It’s not often we can look at a horrible team and say definitively that they are doing something right. It’s not often we can look at a team destined for over ninety losses and say they are using a revolutionary strategy.
Yet, here we are.
Taking a page straight out of Brian Kenny’s book “Ahead Of The Curve,” Rays manager Kevin Cash is trying out a brand new strategy, where he has a reliever start against the Angels, in order to face Mike Trout and Justin Upton.
Sergio Romo became the first player since Zach Greinke in 2012 to start on consecutive days, being tasked with the start on both Saturday and Sunday against the Halos. Romo hadn’t made a start in his entire career prior to Saturday.
The clear question is: why? Well actually, there is a simple reason for this new strategy, and it’s actually a genius plan.
As Kenny writes in his book, more runs are scored in the first inning than any other in the designated hitter era. This makes sense, as all starting pitchers take a while to get into a groove on the mound. This is why teams hate inserting starters into “dirty innings” during the playoffs, as it takes them a while to get going, which leads to a higher risk of inherited runners scoring. The top of a lineup is also where a team will find its opponent’s best hitters, so its natural the most runs are scored then.
Relievers, on the other hand, are used to being thrown into high leverage situations. Sergio Romo specifically made his career in an 8th inning role, setting up for Brian Wilson for the early 2000s San Francisco Giants teams.
Therefore, in order to get one of the greatest players in the history of the sport out, Cash went to Romo to start. Not only does Romo have the better odds to get through the first inning, but it restricts Trout and Upton from having an at-bat of experience against a team’s starter under their belt for their second at-bat.
All-in-all, this was a smart move by Kevin Cash. I’m not saying this because of the result which came out of it, but rather the methodology behind it. This won’t work every time, just as a closer won’t be able to make 100% of all his saves.
A manager’s job is to give his team the best chance to win a baseball game. This is the best way to win baseball games, assuming your starter is on-board. Baseball players, and pitchers, in particular, tend to be extremely bound to a routine. A strategy like this is dependent on a starting pitcher being on board with it. If he isn’t this entire point is moot.
However, if everyone is on board, I would enjoy seeing this strategy implemented more. Because, at the end of the day, this is the best way for a team to win games. And that’s the name of the game.