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View from the catwalk: Adam Kolarek says he’s been in this situation before

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His grin gives him away.

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Chicago White Sox v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Rob Mains over at Baseball Prospectus gave a very good graphical breakdown of the Rays pitching usage. It’s not behind the paywall, and it’s worth your time. Basically, he goes through comparisons of innings for starts, and innings for relief experiences to show exactly where the Rays are and aren’t unusual as a result of their bullpen days and their opener-headliner strategy.

It’s most interesting to me to see where the Rays are not leading—relief pitchers per game (that’s Toronto) and starts between three and four innings (that’s Miami).

I do have to pick a little bit of a bone with the conclusion, because this is an excellent piece ruined (maybe that’s the wrong word because I’m still telling you to read it) by some faux-analysis that got tagged on at the end.

All told, Tampa Bay opener starts have yielded an 18-17 record, for a .514 winning percentage. The team in its other games is 42-41, for a .506 winning percentage. That doesn’t strike me as the type of difference—it works out to 1.3 wins over the course of a season—that drives imitation, although certainly there are other factors.

In what world is this how we would evaluate whether a strategy works?

What is the sample? It’s a bunch of games, weighted toward the appearances of pitchers in a long relief role that we’ve taken to generally calling “headliners.” The plurality appearances in this role are given to Ryan Yarbrough (9) and Austin Pruitt (6).

Now what is the control? It’s a bunch of games, weighted toward the appearances of Blake Snell (23), Chris Archer (17), and Nathan Eovaldi (10).

Now, you tell me, quick withouot looking it up, which of those groups you would expect to be better?

To evaluate a strategy, you need to come up with a baseline expectation. In science, often, this is done with a control group, but because baseball isn’t played in a lab, true control groups aren’t always possible. In no case is Snell the right control for Yarbrough. The better way, in this case, has something to do with projections, and it’s harder. Baseball Prospectus knows this.

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