Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Three-Man Rotation? Take The Risk

As the Yankees begin preparing for the World Series and their battle with the Phillies, WFAN's Brian Heyman and Sweeny Murti reported Monday that he Yankees are giving strong consideration to using a three-man rotation.

Given the alternative of giving Chad Gaudin a start in either Game 4 or 5, a three-man rotation should be the only consideration.

Gaudin has pitched well for the Yankees this year and the Yankees have won every one of his starts since they acquired him from the Padres in August.

But he hasn't made a start start since Sept. 28 against the Royals. In fact, he's made just two relief appearances since then and didn't even pitch two innings in either outing. That means it's been a month since Gaudin has pitched any significant innings.

Can Joe Girardi really afford to give a World Series start to a pitcher who likely wouldn't be able to go much more than four innings at best? Could he afford to drain the bullpen? If Girardi commits to giving CC Sabathia three starts in the series, is worth taking a start away from either Andy Pettitte or A.J. Burnett to give to Gaudin?

The answer to all of those questions is, "No, no, no and no!"

Of course, going with a three-man rotation in this era presents its own set of risks and making this move does not guarantee the Yankees anything at all.

Should Girardi go with a three-man rotation, Sabathia will be scheduled to start Games 1, 4 and 7, with Burnett likely to go in Games 2 and 5 and Pettitte in 3 and 6. Because there is no scheduled day off between Games 4 and 5, that means after their first turns throught he rotation, all three starters would have to make their subsequent starts on three days' rest.

Prior to Sabathia's Game 4 gem against the Angels in the ALCS, pitchers starting on three days' rest in the postseason hadn't had much success since 1995, going 20-35 in 85 starts with a 4.65 ERA, while averaging just 5.39 innings.

Those numbers don't inspire much confidence. In fact, looking at those numbers alone would be enough scare many managers away from using a three-man rotation. Asking the bullpen to get 10 or 11 outs in a playoff game is asking for trouble.

But managers can't make decisions like this on numbers alone. They have to take a long, hard look at their personnel, too, and determine if they have guys who have the physical ability and mental makeup to go on short rest.

In the Yankees' case, they actually do.

Sabathia has proven himself to be a horse so far in these playoff, going 3-0 with a 1.19 ERA. That includes his Game 4 start in which he allowed just one run in eight innings on short rest.

It wasn't the first time in his career he's done that. In four regular season starts on short rest, he is 3-1 with a 1.01 ERA, 0.825 WHIP and 26 strikeouts in 26-2/3 innings (an average of 6-2/3 innings per start).

He does have one other postseason start on short rest, taking the ball on three days' rest for his fourth consecutive outing for the Brewers last year and getting bombed in Game 2 of the NLDS. Sabathia, though, has said that by that point, he was emotionally drained after carrying the Brewers into the playoffs. The Yankees haven't overburdened him this season and CC is ready and willing to go two straight times with short rest.

The questions you have with a three-man rotation is how Burnett and Pettitte will hold up.

With Burnett it's not a physical issue. He's actually made four starts on three days' rest in his career and has fared very well, going 4-0 with a 2.33 ERA, 1.074 WHIP and 24 strikeouts in 27 innings pitched.

With Burnett the issue, as always, is which A.J. you'll get. He can be very, very good -- or he can blow up in one inning as he did in Game 5. Of course, that's an issue the Yankees will face regardless of whether Burnett goes on normal rest.

The thing about Burnett is that he has proven that he does have pride. He got bombed in Boston in early June and responded with a seven-week stretch that was brilliant. He went winless in August, but bounced back in September and finished strong.

After losing in Game 5, Burnett wasn't happy. He told the media that if Girardi needed him in relief in Game 6 or 7, he was eager to take the ball. Something tells me that hunger, that eagerness is going to be there for his next two starts. He'll have something to prove and will be determined to shine, regardless of his rest -- who is catching (Jose Molina or Jorge Posada).

With Pettitte you don't ever worry about his makeup. He's not going to be shaken up by anything and won't get caught up in the moment. He'll go out and battle. His resume of a record 16 postseason wins with five series clincers proves that.

The question is whether Pettitte's arm can hold up on short rest.

Pettitte hasn't started on anything fewer than five days' rest since the Yankees skipped his turn in the rotation to give his sore shoulder a rest in mid-September. He hasn't had any problems with that shoulder since, but also hasn't overwork it. In fact, Pettitte threw just 194-2/3 innings in the regular season, the first time he's thrown fewer that 200 innings since 2004, when he was limited to 83 innings because of an elbow injury.

He made three more postseason starts, pitching 19 more innings, getting an extra day's rest prior to Game 6 because of Saturday's rainout.

Had Pettitte been pitching every fifth day through September and in the playoffs, I'd be very concerned. He's had arm issues in the past and that kind of workload would have been a lot to burden.

But the fact that the Yankees have been able to give Pettitte plenty of rest means he should be strong and should be able handle one start -- his final start of the year and at Yankee Stadium -- on short rest and do well.

No, this is not a the type of scenario you want heading into the World Series. Both choices bring risks, but in the end only the three-man rotation will give the Yankees the best chance to win in every game.

It's a risk Girardi and the Yankees have to take.

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