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Sep 202010

With the Yankees closing in on a playoff spot, the thoughts of many Yankees fans are turning to the postseason roster. One major question that has yet to be answered is what the playoff rotation will look like. While CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte are likely to make 4 of the 5 starts in the first round, the role of Game 3 starter is still up for grabs. The two candidates are AJ Burnett and Phil Hughes, both of whom will likely be given the opportunity to win the spot over their next few starts. Let’s take a look at some factors that might influence Joe Girardi’s decision.

The first thing to consider is whether the game is at home or on the road. If the Yankees win the division, Game 3 would be on the road, while it would be their first home game if they end the season as the wild card team. Burnett has actually been a bit better at home, with a lower ERA and more strikeouts per nine than he has on the road. Conversely, Hughes has been stellar on the road while struggling at home. However, it is important to note that despite Phil’s struggles at home, his numbers at Yankee Stadium are still as good, if not better, than Burnett’s. I’d say that Hughes should be the favorite for a road Game 3, while this factor is not determinative if the game is at home.

Another item to consider is recent performance. Hughes has surpassed his career high innings total, and has seemed a bit tired in recent weeks. While his stuff looked sharp last time out against Tampa, it is fair to question whether he will have anything left in the tank come October. I would keep a close eye on him in his remaining starts, and skip one of them to keep him fresh for the postseason. Meanwhile, Burnett has been adequate in four September starts after an atrocious August, and seems like he might be hitting his stride at the right time. Of course, with Burnett, his control could disappear in an instant, which brings me to a third factor.

I think the range of expected outcomes for the two pitchers is an important factor to consider. Looking at Phil’s gamelog, you can see that he is a fairly good bet to pitch into the 6th inning and give up between 2 and 4 runs. He has pitched into the 6th and allowed 4 or fewer runs in 19 of his 27 starts this season. Even his poor outings tend to be far from atrocious, as he only failed to reach 5 innings on one occasion and has yet to allow more than 6 runs in a start. Conversely, Burnett’s gamelog is filled with atrocious starts. In just 16 of his 30 starts did he pitch into the 6th and allow 4 or fewer runs (to be fair, he had 3 starts shortened by rain). Additionally, he allowed more than 6 runs on 4 occasions (and allowed exactly 6 five times), and failed to finish the 5th on six non-rain shortened occasions. Quite simply, while he is more likely than Hughes to go 7 innings and give up just one run, he is significantly more likely than Phil to be knocked out of the game in the 4th inning after having allowed 6 or 7 runs.

Taken together, these factors suggest to me that Hughes should get the ball in a Game 3, provided that he does not show clear signs of fatigue over the next few weeks. Even if you exclude his excellent first 6 starts from his ledger, his numbers stack up favorably next to Burnett’s. Considering the high variability in the quality of AJ’s starts and the solid consistency of Phil’s, he is simply the safer choice. Getting 6 innings of 4 run ball from the Game 3 starter should be just fine, particularly when one considers the strength of the Yankee offense and bullpen.

Who would you hand the ball to for a Game 3 start?

20 Responses to “Discussion: Who Starts Game 3?”

  1. 1. Home or Road: I’m not sure it makes sense to use this as a determinant. Has Hughes been better on the road in 2010? Yes. Is this a gigantic sample? No. He’s made 11 starts on the road this year, against Oakland, Baltimore, Boston, Detroit, NYM, Baltimore, Seattle, Tampa, KC, Toronto and Tampa. It’s not exactly murderer’s row. It’s possible that, for some reason, he will perform better on the road going forward, but I’d like to know why that is and whether its something that will be repeatable going forward before making it a part of the decision-making process.

    2. In terms of recent performance it’s a relative tossup and depends entirely on where you want to draw the lines as to what constitutes “recent”, but it’s safe to say that Burnett has been fairly close to Hughes, if not better.

    3. I’m not sure how you’re quantifying this other than a “look at the gamelog” approach, but there has to be a better way to calculate the range of expected outcome. Maybe looking at WPA or trendlines or anything, really, but I’m not sure from this argument what AJs July has to do with his October. It doesn’t seem fair to me to use Hughes’ hot start and AJ’s poor July as a way of saying, “look, AJ is more likely to blow up than Hughes” while ignoring that AJ has improved and Hughes has gotten worse. I mean, Hughes’ expected range of outcomes will ALWAYS be better than whatever AJ can give you for the rest of the year simply because Hughes was so awesome for the first part of the year and because Burnett was horrific.

    This is the toughest question of all, how to balance the risk and the reward. But I don’t think it’s completely accurate, or at least demonstrated here, that Burnett is “significantly more likely than Phil to be knocked out of the game in the 4th inning after having allowed 6 or 7 runs” or that Hughes is “the safer choice”. And I’m probably in favor of starting Hughes, mostly because I think he’s a better pitcher right now and, I don’t know, a “sense” for it, but I think it’s definitely close and should be up for grabs over the next two weeks.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    Moshe Mandel Reply:

    1. Looking at his batted ball rates, his home performance has suffered mightily due to a very high HR/FB relative to that rate on the road. As a flyball pitcher, it seems only natural that Yankee Stadium would hurt him. As you said, Im not sure the gap between home and road performance is repeatable/predictive, but it does go right in line with the things we know about Hughes as a pitcher. While it may not be determinative, I certainly believe it belongs in the analysis.

