One of the toughest parts of handicapping the playoffs in baseball is pitchers going on short rest. The deeper we get into the postseason the more desperate teams get, and the more likely it is that a guy will be asked to pitch sooner than would be ideal. A pitcher pitching on short rest is definitely not the same guy he would be in ideal circumstances. Some guys handle it better than others, but every guy is affected by it to some degree. The trick for successful baseball handicapping is to determine how much they will be affected, and what that means for the game and the bets. Here are five factors to consider when looking at pitchers on short rest before you make your sports picks:
How have they done in the past on short rest? – History can be a good teacher here. Some pitchers aren’t really bothered by short rest. They have rubber arms and aren’t bound to their routine, so they can respond well to the challenge of changing what they are doing in a high pressure situation. Other guys just aren’t able to do it well. Their control isn’t as sharp or their velocity isn’t as good, or they just aren’t as scary to opposing batters as they could be. You need to look at a pitcher’s record on short rest compared to their overall record. If there is a big disparity between the two then it would be a mistake to treat this as the same pitcher he would be on full rest. There’s another factor to be on the lookout for as well – a lack of experience. If a veteran pitcher has had the kind of career and opportunities that should lead him to have had a chance to go on short rest several times but he hasn’t then there is probably good reason for us to be nervous because he has probably been protected from short rest. Chris Carpenter is a perfect example. In 2011 the 36 year old ace of the Cardinals had put together quite a career – a Cy Young and some runner up efforts, a World Series win, and years of top level performance. In the first round of those playoffs, though, Carpenter was asked to go on short rest for the very first time. It seemed highly improbable that it had never happened before, so there was obvious cause for concern. Carpenter wasn’t as sharp as he was before or after that game on full rest.
How would they match their opponent in a perfect situation? – Before you can look at how a pitcher is going to be affected by short rest you need to get a sense of how they would do in a perfect situation. Ignore the rest when you first look at a game and handicap it like a normal game. If the pitcher has a big advantage in your eyes then he could still have an advantage even when he is weakened by the lack of rest. If he wasn’t well positioned to win on full rest, though, then he obviously wouldn’t likely be attractive on short rest.
What is needed from him? – Sometimes a team needs a pitcher to win a game almost single-handedly. Other times they just need him to avoid too many problems or mistakes and not dig too much of a hole for the offense to climb out of. You need to know what a team needs from a pitcher before you can properly assess if the pitcher can provide that. If the team’s offense is in a groove and they are facing a pitcher they have had success against then it would be easier to trust the pitcher on short rest than if the opponent was fielding a red hot ace on full rest and his team’s offense had been struggling.
What shape is the bullpen in? – A pitcher on short rest is likely to need more help from the bullpen than he normally would. Before you trust a pitcher on short rest, then, you want to make sure that the bullpen is well positioned to help him out if he needs it. You’d feel much better, for example, if the starting pitcher the previous night had gone deep in the game than if he had left early and the gone had gone long with many pitching changes. You need to imagine the worst case scenario in terms of bullpen needs and see if the bullpen is poised to handle that situation.
How much work have they had? – The challenge of short rest is that it doesn’t let either the body or the mind recover from the pressure and demands of the last game. The more work they have had during the season – and recently – the more they need that time to recover, and the bigger the chances that they will perform below their capabilities in this situation. The more grueling the demands have been down the stretch, then, the more nervous you should be. It’s not just the number of innings they have faced, either. If a pitcher faced several tight games down the stretch while fighting for a playoff spot then has pitched in several tough playoff games then they could be mentally fatigued and unready for the mental strain of short rest.