3rd time through will be key for Marlins starters

How pitchers fare once lineup turns over twice to help determine when relievers enter

March 1st, 2017

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Third time through the order. Marlins manager Don Mattingly has already made mention of it a few times in Spring Training, and it will be data the organization plans to closely monitor when determining how long to stick with a starting pitcher.

Generally, the more times a pitcher faces the same batter, the advantage swings toward the hitter. Just how much of an edge, especially the third time around, will be one of the indicators the organization uses before making a pitching change.

"It's not something that I've looked into deeply in the past," said right-hander Tom Koehler, who started Wednesday in Miami's 9-5 win over Houston. "But that's the way the game is going now. That's going to be something I think I maybe need to dive into a little bit more."

In 2016, Koehler actually remained pretty much the same when facing a batter the first time compared to the third time. Looking just at batting average, hitters batted .247 off him the first time around, and .243 the third. But the second time, they were .274.

Dan Straily, acquired from the Reds, was very steady throughout. The first time around, hitters were .223 off him, .218 the second time and .232 the third.

Rounding out the rest of Miami's projected rotation: was .242 first time, .300 the second and .269 the third, .233/.231/.273 and .249/.290/.321.

"I think that's the way baseball is going with the analytics, with the data behind everything," Straily said. "It's going to give us as pitchers a better chance of keeping those increases the second and third time through the order, keeping that number smaller. That's what it's all about. How small of a gap can I keep?"

The Marlins have stocked up on relievers and have given Mattingly options to bridge the middle innings if the starters don't go deep into games. Still, the organization is hopeful the starters can log their share of innings.

One reason the Marlins targeted Straily is because he's proven durable, throwing 191 1/3 innings last year in Cincinnati.

"That third time through the order, I feel like a lot of it is set up with what you did to hitters earlier in the game," Straily said. "Have you thrown them everything you have to offer that day? What have you done the whole day kind of sets up later."

Koehler worked two innings on Wednesday, giving up one run.

"If there is something happening a third time, there's a reason for it," Koehler said. "So there's probably a solution to it, too. Obviously, familiarity plays into it. If you just see somebody more, you've got a better chance of getting a hit. Whether it's a change of sequence and things like that. Or guys maybe are more aggressive the third time around in early counts? I think maybe if we dig deeper into it, we can find a solution."