Sep
23

The question of the Game 2 starter

By

It wasn’t always like this. Earlier in the year it appeared that the Yankees had their strongest rotation in years, even with Javy Vazquez‘s troubled start. But then things started falling apart. A.J. Burnett pitched five times in June and allowed more runs, 29, than innings pitched, 23. The league got a grip on Phil Hughes‘s fastball. The situation got better as Javy Vazquez started pitching well, but then they got worse when he fell apart. Andy Pettitte getting hurt was just the last act in a complete rotation downturn.

The situation has improved lately, but the Yankees still have questions about all of their starters after CC Sabathia. Andy Pettitte helped ease some of those issues with a solid start on Sunday, and Phil Hughes continues to battle through starts even when his stuff or his command isn’t the sharpest. A.J. Burnett, too, has shown improvement of late. He might have shown even more improvement, too, if not for rain delays that shortened a couple of his recent starts. But as of now it appears that Sabathia and Pettitte are the clear choices to start Games 1 and 2.

Except that’s not what the Yankees are thinking. During interviews yesterday Girardi expressed a desire to repeat the 2009 playoff rotation, with Sabathia at the head and Burnett following him. The idea, I assume, is to break up the lefties. But given the composition of the rotation, that doesn’t seem like a great idea. If the Yankees want their best pitchers making the most appearances, they’ll ditch the idea of separating pitchers by handedness and just go with their best pitchers.

Sabathia and Pettitte, though they throw with the same hand, are not similar pitchers. This should make enough of a difference that their handedness should not matter. Put another way, what is more important: a theoretical advantage in splitting up starters, or a real advantage in having your best two pitchers not only throw the first two games, but also potential key games later in the series? With the way the ALDS is laid out, the Yankees could start Sabathia on short rest in Game 4 and go back to Pettitte on normal rest in a potential Game 5.

The second strange aspect of Girardi’s and Eiland’s desire to have Burnett start Game 2 is his potential for a blow-up. Moshe covered this topic earlier in the week. Why would the Yankees put themselves in a position where they might lose a game because their starter gives up five runs in the first? If the Yankees cannot be talked out of splitting up their lefties, it should be Hughes, and not Burnett, who gets the ball in Game 2. Hughes has had his struggles, but he has also shown the ability to battle through a lineup and keep his team in the game for five or six innings.

Starting with Sabathia and Pettitte also helps the Yankees remain flexible. If they head into Game 4 up two games to one, they can use either Hughes or Burnett, whoever didn’t start Game 3, and hold Sabathia for a potential Game 5. If they’re down two games to one they can throw Sabathia on short rest and still have Pettitte for Game 5. If they use Burnett in Game 2 then they’re basically committing to stick with Sabathia in a potential Game 5. Using Sabathia on three days’ rest might not seem ideal, but it might be a necessary tactic if the Yankees face elimination. Having him backed up by Pettitte in the final game makes the decision a bit easier.

I’m not aware of a study that examines the effects of starting back-to-back left-handers, but intuitively it doesn’t seem like a bad idea. It doesn’t sound right that hitters would somehow fare better against the second lefty just because they faced a pitcher of the same handedness in the previous game. I hope the Yankees don’t fall victim to the traditional thinking. They have two pitchers who have stood out for them. They should get the ball to start each series. It gives the team the best chance to win.

Categories : Playoffs

62 Comments»

  1. Kiersten says:

    At least if A.J. pitches game 2, he wouldn’t be pitching in an elimination game. Just please, oh please, do NOT have him pitch game 5.

    Also, if they do lose game 1 with CC on the mound, how can the Yankees honestly send AJ Burnett out there the next day?

    • CountryClub says:

      Well, if he pitches game 2 and the Yanks decide to bring CC back for game 4, AJ would be in line to pitch game 5. They could also go with Hughes if AJ was bad in game 2.

    • MikeD says:

      True, although they did exactly that last year. CC started game one of the World Series against Lee, and the Yankees lost. AJ started game 2, and won. AJ has not pitched as well this year compared to last, so there is more reason for concern, but we have been in this situation with him before, and he has come up big in key games.

  2. I’m not aware of a study that examines the effects of starting back-to-back left-handers, but intuitively it doesn’t seem like a bad idea. It doesn’t sound right that hitters would somehow fare better against the second lefty just because they faced a pitcher of the same handedness in the previous game.

    Not to mention that they’re two completely different pitchers at this point in their careers. CC is a power pitcher who throws 96-97 with a devastating change and slider when he’s on. Andy rarely throws harder than 90-91 and relies on hitting his spots and keeping hitters off-balance with his cutter and curve. I don’t see how facing CC would help hitters adjust to Pettitte at all.

