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Burnett, Hughes, and Playoff Rotations October 12, 2010

Posted by tomflesher in Baseball.
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There was much discussion of the Yankees’ specialized playoff rotation for the American League Division Series. As is conventional in the ALDS, Joe Girardi went with a three-man rotation. CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte were locks; the third starter could have been A.J. Burnett, Javier Vazquez, or Dustin Moseley. Girardi went with young All-Star Phil Hughes in the third slot. That, of course, led to a sweep of the Minnestoa Twins to advance to the American League Championship Series.

First of all, I think it was probably the right decision. Hughes pitched 176 1/3 innings and gave up 82 earned runs, for an ER/IP of about .47. In Burnett’s 186 2/3 innings, he allowed 109 runs for an ER/IP of about .58. Surprisingly, Burnett allowed 9 unearned runs for a rate of about .048 unearned runs per inning pitched, whereas Hughes had only one unearned run for a rate of about .006, but of course those numbers probably don’t say anything significant. With 730 batters faced, he allowed about .11 earned runs per batter, or about 1 earned run every 9 batters faced, while Burnett’s 829 batters faced mean he had similar numbers of .13 earned runs per batter and 7.69 batters.

Most importantly to me, Hughes was much more predictable. Burnett faced, on average, 4.68 batters per inning pitched, with a variance of .92. Hughes faced over half a batter less per inning – 4.13 – and had a variance of .33. That means that not only did Burnett allow more baserunners, but when he was off, he was very off. Although the decision gets tougher when you have a higher BF/IP and a lower variance, Hughes was both better and more consistent in a similar number of innings, so he has to get the nod.

(That said, it’s shocking that such similar numbers produced one 18-8 pitcher and one 10-15 pitcher.)

The only question now is what order to pitch the announced four-man rotation for the ALCS. Of the choices,

OPTION 3
Sabathia
Hughes
Pettitte
Burnett
Sabathia
Hughes
Pettitte

seems clearly superior to me. It allows Burnett to start but avoids starting him twice, gets Hughes in play quite often, and puts the very reliable Andy Pettitte in play for a potential Game Seven. The linked article lists as a con that Pettitte is considered the number 2 starter, but at the Major League level a manager can’t be concerned with such frivolities. Besides, Pettitte is an established company man. I’d be surprised if he balked at a rotation that both maximized the team’s chances to win and put him in position to be the clutch hero.

Incidentally, this option lends itself to using the same rotation in the World Series. Option 2:

Sabathia
Pettitte
Hughes
Sabathia
Burnett
Pettitte
Sabathia

leaves Sabathia unavailable to start Game 1 of the World Series and might put Pettitte on short rest depending on the schedule to start Game 1. I can’t see starting the Series with Hughes or Burnett.

Three Catchers, Four Starters, and Other Playoff Thoughts October 26, 2009

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Last night, the LA Angels lost Game 6 of the 2009 ALCS to the New York Yankees. Mike Scioscia started left-handed pitcher Joe Saunders; he carries, as is becoming the norm, three catchers including light-hitting third catcher Bobby Wilson. Joe Girardi also carries three catchers, although his array includes defensive specialist Jose Molina, sometime-DH Jorge Posada, and Francisco Cervelli, who hit .298 in 94 at-bats this season. Though Mike Napoli was hot during the postseason, Scioscia’s group of catchers wasn’t as specialized as it was in 2005, when he carried big-hitter Bengie Molina, Jose Molina for his glove, and Josh Paul for emergencies. Here, he appeared to be carrying three catchers solely because none of them are big hitters. In retrospect, although Napoli and Mathis are both a big part of the Angels clubhouse, Scioscia should have made a move during the regular season to replace one of them with a catcher who was more of the Bengie Molina or Jorge Posada mold – someone whose glove or arm is slightly defective, but who can hit the ball when necessary. Instead, Scioscia was forced to burn two pinch hitters and a second catcher in his attempt to win the game last night, whereas Girardi has in previous games been able to use the traditional approach of starting Molina and using Posada to pinch hit, or starting Posada and using Molina as a defensive replacement late in the game. In a perfect world, Scoscia could have traded Kendry Morales away and acquired Victor Martinez to use mainly at first base and as an emergency third catcher, replacing Wilson’s more or less dead weight with a big bat but not forgoing any real utility.

In addition, Scioscia started Joe Saunders. This isn’t a crime in and of itself. However, in the ALCS, he started John Lackey, Saunders, Jered Weaver, and Scott Kazmir. Girardi, meanwhile, is using Joe Torre’s time-honored trick of carrying only three starters (CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte, and AJ Burnett) and using traditional long-relief men like Dan Robertson in addition to standard situational relief like Joba Chamberlain, Damaso Marte, and Mariano Rivera. In Game 6, Saunders went only 3.1 innings. Weaver performed well in relief and, frankly, should have been left there for the duration of the series. Instead, Scioscia spread his men too thin and was left making an all-hands-on-deck call in the late games where he used both Weaver and Kazmir in relief. Saunders pitched brilliantly in Game 2, and Scioscia should have been prepared to maximize his usage of Lackey, Saunders, and Kazmir while leaving Weaver in the bullpen. Granted, Saunders pitched like crap last night, but all pitchers have their off nights.

Finally, Girardi will probably do quite well in the World Series, as he’s experienced in managing under National League rules. Hideki Matsui, with his legs in bad shape, will be almost entirely useless in the Phillies’ park. In a perfect world, Girardi would be able to dump fifth-outfielder Freddy Guzman and use Matsui in the field. However, that seems unlikely, so Matsui will remain an overpaid pinch-hitter. With Jerry Hairston, Jr., on the bench, Guzman’s utility as a pinch runner is moderate at best. It would be a gutsy move, but I think Girardi would do best to dump Guzman and bring Shelley Duncan in as a pinch hitter and emergency outfielder.

Still, Girardi gets paid the big bucks to do his job, so I’m sure every move he makes is well-considered.

Quickie: The World Series NL DH October 23, 2008

Posted by tomflesher in Baseball.
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Things are fairly busy – it’s midterm time, and in my spare time I’ve been crunching numbers on the Canadian federal election. I’ve also been following Theron over at Recondite Baseball, who did a very interesting post about pitchers responsible for a high percentage of their team’s wins. I’d like to take a look at something that I consider to be the opposite: the poor guy who ends up playing DH for the National League team.

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