The talk over the past four days of the World Series has been starting pitching, or rather, the managers’ decisions on who to take the hill. For Game 4, Charlie Manuel was excoriated for selecting Joe Blanton over Cliff Lee on short rest. When the Yankees took the 3-1 lead, the Philly media all but blamed Manuel, seemingly forgetting that Blanton pitched well enough to win, and save for a Brad Lidge meltdown, the series might have been tied at that point.
At the same time, the choice of Joe Girardi to start AJ Burnett was being put under the microscope, run through a centrifuge, and measured by any other number of scientific devices. “Why start Burnett on short rest?” The experts on MLB Network claimed. “With the lineup shaking out, Melky Cabrera being out, Jose Molina catching, this favors the Phillies,” to paraphrase Harold Reynolds. “Chad Gaudin can give five innings and then make it a bullpen game,” said Mitch Williams.
Tim McCarver, pleasantly old school, lauded Girardi’s choice to stick with three starters.
The most sane MLBN analysis came from Dan Plesac, who noted that the Yankees didn’t have a fourth starter as an option due to the way they (mis)handled Joba Chamberlain during the second half of the regular season. Thus, Girardi’s options were limited.
But let’s backtrack a bit, knowing what we know now from Game 5: Burnett was awful, lasting 2+ innings, throwing 53 pitches, walking four, hitting one, and allowing four earned runs. Most notably, he choked in the first inning, immediately giving back the 1-0 lead he was handed.
The following analysis was not given by the “experts”:
Burnett was a better pitcher at home this season than on the road. During the regular season, his ERA was more than a run lower at home. He also allowed 17 fewer hits, 15 fewer runs, struck out 13 more batters and his batting average against was 55 points lower. That trend has held true in the playoffs as well. In his Game 2 starts against the Twins, Angels and Phillies, he allowed just four runs in 19.1 innings with 19 strikeouts and an ERA of 1.86. His only road start, in Anaheim, was the “Bad AJ”: 6 IP, 6 ER, 3 BB, 3 K. That would have been sound reasoning to start him in Game 6 and then have Andy Pettitte on full rest going in Game 7.
But no, the “experts” conveniently avoided those facts. In analyzing his implosion at Citizens Bank Park Monday night, they neglected to mention the home/road splits. Williams harped on the fact that pitching Burnett on three days’ rest, when he hadn’t done it all season, was a recipe for trouble. Al Leiter echoed that sentiment.
Sure, they were proven correct, but it was disappointing that the candid Leiter, who has watched every game this season and called almost half their games on YES, failed to say, “He has pitched this poorly on full rest, too.” If you want to play the “What if?” game, if Gaudin started Game 5 and blew up, then Burnett, with a chance to clinch at home did the same, where would that leave the Yankees in Game 7?
The bottom line was that the Phillies did exactly what the Angels did in their second time seeing Burnett: they jumped on his fastball early in the count, hedging a bet that he’d try to establish the fastball and throw it for strikes and then work in his breaking ball. Their plan worked. Burnett’s first inning ERA in the potential game-clinching starts in Anaheim and Philly was 31.50. If that was said or written anywhere, someone please bring some education in the form of hyperlinks.
Burnett put it best: “I just didn’t throw strikes.” Ding! 53 pitches, 28 strikes. Thirty-six of the pitches were fastballs.
A big deal was made about Burnett’s hitting Shane Victorino on the hand. Garbage. He threw up and in to a batter who was squaring around to bunt. Roger Clemens or Pedro Martinez would have done the same thing.
So for Game 6, the question again becomes a Yankee Pitcher on short rest facing a Phillie Pitcher on full rest. Now, this decade, in such matchups, the pitcher on short rest is 13-36.
Let’s see how the analysis plays out if the Yankees win and those same “experts” are getting champagne sprayed in their eyes.