    2. I agree, this is a tossup.

    3. I’m not sure what your argument is here. Are we throwing out everything that happened up to September in the analysis? Burnett has demonstrated over the course of the season, and as recently as August, that he is always a risk to blow up. Meanwhile, by Burnett-ian standards, Hughes has 1 blowup all year. While you can argue over who has been the better pitcher since the start of July, I dont think you can argue over which one has a tighter band of outcomes. Hughes is the safer choice.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    Stephen R. Reply:

    1 and 2 – that’s fine. Although I would caution on 1 by saying “sample size” and “a lot of those starts were against bad lineups”. But yes, it probably belongs in the analysis.

    3. I think I’d like for you to define what a “Burnettian” blow up is. Let’s say you define it in terms of WPA and you want to call a “blowup” a WPA of -0.250 and lower. By that standard, Hughes has had 6 blowups and Burnett has had 8. So how do you define a blowup?  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    Moshe Mandel Reply:

    My standard is not going at least 5 innings (thus burning the bullpen), and/or allowing 6 or more runs. I undercounted both. Hughes had 4, while AJ had 8 by my count. But yes, you can alter the definition as you see fit.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    Stephen R. Reply:

    I used -0.250 WPA because it was my standard when evaluating “good aj/bad aj” a few months back. All things considered, I’m in the Hughes camp and I don’t want to see Burnett’s good September (against Baltimore twice, Oakland and a Hamilton-free Texas) overvalued. Hughes can lock it up with a few more solid starts, IMO.

    One more thing to consider – he’s been worse when given extra rest. There’s no way to have him start Game 3 on regular rest, but skipping his last start of the season means he’s on 12 days rest for Game 3 of the ALDS (if I’m counting right). It makes me wonder if they’re going to have a shorter leash for the next few days and actually go ahead and start him on 10/2 (ensuring he’d be on only 6 days rest for Game 3)  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    Moshe Mandel Reply:

    I think that if they want him to start Game 3, he’ll be skipped next time out, after his TB start.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    Stephen R. Reply:

    That would be the best timing, I’d think.

    Just want to make this clear – the pt. of my comments haven’t been to disagree. I’ve beaten the Hughes drum as loudly as anyone, and if the season ended today he’d be my #3 guy. I just wanted to see you flesh out your reasoning a bit more and leave the door open for AJ.  (Quote)

    Moshe Mandel Reply:

    Yeah, I follow. Good discussion.  (Quote)

  2. Sadly i missed this debate on twitter this morning but i’m glad you decided write a piece about it.

    I don’t think anyone can argue against Hughes being a safer choice to start that game. However, i do think an argument can be made for Hughes not being the smarter choice for the length of the series.

    If in the first round the yankees decide to go to a 3 man rotation and start AJ in a game 3, i have the ability to put Hughes in the pen.

    Now does the reward of having Hughes in the pen outweigh the risk of having AJ starting game 3 instead of Phil? Well i think it does for 2 reasons. 1) It makes an already strong bullpen even better, obviously. and 2) in the postseason i don’t doubt for a minute that the leash on AJ would be shorter. The chances of Girardi allowing him to have a 6+ER outing are greatly diminished in the postseason.

    Does starting Hughes in a game 3 give me a better shot of winning that game? you could look at that way. But does having Hughes in the bullpen give me a better shot at winning the series? You could look at it this way.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    Stephen R. Reply:

    That’s another good point.

    If you’re up in the series 2-0 and coming home (as WC winners), maybe you go w/ Burnett in Game 3, use Hughes out of the pen and save his bullets for the ALCS. Awfully presumptuous to think up a scenario like that, I know, but I think it makes sense. And for the record, I’m still leaning Hughes at this pt.   (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    Moshe Mandel Reply:

    What role is Hughes serving in the pen, exactly? It’s not like they need him as a setup or even 7th inning guy at this point. I guess he can be the longman, but Burnett can be as well.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    j_Yankees Reply:

    I think Hughes could play whatever role Girardi sees fit. and I don’t think i would dismiss using him in the backend in a close situation. If you don’t want to go down that road than fine. He does have experience, even on the postseason stage, of coming in and playing the role of long man.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    Moshe Mandel Reply:

    It’s not that I dont want to go down the road, its that Im not sure the team needs another late inning reliever. Because of that, Id rather pick my best option for the starter rather than consider who would be a better asset in a bullpen that doesnt really need them.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    Stephen R. Reply:

    Yes, I’d agree with that. You want your best starters starting. I’m just sorting through how we decide who are best starters are. It’s probably Hughes.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    j_Yankees Reply:

    ‘Need’ is a dangerous word. lol

    The more late inning guys you have out there, the better. And even having Hughes out there just as the long man could be big with the health of Andy.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

  3. That’s another good point.
    If you’re up in the series 2-0 and coming home (as WC winners), maybe you go w/ Burnett in Game 3, use Hughes out of the pen and save his bullets for the ALCS. Awfully presumptuous to think up a scenario like that, I know, but I think it makes sense.And for the record, I’m still leaning Hughes at this pt.   

    I would say whichever one you start you would have the other as a backup in the pen so you can start Hughes and have Burnett ready to go out of the pen if Hughes shits himself.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

  4. Nova without question…keep all the stats and #s  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    Stephen R. Reply:

    I will. Believe me, I will.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

  5. javy had great stats last year, and i believe he would have had good stats any place but NY..AJ had great stats vs boston..until he came here..what stats would say javy hughes AJ have that would make them start over the kid … for me it is what i have seen of all of them.. we seen javy in the playoffs here do you want to see that movie again..AJ is a real head case..his wife busted his eye ..all year you see this guy is not stable..if he don’t get a few calls his way, everything goes out of whack..arms legs all over..he needs help ..phil; may have a tired arm..but if not nova it would be him.. AJ can be #4 javy can stay in the pen. and girardi should skip CC a start,give him a blow ,last time out he had a lot of pitches before the 5th inning..  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

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