Rob Thomson strikes me as the kind of guy who goes to a diner Saturday morning, sits in the same booth, orders the same meal from the same server and leaves the same tip each time. He’s not one for major change, none of the fancy new gadgets that are out there to help with society these days. In baseball, give him five starters and by golly those five starters are going to pitch the same schedule each time. You’ll know exactly who follows who on what day.*
*Ed. note: it’s possible Thomson is nothing like this
In the playoffs, having a set rotation is a luxury that only the best teams have. If you have questions about who might make a start for you in October, you probably aren’t going to make it very far in the month. The Phillies have lucked out so far in that they have used only their best three starters in their first three games, but come game four, there will need to be a decision made.
Does Thomson start Ranger Suarez, who was not effective in his 3 2⁄3 innings on Tuesday, on three days’ rest, or does he use a different starter, someone like Kyle Gibson or Noah Syndergaard or Bailey Falter?
Now that we are certain there will be a game four, the team needs to make this decision soon. The answer is probably simple and has already been made, but as of yet, it hasn’t been made public. It’s likely that the team is leaning towards one of Syndergaard or Gibson to make the start, of course, but that’s not exactly the greatest position to be in against a Braves lineup that can hit as well as they can. Gibson’s last few starts as a whole have inspired very little confidence in what he can do, Syndergaard doesn’t look like he can go through a lineup even twice before he starts to self immolate and, while he has been solid when called upon, Falter last pitched October 5th and that was only one inning. The last time he made a start was September 30th, so it’s been a while since he’s been stretched out.
So what if instead, Thomson got creative?
The Braves have had a rather consistent lineup throughout 2022. You more or less know who is going to be playing 6 of the 9 positions on the lineup card, left field and second base being the toss ups at times thanks to injury and ineffectiveness. There have been times when Brian Snitker has changed his left fielder and second baseman depending on who the pitcher is on that day, as well as changing his lineup around as well. We’ve already seen examples of that so far in this series when Robbie Grossman was in the lineup to face Ranger Suarez, but Eddie Rosario replaced him when Zack Wheeler was on the mound. Alternately, William Contreras was in facing Suarez, but Marcell Ozuna was there facing Wheeler. Michael Harris II, the electric rookie center fielder, also saw his spot in the order changed with regards to who he as facing, moving up to get more plate appearances against the righty, heading down to not be as exposed to the left hander as often.
So, we have evidence that Snitker will alter not only his lineup construction, but also the batting order as well. Is it crazy to assume that he will do that again and that Thomson should base his pitcher usage on that assumption? I don’t think so, so I propose this crazy scheme:
Begin game four with Syndergaard so that the intention looks as though he will be expected to last five or six innings, then bring in Bailey Falter as the “follower”.
Here me out.
The top of the Braves lineup isn’t going to change. When Saturday’s game begins, it will begin with Ronald Acuna, Dansby Swanson, Austin Riley, Matt Olson and Travis d’Arnaud in the top five spots in whatever order they’re in. That’s almost Old Testament-like in how set in stone it is. Instead, Thomson needs to attack the bottom half of the lineup as best he can to force Snitker into either accepting the matchups now created by a follower or to pinch hit for them and burn his bench.
For example, let’s say that Syndergaard is the choice to start the game. Likely, Snitker is going to use:
6. Michael Harris
7. Orlando Arcia
8. Marcell Ozuna
9. Eddie Rosario
That’s the lineup he used in game two, so we’ll assume that against a lesser pitcher, he’ll use them again.
Should Falter be brought in the game to face these hitters, Harris is now going to have to face a lefty more often than if he were in the bottom of the order, a negligible difference, but he did have an OPS near 300 points lower against lefties during the season than against righties. Arcia does own the platoon advantage against a left handed pitcher in theory, but in practice, he was much worse against southpaws (.601 OPS) than against right handers (.787) this year. Rosario has been dreadful against all pitchers this year, but against left handers, he’s not even replacement level (.487 OPS).
So now, let’s play this out a little bit. Syndergaard starts game four, faces the first five hitters of the game and comes out of it relatively easily. Thomson then makes the move to go get Falter to follow and give the team bulk innings. Now let’s say that Snitker rides with what he’s got, not moving a muscle and not making any moves. Should that happen, again - in theory, Falter should be at the advantage as he’d be facing these hitters more often than he would the Braves’ top five hitters. That’s good for him and for the Phillies! On the flip side, let’s say Snitker decides to be proactive against Falter and brings in replacements that would swing the advantage back toward Atlanta. Now, though things might get dicey, Thomson has made Snitker blow through his bench and can use that later in the game when deciding who to bring in as a reliever once Falter is done.
Of course, all of this is predicated on two assumptions.
- Syndergaard is the choice and Thomson makes his lineup card assuming he’s going to pitch several innings. Playing a team this many teams, advantages need to be taken wherever a team can take them, so we’d have to believe Snitker would do this when making out his lineup.
- Falter can go through the Braves’ lineup multiple times. Facing the Braves over the course of 40 plate appearances, Atlanta fared rather well against the southpaw, hitting .368/.400/.605 with two home runs and three doubles. Not exactly awe inspiring.
Should Thomson decide to go with a reliever as the opener, say, Andrew Bellatti, then there may not be any lineup construction issues with the Braves to take advantage of. They would see right through the plan and possibly set their lineup according to who is following, hoping that talent wins out against the first pitcher in for the Phillies.
So it should be something that is under consideration for the team to do with their pitching on Saturday. It’s a tricky gambit to navigate, but it’s also playoff time. Depending on what happens tomorrow, this and any other crazy ideas might be in play to occur if the Phillies are simply looking to survive.
But it’s something to think about.
Of course, they should try hitting the ball too.