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Oct 142010

Ever since the Texas Rangers defeated the Rays in Game 5 of the ALDS, I have sensed an odd defeatist attitude building among Yankees fans. I’m sure you’ve heard this refrain by now:

“The Rangers are going to win the Lee games, and then there’s the AJ game. They just need to win one of the other games.”

This line of thinking has lead some to suggest that the Yankees should pitch AJ Burnett in Game 3, limiting the impact of a Lee gem or a Burnett blowup to one game (this is now rendered moot by the fact that CC is not being used on 3 days rest). While this sounds logical in theory, this defeatist attitude has two underlying assumptions that are faulty:

1) The Yankees cannot beat Cliff Lee.
2) The Yankees are underdogs in Game 4 with Burnett on the hill.

Let’s address these in order.

1) Lee is a great pitcher, and is on the short list for best pitcher in the game. That does not mean he is unbeatable. He had an ERA of 3.18 (FIP of 2.58) on the season, and pitched pretty poorly down the stretch. The Yankees beat him in August by getting to him late and then scoring off the Rangers bullpen. Even if he pitches a complete game, he’s just as likely as not to give up 2 or 3 runs, particularly against this offense in this ballpark. The Yankees just need a good pitching performance from Andy Pettitte to keep them in the game, something that is certainly within the realm of possibility.

Are the Yankees the underdog in Game 3? Absolutely. But it is not nearly as clear cut as many are making it out to be.

2) I cannot sit here and make an argument that “Good AJ” is likely to show up, because his performance this season suggests that there is a good chance that “Bad AJ” tries to make an appearance on Tuesday night in the Bronx. That said, Tommy Hunter is far from a stud himself, as his FIP is actually worse than that of Burnett. He profiles very similarly to Brian Duensing without the benefit of being a lefty. Hunter pitches to contact, a strategy that often fails miserably against a lineup as patient and powerful as the one the Yankees will present. Additionally, Yankee Stadium is not exactly the sort of ballpark in which a righty wants to be pitching to contact.

Another important point is that the Yankees are carrying two longmen on the ALCS roster almost exclusively to address the possibility of a Burnett blowup. I’d guess that he will be on a very short leash, and it will be either “good AJ” or “pulled AJ” that we see. With the game in Yankee Stadium, Burnett on a short leash, and the Yankee lineup matching up well with Hunter, I would put my money on New York in Game 4.

The Yankees should not be looking to concede postseason games simply because Cliff Lee is awesome and AJ Burnett is wildly inconsistent. They have given themselves a good chance to win both games, which is absolutely the correct approach to take to a playoff series. I wish Yankees fans had as much confidence in their team as Joe Girardi has.

26 Responses to “Have A Little Faith”

  1. The idea of using AJ in game three is not necessarily a defeatist approach. There is sound logic to support it.

    For starters, I wouldn’t be so sure that Sabathia isn’t going to be used on three days rest. In fact, I expect he will if the Yankees aren’t up 3-0. If that is the case, AJ and Pettitte (now) will each pitch only one game (three or five).

    Also, using FIP to compare Burnett to Hunter is misleading because we really don’t care how well they pitch independent of their defense in this instance.

    Finally, if you assume we are going to get either the good AJ or bad AJ (and not one in between), it makes a lot of sense to use him against Lee. If the good AJ shows up, he can beat Lee. If the bad AJ shows up, the Yankees can’t beat anyone.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    Moshe Mandel Reply:

    FIP is more pedictive of ERA going forward. If I want to determine who will pitch better in the postseason, it’s a valid approach.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    Will Reply:

    FIP might more predictive in a neutral environment, but we aren’t interested in each pitcher’s core abilities independent of defense. We care about how Hunter pitches in front of the Texas defense and how AJ pitches in front of the Yankees defense.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    T.O. Chris Reply:

    When predicting the outcome of games FIP is much better at determining what will happen later based on the actual skill of the pitchers versus what might have been bad luck early on in the season.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    Moshe Mandel Reply:

    No, this assumes that defense is static game to game, which it isnt. Your point makes the assumption that Burnett got a certain level of fielding, but you cant make that assumption. That’s why FIP removes fielding entirely rather than just correct for the team’s level of defense.  (Quote)

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    Will Reply:

    Why can’t you make that assumption, but you can assume that a pitcher has no control over batted balls? Even DC admits that is a leap. We know that pitchers do have some control over batted balls and we also know that defenses have a say in how those balls get converted into outs. IMHO, using FIP in this example ignores both of those realities and makes a misleading point.  (Quote)

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    Moshe Mandel Reply:

    I strongly disagree here. Yes, FIP has limitations. But if you are ever going to use it, this is a perfect spot. Your issue with the defense does not compute for me. It is not the same defense, so it is hardly relevant. Furthermore, because FIP removes defense and is still more predictive, that suggests that the defense is simply injecting noise. Considering both of these issues, I’d strongly argue that FIP has more value than ERA here.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    Will Reply:

    It’s just a fundamental agreement. I don’t think it makes sense to remove defense from the equation unless you want to know a pitcher’s core ability. In this case, I am not interested in how Tommy Hunter pitches to a neutral defense…I care about how he has pitched to the defense that will play behind him in game 4.

