What’s the Probability?

One of the great American pastimes is trying to successfully predict probable pitching match-ups. Fans everywhere love to envision themselves as General Managers in training controlling the roster and purse strings of their favorite franchise. Others see themselves more as the field general skipper of the ball club determining who will be in the starting line-up and who will be riding the pine. Everyone seems to believe they could do at least as good as the current manager and depending on the current win-loss record probably a lot better than those whose job it is to lead the team. As for me, I like trying to look ahead to see who we will be playing beyond the current game and how the Diamondbacks match-up against their opponent. It’s a game I play every day as I try to predict game outcome over a road trip or home stand. One of the primary considerations for these predictions is who will be pitching for each team.

And that is where the problem lies, how exactly do you calculate who will be pitching and when? Logic would suggest that with five starting pitchers they would simply take turns. Coming out of Spring Training the manager would develop the order and once assigned they would just go in order. After all, ever since childhood we have stood in line and come to expect that things would just go in order as we were lined up. In fact if someone got out of line or tried to “cut” in front of us we let them know in no uncertain terms that we did not appreciate them circumventing the process and trying to take their turn out of order. Baseball even has rules to ensure that proper order is followed. Just try to let your hitters bat out of order and see what happens. People from the public address announcer to the umpires to the fans would let you know in no uncertain terms that is not allowed and your team is assessed an out when it happens. So with all the tradition and rules surrounding order, it makes it incomprehensible to me that pitchers do not adhere to a specific order. Instead of an order it is more of a guideline. Take for example the staff ace. In the Diamondbacks case that would be Brandon Webb. Webb likes to pitch every 5 days. This means that regardless of what the order is and whether it is his turn, Brandon takes the mound every 5 days. Likewise Dan Haren too likes to pitch every 5 days and wherever possible he too is allowed to circumvent the order to follow this routine. Randy Johnson during his prime was the same way, always getting the ball every 5 days. Now as he has gotten older and gone through a couple of back surgeries he is given a little more time. But after his latest start on Sunday he expressed a desire to get back in his routine of pitching every 5 days. This leaves Micah Owings and the combo tray of Max Scherzer/Doug Davis. Davis has stated his preference that he too likes to pitch every 5 days. That would all be great except for the fact that the Diamondbacks do not play every day meaning that the days and the pitching schedule kind of gets messed up. With the Diamondbacks off yesterday it would push Webb and Haren up a day to maintain their 5-day preference. That would move Micah, Doug, and Randy around disrupting their routines.

From a fan’s perspective it gets really difficult to follow. You almost need a map and a degree in advanced discrete mathematics to try and figure out when everyone will be pitching and who will be following whom. If your pitching staff is made up of 5 guys who are producing at very high levels it is not as much of an issue as when the pitching staff was Johnson, Shilling and pray for rain. It would still be nice if you could somehow line things up to get the match-ups that give you the best opportunity to win. This week for example the Diamondbacks are on their southeastern swing playing 3 games against the surprising Florida Marlins followed by three against the Atlanta Braves. Micah Owings pitches tonight against the fish but everyone is more interested in knowing when his next start is. Diamondbacks fans everywhere want to make sure he is on the mound at Turner Field during that series. The reason for this stems from the game on August 18, 2007 when Micah Owings single-handedly dismantled the Braves. During that game he pitched 7 strong innings allowing just 3 hits and striking out seven. That was only part of the story. Micah also helped himself by going 4 for 5 at the plate including 2 home runs and 6 runs batted in. That game defined his first year in the big leagues and everyone wants to see if it was a fluke or if he is just that dominating in Georgia. So pulling out the crystal ball, checking the star charts, running through several calculations using computers, calculators, and a really old slide rule; it is my best guess that Micah Owings should be pitching on Sunday for the third game against the Atlanta Braves. This of course is subject to change depending on the weather, the barometric pressure, and the whims of manager Bob Melvin. I’m pretty confident that I kind of think it might happen, maybe. No matter what day Micah’s pitching, I plan on watching. In that last statement I have high confidence in the probability.

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