Thursday, October 15, 2009

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

Three starters or four? Joba Chamberlain or Chad Gaudin? Ten pitchers or 11? Two catchers or three? Brian Bruney or Freddy Guzman? What about Francisco Cervelli?

Joe Girardi and the Yankees have some tough roster decisions still to make with Game 1 of the American League Championship Series against the Angels rapidly approaching.

Unfortunately, the weather forecast is not helping to make those decisions. The season's first Nor'easter is set to hit New York Thursday with rain and wind gusts up to 50 mph expected to last through Saturday. The forecast for Games 1 and 2 calls for showers and temperatures in the 40s. I suddenly feel the urge to either build an ark or move to Southern California.

Girardi may want to do that to because if either game is postponed, that may prevent him from going with a three-man rotation for this round. Girardi and his coaches have been discussing pitching Game 1 starter CC Sabathia on short rest in Game 4, which would allow the Yankees to use Sabathia on full rest in Game 7 because of a off day currently scheduled between Games 4 and 5.

I love that plan. Unlike the previous two seasons, Sabathia has not been overused this season and is fresh and strong. In addition, Sabathia has show the ability to pitch well on short rest. He's started four games in his career on three days' rest, going 3-1 with a 1.01 ERA, 0.825 WHIP and 26 strikeouts in 26-2/3 innings.

If anyone can handle that assignment, it's the big lefty. It's a terrific strategy.

But if Game 1 is postponed and either of the off days between Games 2 and 3 or Games 4 or 5 is wiped out, Girardi may be forced to go with a fourth starter. So should it be Gaudin or Joba?

I've been clear and consistent about my beliefs on Joba. I've written numerous times that Joba should have been starter this year.

I've also been critical about the Yankees' handling of him in August and September. Since this blog started in late March, I wrote Joba would pitch about 140-150 innings as a starter and then should be moved to the bullpen to continue contributing to winning a championship.

The Yankees tried to avoid having Joba pitch out of the bullpen. They tried to implement ill-conceived plans to extend the 24-year-old righthander's season as a starter. Those plans failed miserably, and worse, they messed with the kid's head.

But Joba seems to have regained some semblance or nomalcy in the bullpen, allowing just two hits and striking out one in 1-2/3 innings in the ALDS against the Twins.

At this point, I'd leave Joba in the bullpen and go with Chad Gaudin. No, Gaudin's upside is nowhere near as high as Joba's as a starter. If right, Joba can dominate. The thing is that no one knows what Joba we'll get should he start a game. Will it be the aggressive, strike-throwing machine who came out of the All-Star break winning three straight? Or will it be the timid, passive, intimidated poor excuse for a fifth starter that we saw through most of August and September?

At this point, we are fairly certain that Gaudin's head is screwed on straight and that he'll be able to deliver a start that will be good enough to keep the Yankees in the game. The Yankees went 6-0 in Gaudin's six starts, including a 6-5 win at the Angels on Sept. 22. Even if Gaudin gives up two runs but can't through the fifth inning, that's better than risking a three-inning implosion by Joba.

In addition, Joba has given Girardi a formidable bullpen for the postseason. If a starter can get through six innings with the lead, the game is basically over. Against the Angels, that likely will prove to be a vital formal for victory.

Look, I still believe Joba is a starter, but he'll have to wait until next season -- when his innings restrictions will be lifted -- to continue that development.

Of course, that leaves another question for the bullpen: Should Girardi drop lefthander Damaso Marte and if so, should he replace Marte with another pitcher or a position player?

Marte was awful against the Twins in the ALDS, nearly costing the Yankees in Game 2. With Phil Coke pitching well as a left-handed specialist, there is no need for Marte. Drop him.

The thing is that with the potential need for a fourth starter, I don't think the Yankees can afford to go with just 10 pitchers on the roster, especially given the over-aggressive way Girardi used his bullpen in the first round.

I know Brian Bruney has been inconsistent at best during the regular season, but when he's thrown the ball well, he's shown the ability to get big and tough outs. Bruney's clearly a gamble, but I think it's not as big of a gamble as being caught short in the bullpen.

That leaves one more question: should the Yankees continue to carry three catchers or should they replace Francisco Cervelli with Freddy Guzman?

Let's be clear: the only reason Cervelli was on the ALDS roster is because of A.J. Burnett. Girardi wanted to give Burnett every opportunity to be comfortable and pitch well. That meant starting Jose Molina, who has worked much better with the emotional right-hander than equally emotionally starting catcher Jorge Posada.

That meant Girardi needed Cervelli on the bench so that Posada could be used as a pinch hitter while still leaving Girardi the option of pinch running for the slow-footed Posada later in the game.

The move worked in Game 2 of the ALDS. Yes, Burnett walked five and hit two batters, but he's always had control issues. The important numbers were that he allowed one run on three hits in six innings and gave the Yankees a chance to win. Cervelli caught the final inning of that game after Girardi pinch ran for Posada in the 10th.

The Yankees are going to need a similar outing (though hopefully with better control) from Burnett against the Angels in Game 2. Girardi has not officially made a decision, but something tells me that he's waiting to see how Game 1 turns out before he makes an announcement. If the Yankees win that one, count on Molina starting. If the Yankees are down 0-1, Girardi very well may go with Posada.

That means Cervelli will remain on the roster and Freddy Guzman, whose speed undoubtedly would be a potent weapon off the bench, will have to left home.

The only other option is to leave Eric Hinske off the roster. Hinske did not play against the Twins and very well might not get into a game in this series, but I don't think the Yankees will be willing to enter this series without a power-hitting pinch hitter. He's professional hitter whose bat could prove useful should Brett Gardner or Jerry Hairston Jr. come up in a big spot.

UPDATE: Turns out the Yankees are willing to go without a power bat on the bench. Guzman was added to the roster and Hinske left off. I suspect this is an indication that Girardi plans on using Gardner quite a bit in the series, possibly getting some starts. I think it's a wise move. The Yankees need Gardner's spark in the lineup and having Guzman's speed on the bench gives them the flexability to do that.

Up Next
ALCS Game 1
Friday vs. Angels, 7:57 p.m., FOX
John Lackey (11-8, 3.83 ERA; ALDS: 1-0, 0.00; 2009 vs. Yankees: 1-0, 2.57 ERA in 1 start)
Sabathia (19-8, 3.37 ERA; ALDS: 1-0, 1.35; 2009 vs. Angels: 0-2, 6.08 ERA in 2 starts)


Dave said...

No one cares! :)

Ugh. Go Angels. Blech.

Unknown said...

Poor, poor, bitter Red Sox fan. One would thing that with all those years of Boston failure you'd be quite accostomed to this! ;)

rakeback said...

I think the catcher has a great deal to do with the success or failure of the pitcher. I think Posada has done a great job over the years, so I find it hard to believe he suddenly forgot how to call a game.

Unknown said...

I don't think the issue with Posada has been accurately reported. He absolutely knows how to call a game. I don't believe that's the problem at all. Yankees wouldn't have won so many games with him if he didn't know how to call a game.

Rather, I think it's more a personality issue. He clashes with A.J. He clashed with Unit and Moose and Rocket. Jorge is a leader. Some guys just need a psycologist behind the plate. A.J. needs and army of shrinks.