Pitching on three days' rest

Out of the eight races in baseball (three divisional races and a wild card for each league) there are only two still up for grabs, and both are in the West. In the National League West, the out-of-nowhere Arizona Diamondbacks have a three-game lead over the defending champs, the San Francisco Giants; in the American League the Texas Rangers had a two-game lead over the charging Angels (of Anaheim, Orange County, Los Angeles or California) going into Friday night’s play.

The major news coming out of the Dallas-Fort Worth area is that the Angels will pitch Ervin Santana and Cy Young wannabe Jered Weaver on three days’ rest. Mike Scioscia said that both pitchers feel great after their last start and that “one time around, it’s no big deal.”

Neither Weaver nor Santana has pitched on three days’ rest at any time in their big league careers. Santana is coming off a start in which he threw 115 pitches, but has averaged 111 pitches per start since the beginning of July. Weaver threw only 96 pitches in his previous outing, and against the Toronto Blue Jays on Aug. 13 he threw only 94. These were the only two games out of 27 starts in 2011 in which Weaver has thrown fewer than 104 pitches.

Pitchers usually throw in the bullpen a few days after they start to “get work in.” They obviously don’t throw 100 pitches and it isn’t a live-game environment, but they are used to throwing. What we don’t know is how Santana and Weaver will fare pitching in a real game with playoff implications on only three days’ rest.

Turning to Baseball-Reference.com to check on how pitchers have done on three days’ rest in recent history, you might figure that it does not happen often these days. In fact, it seems as if teams are far more willing to go to six-man rotations than pitch on three days’ rest. At first I checked the past 10 seasons to see how many games were thrown on three days’ rest; Baseball-Reference.com returned 702 such instances. Maybe 10 years is too many? How about since the start of the new PED testing era … which isn’t to say pitchers were using PEDs; we all know that only hitters and two guys named Clemens and Pettitte were using the juice, right?

Anyway, cutting my search back to 2005, Baseball-Reference.com returned only 393 instances in which the starting hurler took the mound after a three-day break. But there is a flaw: According to B-R.com 21 pitchers have pitched on three days’ rest already in 2011. Can that be true? One of the more recent games it lists was a start by Dan Runzler of San Francisco; something smells fishy and it isn’t McCovey Cove. Checking Runzler’s game logs of 2011, he went on three days’ rest, but his appearance prior to his start on Aug. 21 was in a relief role; looks like they need to add some if/then commands to BR.com’s search.

More helpfully, a presentation by J.C. Bradbury and Sean Forman essentially says that there are not enough back-to-back starts in which a pitcher goes on three days’ rest or less to confidently say that the lack of rest impacts the pitcher's performance negatively or positively. Sort of a buzzkill, eh?

What is really sort of upsetting is that if I continue to add qualifications to my search the sample size is still pretty darn big. I wanted to know how many quality starts have been thrown on three days’ rest or less since 2005 regardless if the pitcher is making consecutive starts. So I added that the outing had to last six innings or more and the pitcher had to allow three earned runs or fewer. There are still 159 such instances. One of the more recent examples of a quality start thrown on three days’ rest was by Jerome Williams (formerly of the San Francisco Giants, Chicago Cubs and oblivion), pitching for -- you guessed it -- the Angels. Williams has two appearances in 2011, the first on Aug. 17 in which he pitched two-thirds of an inning, and the second on Aug. 21, when he started for the Angels and lasted seven innings against the Baltimore Orioles, a game that the Angels won 7-1.

Did Williams' performance give Scioscia the idea to throw Santana and Weaver? Or is Scioscia just looking for CC Sabathia circa 2008 with the Milwaukee Brewers, when the big lefty worked on short rest to help deliver a playoff slot? Either way, the biggest series this weekend just got more interesting.


Travis Lay writes for Blake Street Bulletin, which covers the Rockies for the SweetSpot network; you can keep up with him on Tweet here.