Miami Marlins fans are surprisingly unhappy with the decision to start Wei-Yin Chen instead of Jose Fernandez on Opening Day. The Marlins are claiming a potential health and injury benefit by providing extra days off for Fernandez, but fans are concerned that instead of days off, the team may be benefiting their bottom line by strategically placing him on lucrative home starts. Some are even concerned Fernandez is being thrown shade by the organization for this decision.
Reader Al-Kendall points out the following yesterday:
Jose saves a few off days?
There is no other way other than to roll up the sleeves and take a look ourselves. We are going to judge the Marlins based on this claim made in the MLB.com article:
Fernandez, who will be two years removed from Tommy John surgery on May 16, is on an innings plan in the 180 range. By going in the second game, he is better positioned to have nearly half of his projected starts coincide with days off.
The Marlins want to provide extra off days for Fernandez and presumably not skip his starts but perhaps shut him down early. The presumption here is that extra days off would benefit Fernandez's arm over the course of the full season in addition to the innings limit. But does the claim that having half of his starts coincide with days off hold water?
We will start with the presumption that a full set of days of rest between starts is at four days; this is essentially the situation if Miami were to play every day with five starting pitchers in total. The following table contains the expected starting dates for Fernandez presuming the Marlins go with a five-man rotation consistently for the first half of the season. The third column is a yes/no column on whether Fernandez's scheduled day to start (at four days of rest after the previous start) is an off day.
By that rudimentary look, you can see that Fernandez has an extra rest day on nine out of 18 first-half starts. At first glance, this clearly matches the desired intention listed in this Miami Herald article:
The decision to move Fernandez back a day in the rotation means more than half of his starts could come on an extra day's rest, allowing the team to better control his workload.
The problem is that a certain set of off days would affect most starters in the rotation, particularly both the first and second starter in the rotation. How many of those nine extra days of rest would Fernandez have lost out on if he pitched on Opening Day? The "Extra Off Day" column measures whether Fernandez would or would not have received that off day had he pitched on Opening Day and went as scheduled.
|Start||Date||Extra Day||Extra Off Day|
The Marlins pushed the date up once to get Fernandez to get a few more scheduled days to start to coincide with days off. In that respect, they succeeded, because it gave Fernandez two such situations that he would not have received pitching first. However, as part of the scheduling, his following start had a missed extra off day, coinciding with the off day on which Fernandez's start would have landed. Essentially, at least in the first half, Fernandez's two extra off days were offset by them being immediately lost the following time around.
How many days on average does Fernandez get off by pitching second? Based on this profile, he gets about 4.5 days off in either scenario. So in reality, he saves no extra days off by being shifted to the second spot in the rotation. That is unsurprising given the closeness of the first and second spots; being so tied together, there would have to be scheduling quirks in order to earn Fernandez and Chen significant differences in starts.
The second half could change the equation, but because the Marlins may have other decisions to make regarding how to form their second-half order, it appears Miami's argument of getting extra days in between is out of place. What does their plan provide? The Marlins are physically off and not playing on two more games that would have been dates for Fernandez's starts. Presumably, this provides Miami flexibility. Perhaps the Marlins feel that if Fernandez faces a rougher-than-usual start, this approach provides them more freedom to change up his routine during the week. Maybe their physicians recommended extra time off at the tail end of the work schedule, as he is preparing to restart. Maybe the team has extra plans for those hard days off at the tail end and want to utilize that time.
We do not have strong evidence for concrete extra days off, but their move does at least accomplish what Miami wants. They wanted more of his starts to coincide with days scheduled completely off, and this is the case. Whether the Marlins know something we do not is perhaps true, but ultimately irrelevant. The key to remember is that this doesn't hurt Jose Fernandez, and that is really all that should matter to Marlins fans.