Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Should AJ Burnett Start Game 4?

The big question on every Yankee fans mind is, "Should AJ Burnett start Game 4 of the ALCS?"  It's an excellent question, with an answer that's not as easy as it appears at first glance.  Just based on numbers alone, the answer is not just no, but "Hell No!"  Burnett has been awful this season.  His average fastball velocity sits at 93.2 MPH (per pitch f/x), which is a full MPH below his rate last season.  As a result, he's seen his contact rate skyrocket (81.8% versus a career rate of 77%), his whiff rate drop (7.9% versus a career rate of 10.1%), his K/9 rate plummet (6.99 versus a career rate of 8.23), and his K/BB fall to unacceptable levels (1.86 versus a career of 2.18).  Burnett's fastball, a pitch he throws 69% of the time, has been incredibly ineffective over the past two seasons) per Fangraphs pitch run values (worth -28.7 runs).  Adding insult to injury, Burnett's curveball, once a plus or double-plus pitch, proved to be ineffective in 2010 (worth -3.2 runs).  Put all of these together, and you get a recipe for disaster in Game 4.

So why should the Yankees start Burnett?  Quite frankly, for the second postseason in a row, the Yankee rotation goes three deep.  Outside of Sabathia, Hughes, and Pettitte, no other Yankee starting pitcher proved he was capable of producing consistently.  Vazquez was so bad in his second-stint with the Bombers, he was demoted to the bullpen.  Prospect Ivan Nova proved he couldn't get past the fifth inning consistently.  Burnett proved to be maddeningly frustrating and inconsistent, great one start and awful the next three.

Still the question remains.  Why should the Yankees start Burnett?  Simple answer--there's no one else.  Both Sabathia and Hughes struggled in their first starts against the Rangers, unable to make it through the fifth inning.   This year, the Yankees don't have the luxury of the additional days off that they were afforded last postseason; therefore, adding significant risk to teams choosing to run out a three man rotation in the playoffs.  (Note:   Thank god for that.  The extra off days during the playoffs were ridiculous.)  The biggest risk for the Yankees with going with a three man rotation, is that they'd have to start Hughes in Game 5.  They've been handling Hughes with kid gloves over the past couple of years, particularly during the second half of this season.  Starting Hughes on short rest could result in either (a) additional injury or risk of injury, or (b) an ineffective start by a pitcher not used to pitching on short rest.  Additionally, Sabathia would be forced to start Game 4 and a potential series deciding Game 7 on short rest.  While Sabathia is certainly familiar with pitching under such conditions, it's not exactly optimal.  Especially in a Game 7 situation where the Yankees season is on the line.  Pitching Burnett in Game 4 allows the rotation to line up with Sabathia in 5, Hughes in 6 (on the road where he's had more success this season), and Pettitte (the winningest pitcher in postseason history) in a potential Game 7.  Burnett may not be the easiest choice to start in the postseason, but it appears he's the Yankees only choice.

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