At the end of spring training Joe Maddon made the decision to put Wade Davis into the bullpen and insert Jeff Niemann into the starting rotation. Going into spring training Wade Davis had a career 25-22 record with a 4.22 ERA over 64 starts and 33 (51.7%) of his starts qualified as quality starts and Jeff Niemann had a career mark of 38-23 with a 4.16 ERA over 84 starts and 42 (50%) of his starts qualified as quality starts. During spring training Niemann posted a 4.05 ERA with a K/BB ratio of 11/3 and Davis had a 4.91 ERA with a K/BB ratio of 13/7. Joe Maddon said his decision was not based on spring training performance but really did not offer any in depth analysis in his explanation:
"It was not based on any kind of spring training performance," Maddon said. "The point I want to make is this isn't you’re typical other guy in the rotation kind of a battle, because we have such faith in both of these guys. Most organization may go into this moment searching and somebody has to earn other spot in the rotation, but with these two guys, coming down to the last two, it’s unusual to have that kind of quality in the decision-making, so that made it even more difficult. We just like the idea of Jeff in the rotation and Wade in the bullpen. The fact that Wade can come out of the bullpen and possibly throw some high velocity numbers and make an impact there." - Tampa Tribune
There are some fans who like Jeff Niemann as a starter, some that would rather have Davis start with Niemann in the pen, and then there has been the suggestion of a happy medium where Jeff Niemann starts and Wade Davis becomes his personal caddie. This idea was discussed yesterday in the Deep Thoughts: Jeff Niemann article which was all started by Tommy Rancel's piece on April 12th.
As shown in the data tables below Jeff Niemann is an effective starter the first two times through the batting order and through the first 75 pitches of a game.
The caddie idea with Niemann/Davis is a pretty picture to paint based on Niemann's numbers posted above This system would allow. Niemann to be used in the most effective manner and allow Davis to continue to work 2-3 innings every 5 days thereby allowing him to remain stretched out in the event that he is needed as a starter due to an injury.
One of the problems with the Niemann/Davis caddie idea is that if we apply the same sort of quick analysis of Wade Davis career numbers we see that he hasn't been effective the first time through the lineup nor through his first 25 pitches.
By the numbers isn't it probable that Wade Davis is just as unlikely to have success in the bullpen as Jeff Niemann would have going later in games? I am not one who believes that Joe Maddon will alter his bullpen usage and employ a caddie system. With that said, I must admit that I don't believe that it is a pure coincidence that James Shields is slotted right in front of Niemann in the rotation. I believe the Joe Maddon is satisfied that Jeff Niemann has pitched into the 6th inning in 62% (51 of 82) of his starts but he will have a quicker hook with Niemann based on situation and some on pitch count.
I do not believe that the most recent outing against the Twins was a case of removing Niemann based on pitch count. In the Twins game Maddon played the role of using his best matchup guy at the most opportune time (something long endorsed here). He had McGee waiting for Mauer/Morneau and even if it was the 6th inning the time to go to that matchup was then. It's actually kind of refreshing to see a manager not let the inning number dictate when he goes to his matchup. If the game would of been 11-0 Niemann probably would of been allowed to stay in but Joe tried to nip the rally in the bud.
The question is why does Niemann struggle after the 2nd time through the lineup and as his pitch count creeps up over 75. This is something that Jim Hickey will most definitely attempt to improve over the course of the seaon. Prior to his start tomorrow Jason Collette will be looking at a few ideas tossed out in the Deep Thoughts post including whether Niemann's struggles are tied to his stamina or are there certain pitches that he loses control of?