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Study: Does It Pay To Bench Starting Pitchers?

As a follow-up to yesterday's post, I decided to conduct a test.  I took the 32 starters who were drafted last year outside of the top 276 picks and ran their aggregate numbers.  Then I compiled their numbers had I benched them against the Yankees and Phillies every time.  Note that Chris Carpenter was eliminated from the sample, as he emerged as a must-start last year pretty quickly.

This study doesn't reflect reality perfectly, but the sample does consist of guys who almost all fit the spot-start mold.  Pitchers for whom you'd want to pick and choose their opponents - Paul Maholm, Kyle Lohse, and Joe Blanton, but also emerging stars like Ubaldo Jimenez and Tommy Hanson.

In aggregate, the 32 starters tossed 3951 innings with a 4.71 ERA and 1.431 WHIP.  I don't know for sure, but this seems like the type of performance you'd typically get out of your fifth or sixth starter spot in a 12-team mixed league as you filter through various options. 

I ended up removing 48 starts and 252.3 innings from the sample for games started against the Yankees and Phillies.  Innings-wise, I removed 6.38% of the total.  The aggregate of the starts against the Yankees and Phillies: 5.46 ERA, 1.456 WHIP.  Without these starts the group comes down to a 4.66 ERA and 1.430 WHIP.  Taking these starts out didn't move the need much, which makes sense since they are such a small percentage of the total.

Benching these starters would've brought plenty of frustration - Kenshin Kawakami, Anibal Sanchez, and Tim Redding shined against the toughest offenses.  There were plenty of sparkling one-off performances from guys like Manny Parra, Todd Wellemeyer, and Brad Penny.  Penny would've been annoying to own - a strong start against the Yankees in June, but bombed by them in August.  And then in September he shut down the Phillies in his first Giants start.

I expected the Phillies/Yankees sample to be a lot worse in terms of ERA and WHIP.  A better study would've looked at xFIP instead, as well as the peripheral stats.  I'm not convinced the ERA difference here is significant. 

My guess: if you are able to identify the "marginal" starters correctly, as well as the offenses that will be the best all year, there is a small gain to be had over the long run.  Season to season, with probably no more than two marginal guys on your regular roster, you'd probably have a lot of years where you wished you hadn't benched any starters.


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