Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Primary colors: Coincidence or evidence?

Kohl Stewart on Tuesday made his eighth appearance with the Twins. The first four were straight-up starts; the most recent four were as a "primary" pitcher, still charged with getting through the lineup at least twice but not pitching the first inning.

He allowed exactly three earned runs in each of the four starts but never finished the fifth inning: a total of 16.1 innings with an ERA of 6.61 and a dismal nine walks (with 11 strikeouts).

In the second four outings, including Tuesday, he worked 20.1 innings, allowing four runs, three earned. ERA: 1.33. The walk-strikeout ratio is better, but not good (nine walks, 13 strikeouts).

Coincidence, or evidence that the "opener" tactic works? Thirty-six innings and change doesn't really settle anything, and there are signs that a lot of luck is involved, but Stewart has been better while avoiding the top of the order while getting settled in. That's part of the theory behind the opener.

Paul Molitor pulled Stewart after six innings, 75 pitches and 21 batters Tuesday, and the bullpen -- specifically Trevor Hildenberger, who is suddenly struggling again -- promptly surrendered four runs. The decision to yank Stewart was second-guessed on social media, with the commentary focused on the 75 pitches.

More important in that decision, I think, is the 21 batters. That's twice through the batting order, plus three hitters. Opener Gabriel Moya faced the first five men, then Stewart began with the Tigers No. 6 hitter (James McCann). Molitor wanted to prevent Stewart from facing the top of the order a third time, and also wanted to give Hildenberger a clean start to the inning.

The pitch count was a secondary consideration. It clearly didn't work, but that's on Hildenberger.

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