    I guess it’s possible that Hunter’s defense in the past wasn’t indicative of how it will be in game 4, but similarly, maybe the batters faced by Hunter wont be either. I know K, BB, HR are fielder independent, but they aren’t batter independent. If we can’t assume the fielding will be the same, why the opposition, especially when the latter is much more variable?  (Quote)

    Moshe Mandel Reply:

    “I guess it’s possible that Hunter’s defense in the past wasn’t indicative of how it will be in game 4″

    That is my issue. As for the second issue you raise, I need to think about it. If we accept it, then it would essentially render most of the pitching stats we have moot.  (Quote)

    Moshe Mandel Reply:

    Also, as for your last point, that’s where the long leash comes in. I’d be stunned if hes allowed to give up more than 3-4 runs early. Its why there are 2 longmen on the roster.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    T.O. Chris Reply:

    How is FIP misleading in this situation vs ERA? Did I miss something with that statment?

    Why would the yankees pitch CC on short rest up 2-1? Game 4 wouldn’t be a clincher…

    I would say even if “good AJ” shows up its a longshot he would beat Lee on his game and mentally if its close in a pitching duel against Cliff I would rather have Pettitte on the mound and give AJ the better chance for success going against the much less toolsy pitcher in Hunter.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    Will Reply:

    The reason you pitch C.C. on short rest in game 4 is so you’ll have him available in game 7. Sabathia is the team’s best pitcher, so unless you don’t think he can go on 3-days rest, you should plan to use him as much as needed.

    Ultimately, this is a form of game theory. AJ/Lee and Pettitte/Hunter gives you the best shot at 1-1, but makes 2-0 difficult. Pettitte/Lee and AJ/Hunter give you a better chance at 2-0, but makes 0-2 more likely. What is in the Yankees best interests? That’s very debateable, and not the no brainer being suggested.  (Quote)

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    Will Reply:

    The problem with the “long leash” is Mitre and Moseley aren’t very good themselves. If you immediately go to the strong part of the bullpen to salvage a winnable game, the impact will be felt throughout the rest of the series.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    T.O. Chris Reply:

    I actually agree with you here Will I don’t buy the whole he has a short leash to limit runs this game will be won or lost on the back of what AJ does but where I disagree with you is I believe you give him a better chance to perform well against Hunter. Hunter isn’t a guy Burnett is going to think about when he goes out to pitch but if you have him going against Cliff Lee all he is going to be thinking about is how he can outpitch Lee and he will eventually try too much and press.

    You give AJ the best chance to be good and win with a less talented and touted apponent on the bump against him  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    Will Reply:

    I guess where we disagree is I don’t think AJ’s randomness is based on his comfort level. I just happen to think his “stuff” is either there or not, and only upon finding out the latter does he unravel. He has imploded in way too many games against lesser opponents for me to think they have an impact on his mental state.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    Moshe Mandel Reply:

    I tend to agree with you on this. Hes a two pitch pitcher. If he’s missing one, he’s in trouble no matter his mental state.  (Quote)

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    T.O. Chris Reply:

    No doubt AJ is a 2 pitch pitcher and when one pitch is of he is off but he has also had bad games with a great fastball and a good curve… I never meant to imply that his mental state determines how he plays I’m simply stating that Burnett is so mentally weak that even if he has good stuff he could get in his head and be too wrapped up in him vs Lee when in reality he needs to focus on nothing but the batters.

    Its not that facing Hunter will make him pitch better I just think that if he is more comfortabke knowing that he doesn’t have to throw a shutout against Lee to win… despite the stuff that Burnett brings to the park his mental state is always more important.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    Moshe Mandel Reply:

    To me, it seems very simple. Let’s just try and extrapolate what we expect over a 9 inning game. If all 4 guys went 9, on average I’d expect something like (considering lineups, ballpark, etc):

    Burnett: 6R
    Pettitte: 4R
    Hunter: 6R
    Lee: 3R

    I’d prefer to match up The 6 with 6 and the 4 with 3, because it gives the best chance of winning both games. Now it may also up the chances of losing both games, but that’s not how you should approach it if you are the better team. Your plan might up the chance of a split, but again, you dont want to play for a split when you are at home against a poor road team.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    Will Reply:

    Using your example, the Yankees lose the Andy/Lee game and are tied in extra innings in the AJ/Hunter game. If you switch the matchups, the two teams split. I’ll take 1-1 over a chance to go 1-1 in extra innings.