    • Rob says:

      I disagree. I think hitters seeing the ball from the same side for 8 – 10 ABs in two games is suboptimal. Righties can better lock-in and lefties get over the infrequency of seeing the ball come at them. Worse, seeing Sabathia first may make it easier to hammer Pettitte. Andy does well with keeping hitters off-balance. But when you’re used to seeing 95 and now you start seeing 89, it feels much slower. CC makes hitters feel uncomfortable. Andy makes them swing and miss. It’s a difference but no big enough.

      That said, I agree that Hughes should be the #2. He’s earned it just as Burnett has earned the #4 slot. Unfortunately, I think the team is planning on Hughes being an arm out of the pen in the first round. Honestly this is where the Yankee conservativeness drives me crazy. Line up the pitchers based on their seasons rather than some lame perception. In baseball, with 162 games, performance should be perception.

  3. Splitting up lefty hitters in a batting lineup to neutralize opposing LOOGYs: smart

    Splitting up lefty starters in a rotation to neutralize… righty bats that hit lefty pitching well*, I guess?: not smart

    —————

    (*Honestly, that’s the best guess I have. Maybe I’m not as supersmart a tactician as some other big league managers that do this (and Girardi’s far from the only one) and so the strategic advantage isn’t readily apparent to me, but I can’t even really think of why someone thought that was a brilliant idea in the first place. If the other team has hitters that hit lefties well, they’re going to hit them well whether you start your lefties in Game 1 and Game 2 or in Game 1 and Game 3. Starters are good because they get hitters out. Handedness isn’t really an issue for a starter, it’s an issue for a batter — in the negative.)

  4. Stephen R. says:

    If it was up to me, Burnet wouldn’t pitch in the ALDS. I dont see what’s wrong with a rotation of CC-Andy-Hughes-CC (short rest)-Andy (normal rest) or CC-Phil-Andy-CC-Phil.

  5. CountryClub says:

    I agree with Joe. It should be CC, Andy, AJ/Hughes, CC, Andy. If the Yanks are up 2 – 1 they could use the other of AJ/Hughes for game 4 and have CC ready for game 5.

    • Kiersten says:

      I don’t like the latter idea. Use CC in game 4 to just get it done and so he’s ready to go in game 1 of the CS. We don’t want a situation where the Rays/Twins/Rangers sweep and they throw Price/Liriano/Lee at us and we don’t have CC available to go. Not that you should play for the CS before you win the DS, but if we’re up 2 games to 1, you gotta think ahead. And I also don’t think anyone is gonna sweep anyone, but hey, you never know.

  6. j_Yankees says:

    I’m sure splitting up the lefties plays a part in sticking Hughes or AJ in game 2.

    But i think it’s mostly about having the experience and faith in Andy Pettitte on the road in game 3, the game that joe torre always preached was the most important of the series, vs the issues you face with Hughes and AJ.

    The Yankees thing being: If we’re up 2-0. Go to Andy and have him shut the door. If we’re tied at a game a piece. Go to Andy to give us the edge. If we’re down 2-0. Go to Andy to keep the series alive.

  7. theghostofgeorge says:

    If he actually makes the post-season roster, what about Chad Gaudin? I know, I know. He sucks. But hear me out on this. Assuming CC wins game one, start Chad in Game 2. He’ll get his ass kicked and we lose. But it’s essentially a do-over. We start game three all tied up with Andy and AJ/Hughes and CC taking the hill, and Gerardi won’t be tempted to use Gaudin again. He loses just one game for us instead of two or three.

  8. steve (different one) says:

    Until this is official, I’m going to take it as idle chatter on Joe’s part. As long as Andy shows he is fine this week, I would be shocked if he didn’t get the ball in game 2.

  9. theyankeewarrior says:

    I hope this isn’t their plan for next year when we have CC and Lee

  10. Kiersten says:

    Postseason rotation:

    DS 1: CC
    DS 2: Andy
    DS 3: Philip
    DS 4 IN: CC
    DS 5 IN: Andy

    CS 1: CC
    CS 2: Philip
    CS 3: Andy
    CS 4: AJ
    CS 5 IN: CC
    CS 6 IN: Philip
    CS 7 IN: Andy

    Done. There ya go Joe.

  11. Sam says:

    Old Hoss Radbourn scoffs at your “multiple man postseason rotations”

  12. I’ve got the perfect solution. Your Game 2 starter:

    Pat Venditte.

    BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM, THAT JUST HAPPENED.

  13. j_Yankees says:

    What happens if Girardi, regardless of how the series is playing out, decides to go to a 4 man rotation in the ALDS?

  14. Jorge says:

    Ken Rosenthal told me Ivan Nova’s starting Game Two. End of story.

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