We’re just about a week away from the start of the ALDS, and now that the Yankees have officially clinched the AL East crown, we can talk seriously about the playoff roster. For the most part, the four starting pitchers are set in stone. We have no idea what the order of the rotation will be behind CC Sabathia in Game One, but that’s not important right now. The question I’m curious to know the answer to is: what happens with A.J. Burnett?
Barring something completely unforeseen, the Yankees will carry eleven pitchers in the playoffs and use the extra spot on a position player, likely a pinch-runner/defensive specialist type. Of those eleven pitching spots, nine are accounted for…
- Ivan Nova
- Bartolo Colon
- Freddy Garcia
- Mariano Rivera
- David Robertson
- Rafael Soriano
- Boone Logan
- Cory Wade
Those last two spots are up in the air. Luis Ayala and Hector Noesi have been solid in mostly low-leverage roles all season, so you have to figure they’re at the front of the line. Aaron Laffey and Raul Valdes could conceivably pitch their way onto the roster as a second lefty, but there’s not exactly much time left for them to do that. Phil Hughes is a total question mark at this point because of his back, and at this point I have a hard time considering a realistic option for the playoff roster. That leaves Burnett as the last candidate, unless Joe Girardi really likes what he’s seen out of Scott Proctor this month. (kidding)
Joe wrote about the merits of using Burnett in relief last month, and the point still stands. He’s been far more effective the first time through the order than any time after that, and his velocity does tend to tail off as his pitch count increases. It’s certainly swing-and-miss stuff (11th best strikeout rate in the AL), so perhaps Burnett could be effective just by shutting his brain off and letting if fly for an one inning at a time. He could, potentially, give Girardi another power arm in relief, which is always what you want.
The problem is that A.J. has never pitched in relief before, at least not for any significant length of time. I don’t think going from the rotation to the pen is a huge adjustment, but it’s certainly an adjustment. You don’t have the same amount of time to warm up and there’s not much of a day-to-day routine, so you’d like to give him some time to get used to that. With only seven games left, they’d basically have to put him in the bullpen right now to have enough time to evaluate him. They’d have to find a spot starter for Saturday (no big deal during September), but they could conceivable get three one-inning looks at him that way (Saturday, Monday, Wednesday).
Right now, unless Laffey or Valdes really impress the rest of the way, I think Ayala’s a lock for one of those last two spots. That means it’s down to Noesi and Burnett for the final spot. If Noesi makes the roster, he’d be the longman, almost assuredly. If Burnett makes the roster, there’s a non-zero chance that he dominates enough to become fourth in line behind Mo, Robertson, and Soriano. It’s the story of his career though, there’s a chance of greatness but not enough of it. If the Yankees are thinking about using A.J. in relief in the postseason, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to move him to the pen immediately, just to give him as much time as possible to get used to it. Either way, it’s tough to see Burnett having much of an impact next month.