Figuring Yankee rotation

October, 27, 2009
10/27/09
3:28
AM ET
With the world still awaiting the puffs of smoke that will signal Joe Girardi's intentions regarding his starting pitchers in the World Series, Dan Rosenheck offers his well-reasoned (as usual) advice:
    The critical question for Girardi is how to make the most use of CC Sabathia’s apparent indestructibility. Is he more valuable as a classic rotation workhorse, starting Games 1 and then 4 and 7, if necessary, on three days’ rest, or as a swingman, taking his regular turn in Games 1 and 5 and relieving in any number of other contests?

    --snip--

    Howard, in particular, has a large platoon split: over his career, he has hit righties as if he were Lou Gehrig and lefties as if he were Lou Merloni. Moreover, using Sabathia as a full-time starter is an advantage only if the series goes a full seven games, while bringing him out of the bullpen guarantees the Yankees will get extra value out of him, making it less likely that the series will be extended that far in the first place. On the other hand, there’s no doubt that New York can get more innings out of Sabathia in a seven-game affair by keeping him exclusively in the rotation, and it is hard to quibble with the logic that you want your best hurler throwing the highest percentage of your potential innings that you can get.

    Given the uncertainty surrounding the choice, Girardi’s best bet is probably to be flexible. If the Yankees are, say, leading by a run or tied in the seventh inning, with two men on base and Utley coming to bat, well, it’s time to bring in the big fella. By contrast, if there is no situation that screams out for Sabathia’s usage -- and if the first few games are split, making a Game 7 much more likely -- Girardi will be better off keeping his ace in reserve.

That sounds nifty, but I wonder if any manager in the history of ever has gone into a World Series with such flexibility.

No, I'm sure that many of them have. Just not in the last few decades. My guess is that Girardi will announce, any moment now, that 1) Sabathia will start Games 1, 4 and (if necessary) 7, and that both A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte will make their second Series starts on short rest. Like this:

10/28 -- Sabathia
10/29 -- Burnett
10/30 -- off
10/31 -- Pettitte
11/ 1 -- Sabathia
11/ 2 -- Burnett
11/ 3 -- off
11/ 4 -- Pettitte
11/ 5 -- Sabathia

Which would be, though not as radical as holding Sabathia in reserve, still pretty radical. I don't know how often managers enter a World Series figuring on four short-rest starts, but I don't believe it's happened much lately.

The only real alternative -- assuming Sabathia's going to start three times -- would be Chad Gaudin in Game 5, but does Girardi believe that Gaudin on roughly a month's rest is better than Pettitte on three days? I've probably made this recommendation a few dozen times over the years, but if there's any question about Pettitte's stamina on short rest, Girardi should simply tell him that he would be thrilled with six strong innings; after that, the bullpen's got it covered.

As for having enough lefty relief against the lefty-heavy Phillies, Phil Coke's got phenomenal numbers against left-handed hitters in his young career, holding them to a .197/.221/.349 line. Damaso Marte was, of course, shaky in limited action this season, but coincidentally he's also held lefty batters to a .197 batting average during his career.

Toss in the salient facts that 1) Mariano Rivera kills lefties, and 2) two of the Yankees' three starters are southpaws, and I would guess that few teams in the majors are better equipped than the Yankees to neutralize a lefty-heavy lineup. Rosenheck's idea is radical, and I love radical ideas. I just don't believe that radical is necessary in this particular case.

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