Playoff Difference Makers: Rookie Pitchers
Fans who don’t follow the game of baseball frequently ask “Why are so many new players in the lineup at the end of the season?” That’s the beauty of roster expansion. Veterans who have endured the grueling schedule for so long can get days off and clubs get a chance to see what some of their youngsters can do on the big league stage. For losing teams, these young players are auditioning for jobs on the opening day roster for the succeeding season. Someone may perform well enough to compete for a starting spot at their position next spring training. Someone else may perform so badly, management decides that player is a weak link and is expandable, and just like that, he’s traded off for a different prospect. Now after learning this, that same curious fan might say “So how does roster expansion benefit teams that are actually winning?” Well, it can help them a lot more than you’d think, depending on what kind of pitching a team has in their farm system. To put it bluntly, rookie pitchers can kick major ass in the playoffs. We just saw Sonny Gray throw 8 dominating innings of shutout baseball, striking out 9 and giving up a mere 4 hits. Oh by the way, his start occurred during the divisional series and prevented the A’s from falling down 2-0 in a best of 5 series against the Tigers, with the next game being in Detroit.
It’s becoming more and more common for rookies to have a huge impact in playoff games. In 2010, Madison Bumgarner, a late September call-up, pitched gem after gem throughout the postseason to help the Giants win their first World Series in more than half a decade. In 2008, future Cy Young award winner David Price (another player who came up during roster expansion) would pitch in the Rays’ bullpen throughout the postseason and his electric arm boosted Tampa in their own quest to win a World Series (they would reach the fall classic and eventually fall to the Phillies). And it’s not just the September call-ups who have been making their mark. Gerrit Cole was called up back in June and also had a tremendous postseason debut, limiting the powerful Cardinals offense to a single run over six innings and making sure the Pirates got the split on the road that they needed before the series headed to Pittsburgh. Professional hitters who read this blog might be wondering why I’m giving starting pitchers all the credit. Well first of all, no one reads this blog, so those hitters don’t exist. Second of all, impact rookie hitters in the postseason barely exist either. Pitchers have a distinct advantage when facing a team for the first time. They can get away with things because they have such good stuff and they usually have veteran signal callers who tell them where to locate their pitches and what to pitch to who in a given situation.
Hitters just have a harder time making adjustments in their first year, and once teams find their weakness, they’ll keep exploiting it until the player can fix the problem. Excellent players like Bryce Harper, Jason Heyward, and Troy Tulowitzki all struggled during their first taste of postseason play. So what should we expect as we continue forward in the 2013 playoffs? Expect the pitchers that make it to the next round to continue being weapons. Expect future stars like Yasiel Puig and Wil Myers to struggle, but don’t be shocked if they hit an absolute bomb in a key situation if they get the right pitch. Hopefully this prediction goes down better than my last prediction. One game playoffs are hard to anticipate! Until next time, I leave you with Justin Verlander being Justin Verlander: