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The Pittsburgh Pirates took an early lead of 5-0 against the Chicago White Sox in the first inning. Their pitcher was their ace, Francisco Liriano.

With such a large lead, can the Pirates afford to substitute an inferior pitcher, say Vance Worley and save Liriano for a later game in the (four game) series? (This would be on the theory that even Worley wouldn't blow such a big lead.) Or would such a move throw the whole rotation out of whack?

As it were, the Pirates are at home, meaning that Liriano had to pitch the top of the first. Would the proposed substitution make better sense if the Pirates were the visitors and run up the big lead, before Liriano threw a ball?

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It would not be a common strategy for several reasons.

  • While it might keep a few innings off your pitcher at the end of the season, you're not really "saving" him in any useful way. Given that he's working on his normal throwing day, has gone through a full warmup and entered the game, he won't be available to throw much earlier than he would otherwise. Even if he were, barring a double-header or something, you'd probably have to modify your existing rotation to re-use him. Some other pitchers might not react well to that. I'm sure there are "ironmen" that would be fine now and again with odd rotations, but it's not something that a club is going to plan for. You use a pitcher normally and they get hurt, too bad. You use a pitcher in a non-standard way and they get hurt, everyone is going to blame you.

  • The person you can replace him with is not one of your everyday starters, and may not be suited to going long into a game. Your starter is valuable by consuming innings. If the replacement starts giving up runs and you have to go deeper into the bullpen, you leave yourself in a poorer position for subsequent nights with tired relievers. Except in an emergency/playoffs, you wouldn't put in another starter because they're not at the right point in the rotation and wouldn't be comfortable pitching that day. (There are cases where you could use someone on their throwing day, but that's not common).

  • Five runs (especially in the first inning) is not such a large lead. Consider that the other pitchers might allow the other team to tie the game and it goes extra innings. In this case, you want to have every pitcher possible available. Throwing away a possible six or seven innings of available pitching for that day isn't a good idea if you plan for that possibility. Don't think of it as an easy win, think of it as a chance for your ace to pitch effectively with less pressure than he would normally have. Maybe you'll get eight innings and give the bullpen a day off.

  • Players want to play. A starter that's healthy wants to pitch on his day. Taking him out with a big lead in the first means that a big chance for a win on his stats goes away. Unless there's an injury, he's going to be very confused or offended to come out in that situation. In the middle of the season, sometimes managing players is as important as managing the game.

It doesn't help whether you're at home or on the road. The starting pitcher is already announced and already has gone through game-day warmups by the time this happens. You still lose his services if you execute it before he faces a batter.

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    +1 Many starters throw 50+ warmup pitches before a game. With this alone, they would be out for at least 2 days and then the rotation would be messed up. – diggers3 Jun 16 '15 at 2:37
  • Indeed 5 runs is not that much, especially early in the game. There's a somewhat famous story about how Jim Rooker had to walk from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh after the Pirates blew a 10 run 1st inning lead: archive.triblive.com/sports/pirates/… – GreenMatt May 17 at 12:55

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