Would you start Justin Verlander on 3 days rest?
Jim Leyland was asked a similar question several days ago, and gave an emphatic “no” for his answer. Of course, it’s an easy answer when your staff ace has never done that before in his 6-year career.
Keep in mind, if Leyland in fact was going to consider using him in the ALDS when faced with elimination, he’s likely going to be down in the series 2 games to 1, or worse (As mentioned by David Schoenfield in his espn.com piece)… so using him on short rest against a 4th pitcher is rather pointless. If you can’t beat their 4 with your 4 and some offense, then you probably have no business being in contention in the postseason.
But there’s the inevitable unlucky bounce here, bad call there, and you’re down to your final elimination game in the World Series. Can Leyland really say no at that point?
We’ve all heard about Verlander and his sense of conditioning, and his penchant for keeping himself in the peak physical shape that he’s in now. Of course, at this time of the season, every arm is tired, no matter how well put together you’ve made yourself. But for sheer numbers sake:
Verlander has made most of his starts this season with the standard 4 days rest. And the numbers are good. 14-5 record w/ that rest, with all 4 of his complete games thrown in that stretch. His strikeout to walk ratio is better with an extra day of rest, but we’ll have to assume the reverse if we were to see him on 3 days rest (3.92 on 4 days vs 6.06 on 5 days). It’s worth mentioning that on 5 days rest this season, he’s a perfect 10-0 (in 12 starts), so there’s probably a little bug inside of Leyland’s head that says there will be some regression on short rest. And in all reality, his command will likely suffer a bit when and if he falls behind at some point: Verlander has a tendency to “ramp it up” when he gets in trouble, often reaching near 100 mph on that fastball. That could be dangerous on short rest.
That said, letting him potentially rot on the bench in an elimination situation could make for a longer offseason of asking “what if.” If it meant starting him in a potential game 5 or 6, and putting him in the bullpen for game 7, you have to do it. Verlander will have the entire offseason to recondition, recover, whatever. You could almost use the same argument for Doug Fister, who has come on to the Tigers rotation after a trade from Seattle and exceeded expectations of what we thought was a 4th or 5th starter, and has solidified the number 2 spot in most fans opinions. Who’s to say you don’t run him out of the bullpen after a start after only 3 days? You do what you have to do to win. Sure, starters working like this is rare, and they warm up differently than relievers…
But you have to consider it. In the end, however, we’ve got to assume that Leyland will throw in whoever he wants, rotation or lineup, and it will likely be to the ire of fans. But if he doesn’t use his best player(s) to avoid his losses, then we’ll all have the entire winter to lament his managerial prowess.