Wednesday, October 20, 2010

More on AJ Burnett Making a Start

Yesterday, in my haste to put up my post on AJ Burnett, I failed to notice an excellent article by Fangraphs' Joe Pawlikowski on the same topic.  While he agreed Burnett would need to make at least on start during the ALCS, he suggested that perhaps the Yankees would've been better served throwing him in Game 5 with Sabathia starting Game 4.  His reasoning:
"For his part, Sabathia has been superb when pitching on three days’ rest. He has done it during the regular season four times in his career, accumulating 26.2 innings and allowing just seven runs, three earned. That also comes with 26 strikeouts to just six walks. In last year’s postseason he added another two starts and 14.2 innings with three days’ rest. His overall line:
41.1 IP, 28 H, 11 R, 7 ER, 11 BB, 37 K"
While 41-1/3 innings is a rather small sample size, his performance during that sample has been impressive.  Over the past 20 years or so, pitchers have not only been subject to strict pitch counts, but also conditioned to pitch on four to five days' rest.  Most pitchers of the current era struggle when asked to pitch on three days' rest, typically when it comes to pitch command.  Sabathia is different.  He's a bit of a throwback.  He seems to get stronger as most pitchers tire.  (This is evidenced by his unbelievable pitching line from June to September over the past three seasons.)  He's thrived pitching on short rest, and shown an ability to go deep into games, occasionally going 20-25 pitches beyond the typical 100 pitch count limit.  Given his past success in such situations, pitching Sabathia in Game 4 on short rest probably would've given the Yankees a better chance to even the series at 2-2.  (As it turns out, Burnett struggled giving up five runs, six hits, and three walks in six innings of a 10-3 loss to the Rangers.)  Additionally, pitching Sabathia in Game 4 would've allowed the Yankees to use him in Game 7 in a long-relief role if Pettitte struggled out of the gate.  Of course, the flip side of the argument is what if Sabathia lost Game 4?  Then, the Yankees would've been forced to throw Burnett in Game 5, facing elimination.  Sure, it's a risk, but worth it.  Plus, Derek Lowe started and won two elimination games during the 2004 ALCS against the Yankees after struggling all season to the tune of a 5.42 ERA.

Of course, this is all theoretical, and we could debate this all day long.  We don't have the power to turn back the clock, and convince Girardi to give CC a shot at evening the series.  After reading Pawlikowski's article, I'm fairly convinced (even if he's not) that his scenario would've given the Yankees a better opportunity to even the series, and therefore given the Yankees to avoid a potential Game 7 death match against Cliff Lee.

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