea, but there is a need for more data to confirm. Does a team give itself a better chance of winning if they use a pitcher they typically do in the sixth inning to start the first inning? Meanwhile, the intended starting pitcher continues to warm up in the bullpen to prepare to carry the second through sixth innings.

It’s unorthodox and a bit unsettling for those that don’t like change. What we do know is that bullpen usage is up in the majors, and it’s been a significant upward trend for the last two years. 

The White Sox have followed suit with the increase in bullpen usage as manager Rick Renteria loves to use multiple pitchers in an inning, but what postseason teams have is a dominant pitcher out of the bullpen who can handle multiple innings per appearance. Think Andrew Miller of the Indians or Josh Hader for the Milwaukee Brewers. This new bullpen role has been discussed with the White Sox as a role that former first-round picks Carson Fulmer or Dylan Covey can handle. Pitchers who struggle to face a lineup multiple times but can handle two to three innings without much worry.

Which leads to an open thought: would teams be better off having four pitchers who are effective for two to three innings than the old school model of using one pitcher to handle six to seven innings, and then the specialists handling specific batters? This usage is the method teams in the postseason use as it’s becoming more common to see a starter get pulled by the third inning. Could a team find 12 to 13 pitchers and implement this strategy throughout 162 games? Would having them be prepared to take the ball every third day instead of the fifth day allow them to throw harder?

I ask these questions because the White Sox have many intriguing arms in the system to put this strategy into action. No expectations of it happening as long as pitching coach Don Cooper is around, but in the upcoming season if these young pitchers are still struggling going deep into games, maybe it’s worth a shot. After all, the White Sox bullpen in 2018 performed better than the starters.

Team IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% GB% HR/FB ERA FIP xFIP
Starters 891.2 6.85 4.04 1.38 0.272 68.40% 40.10% 12.30% 5.07 5.18 5.24
Bullpen 545.1 9.57 4.18 0.97 0.326 70.80% 42.00% 10.50% 4.51 3.99 4.28

If the struggles for young pitchers like Lucas Giolito and injuries continue to critical arms in 2019, I’m not sure how the White Sox improve enough to make the transition from rebuilder to a contender. Either new faces would have to come via free agency or by trade, or a change in usage strategy. They need to find ways to cut their runs allowed because the offense is not going to be able to carry a mediocre pitching staff.

That run differential target Rick Hahn should be aiming for in his roster creation is +0.70 per game. That’s the ten-year rolling average for teams that make the postseason.

Unless we see radical progress from Giolito, and the young arms prove to have sustainable success in the majors, what was once thought as a potential future strength could be a thorn in the White Sox neck.

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KenWo4LiFe
Member

Interesting but in the end giolito and fulmer tanked most of these stats for the starters.

joewho112
Member

The guy who led the team in innings didn’t help either

KenWo4LiFe
Member

Didn’t help but wasn’t completely useless like the other two.

As Cirensica
Member

Amazing analysis. Thanks

The White Sox have followed suit with the increase in bullpen usage as manager Rick Renteria loves to use multiple pitchers in an inning, but what postseason teams have is a dominant pitcher out of the bullpen who can handle multiple innings per appearance.

I disagree. The White Sox aren’t following suit. Using multiple relievers is not the new trend. Using multiple pitchers to handle few multiple innings (the word multiple is key) is the new trend.

This:

Starter = 7 innings
Reliever #1 = 1 inning
Reliever #2 = 1 inning

Is rather becoming this:

Starter = 5 innings
Reliever #1 = 1 inning
Reliever #2 = 1.1 innings
Reliever #3 = 0.2 innings
Reliever #4 = 1 inning

The strategy where teams needed 3 good starters (Including the so called “ace”) and 2 averageish starters are changing. Teams only need 1 ace, maybe 1 above average starter, and 3 so-so starters. It’s cheaper and an efficient way to cut cost. Then, you must have a really shutdown bullpen, and fielders that can seriously catch the ball (Shift or not). The As, Rockies, and the Brewers did that, and made the play off.

This is why I believe Hahn needs to sign a player like Machado, and forget the Corbins, and Keuchels out there. Increase the chances the White Sox score runs and catch the ball (Machado does both on an elite level). We already have our ace (Kopech), and good amount of decent pitchers around him. Hahn, next, needs to find our Josh Hader/Wade Davies/Andrew Miller. Once Machado is signed, he and Eloy can carry the offense we might need. Next is to focus on young players that are elite defenders (catch the ball). And wins will start to show up….

…and get a new manager.

roke1960
Member

All excellent points. They need that one stud reliever. Fortunately we have so many live arms that we should be able to find one out of that group. And we really need to get a very good hitter to pair with Eloy. A lineup headed by Moncada, Machado, Abreu and Eloy will put some runs up. Our offense has not been good for years.

…and get a new manager.

zerobs
Member

Either approach is fine. Preventing the base on balls is good no matter if the pitcher is a starter or a reliever. Getting hitters to take a walk is also important – the Sox were near the bottom in that.

yolmers gatorade
Member

I agree about the new model of bullpen and starter use. I think Ricky tried to get extra innings out of the starters by letting them pitch the 6th or 7th too much, especially ones like Giolito who were struggling already. Hopefully next year the Sox will have a bullpen full of talented young pitchers who Ricky will feel comfortable putting out there for the 6th-9th innings. I think the Sox should sign Kelvin Herrera or someone similar to close so they don’t put too much pressure of the likes of Burdi, Hamilton, Burr, ect.

zerobs
Member

would teams be better off having four pitchers who are effective for two to three innings than the old school model

If you’re old like me, that IS the old school model. The one-inning-and then-take-the-guy-out-no-matter-how-effective-he-was-and-gamble-that-the-next-guy-will-be-just-as-effective approach didn’t really start happening until the 1990’s.

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