Having split the first four games of a thrilling National League Division Series, the Mets have two difficult questions to answer as they prepare for Game 5.
First, how can the Mets offense score runs against Zack Greinke? The Mets appeared to have done just enough in Game 2 to accomplish that very task, but then Chase Utley slid and all hell broke loose.
Second, how can the Mets best utilize their abundance of elite arms available for Game 5? In a sudden-death one-game playoff where every situation is a high-leverage situation, it is essential that the Mets use their pitchers in the best possible way.
The answer to the first question is simple: give Wilmer Flores a chance to be a hero. The script is too perfect, and if the baseball gods exist, it will happen.
The answer to the second question is not so simple. First, let’s take a look at the pitchers on the Mets roster, along with their role and availability for Game 5.
|Noah Syndergaard||SP||Available on full rest|
|Matt Harvey||SP||Available on short rest *|
|Steven Matz||SP||Not Available|
|Tyler Clippard||8th Inning||Available|
|Addison Reed||7th Inning||Available|
|Bartolo Colon||RH RP||Available|
|Jonathon Niese||LH RP||Available|
|Hansel Robles||RH RP||Available|
|Erik Goeddel||RH RP||Available|
[ * - While technically available, it may not be the best idea to use Harvey on just two days rest.]
That makes 10 pitchers possessing various abilities available for a nine-inning game. It is safe to eliminate a few of the lower-ranking relievers, namely Erik Goeddel and Hansel Robles, from consideration, both due to their usage patterns (or lack thereof) thus far in the series and relative ability relative to the other available pitchers.
This leaves us with eight pitchers. Jacob deGrom, Game 1 winner and one of the best pitchers in the National League -- and the best pitcher on this staff -- has already been announced as the starter. This is the right decision, but the question quickly turns this one: how quick should Terry Collins give deGrom the hook?
To answer this I turned to The Book, which uses many insightful numbers to give us the following simple conclusion: "As the game goes on, the hitter has a progressively greater advantage over the starting pitcher." More specifically, the hitter’s wOBA is eight points lower than expected the first time through the order, one point better than expected the second time through the order, and eight points better than expected the third time through the order.
This is commonly known as the "times through the order penalty" or TTOP. With this knowledge, we can determine that deGrom is clearly the best choice for the first time through the order and probably the best choice for the second time through the order ... but what about the third time through? Is deGrom with an eight-point increase in expected wOBA better than Syndergaard with an eight-point loss in expected wOBA?
To answer that, we will examine the individual wOBA numbers of deGrom and Syndergaard each time through the order. These figures are displayed in the chart below.
|Pitcher||First PA||Second PA||Third PA||Fourth PA Plus|
deGrom is a great pitcher at all times and has suffered a standard times through the order penalty. Syndergaard's figures are a bit unusual, as his best time through the order is the second time. This is probably a small sample issue, and moving forward, we can expect Syndergaard to be a bit better the first time through the order and not quite as good the second time through the order. Still, the fact remains that both pitchers lose effectiveness the third time through the order.
Let’s suppose that each time through the order is about two innings. Baseball is not this rigid, and this estimation is probably rightfully conservative for a pitcher of deGrom’s caliber. Under this assumption, deGrom’s first two times through the order would take him through the fourth inning.
With Familia penciled in for at least the ninth inning, this leaves the fifth through the eighth as still up for grabs. Putting the concern of leveraging the pitcher’s spot in the batting order aside, Syndergaard is the best choice for all of these four innings for a few reasons.
First, apart from deGrom and maybe Familia, Syndergaard is the best pitcher on this staff. It is good to give innings to your best pitchers! Second, the numbers show that deGrom the third time through the order has been the rough equivalent of Syndergaard the first time through the order, so the theoretical difference is not large. Third, Syndergaard has dominated the second time through the order and on full rest, should have no issues going through a lineup twice. Fourth, and the strongest argument for pulling deGrom after two times through the order, is that Syndergaard’s stuff can really play up in a shorter stint, so he will likely be stronger in the 'pen than the numbers suggest as a starter. He sat 101 at times in the first inning of his Game 2 start, and knowing that he will not have to go terribly deep in the game, can feature more of that Chapman-esque velocity.
This leaves the ideal as deGrom twice through the order, Syndergaard twice through the order, and Familia for the ninth. This is a nice plan! But what if (gasp) things do not go exactly as planned? What if baseball is unpredictable again? There are a number of other factors to consider in practice. Delaying the switch to Syndergaard to avoid having to make a double switch or have the pitcher hit is a defensible decision, while pinch hitting for deGrom in a high-leverage spot early in the game also makes sense. Although they do not fit on the ideal scenario for this game, both Addison Reed and Tyler Clippard are good options, while Jeurys Familia could also throw more than one inning -- something he has already done ten times this season. Still, the ideal scenario is using deGrom exactly twice through the order, Syndergaard exactly twice through the order, and having that be enough to get to Familia for the ninth.
As weird as it sounds when the Mets are facing Greinke in Los Angeles, New York has the pitching advantage. The ability to have two All-Star caliber starting pitchers on full rest for a sudden death playoff game is a luxury few managers have ever enjoyed. The Mets need to be sure to take full advantage of this luxury by giving Syndergaard ample innings in Game 5 and resisting the easy move of simply making him another one-inning setup man. This is arguably the best sudden death pitching matchup ever, and one of the most interesting storylines will be how the Mets take advantage of their unprecedented single-game pitching depth.
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Dan Weigel is a contributor at Beyond the Box Score and Sporting News. Despite making arguments to the contrary in this article, Dan will be wearing his Bartolo Colon shirsey during Game 5 in hopes that the most lovable pitcher will get an opportunity to hit. Follow him on Twitter at @DanWeigel38.