    Having said that, I don’t agree with your assumptions. For example, Lee is more likely to go longer than Pettitte, so his contribution is potentially greater. Also, if AJ gives up six, history suggests he’ll do that in 3 or 4 innings, not 9.

    I also don’t see why the better team shouldn’t try to maximize its chances of winning one game out of the two in questions. After all, if you are the better team, you expect to win more of the others. On the contrary, I think the weaker team needs to take more chances because they are otherwise at a disadvantage.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    Moshe Mandel Reply:

    The numbers only work if you assume 9 innings. it was just a very rough approxamation. I hear what you are saying, and thankfully you are much saner than the “ZOMG punt” crowd. I still disagree as I think they are still the favorite in game 4 and just a slight underdog in Game 3, which gives them the best chance at winning both. But I can see why your opinion may vary.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    Will Reply:

    Just to be clear, I am not suggesting this is a no brainer. I just think there is a case to be made on both sides, and if CC is going in g1, 4 and 7, I fall more in favor of having AJ go in game three.  (Quote)

    bornwithpinstripes Reply:

    i like what you said in the final paragraph..throw him into the real fight..not expecting a six or seven run bailout from your team..maybe he lives up to the challenge..great idea.. if we are up 2. 0..for sure..he can put all the B.S. and brutal season out of everyone”s minds  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

  2. Yep. People need to get off the ledge. Remember when they weren’t going to be able to beat Smoltz, Glavine and Maddux?

    Burnett’s starts against the Rangers this year:

    September 11 (rain shortened) – 4 innings, 4 hits, 2 runs, 3 walks, 6 strikeouts

    August 10 – 7 innings, 6 hits, 3 runs, 1 walk, 4 strikeouts

    April 17 – 7 innings, 6 hits, 0 runs, 2 walks, 7 strikeouts

    It’s not like all hope is lost. Plus, I missed the memo that said Tommy Hunter was a mix of Walter Johnson, Cy Young and Bob Gibson.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

  3. I think it is a legit chance we can take this series in 6… If we do what we should do and beat CJ with CC in game 1 and Hughes can give us something like he always does against Texas then he can for sure keep us in the game and probably even win the game against Colby Lewis, at that point we have probably our 2nd best pitcher going against Lee and if anyone can give us a chance against Cliff not named Sabathia then Pettitte is the guy.

    I figure we can take 2 of the first 3 games before going into the Burnett start and that would be huge in taking pressure of off AJ’s shoulders and allowing him to have the best chance to be productive and frankly I don’t believe I don’t believe that Tommy Hunter will go more than 5 innings.

    So even if we lose game 4 then we would be coming back with CC tied 2-2 and the opportunity to take the series with Hughes on the mound in game 6…. I start to worry when a game 7 comes into play just because we won’t have CC on the mound.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

  4. The days waiting for the series to begin often are when “paralysis by analysis” takes root. I mean, during Game 5, I heard some of who thought that “if this is the way Texas is going to play, give me the Rays.” Except, if the Rays had come back and shown resiliency to win late, then they would look like the less inviting draw. I figured whoever you wanted to win that game, you gotta stick with them, even if they ended up winning 15-0. Likewise, I think it’s very easy to succumb the Lee games (he’s very, very good obviously) and AJ games without looking at the other side of the paradigm. Regular season doesn’t mean much in regards to the postseason, but I do remember that during the sweep last month, the Yankees were literally a hit here or a hit there away in the first two games from winning both of them. That, and Washington won’t have an enormous bullpen to play matchups galore with this time around. Nelson Cruz is a fucking crazed beast and he scares the shit out of me, and Texas on the whole is a solid team. But for cripes’ sake, they’re very beatable. Look at how they played the home games against the Rays. They were WILTING under the pressure. A team with more veteran postseason experience like the Yankees won’t have the problems at home like the Rays had.

    Texas can win this series, but then again, so could the Rays if they had met the Yankees. Fact of the matter is, the Yankees won 95 games (third most in baseball) and dominated a 94 win team in the first round, two of those games on the road. This team can beat anyone, anywhere. All I say to Texas is bring it on.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    bornwithpinstripes Reply:

    great pep talk… for me cruz is also the guy to watch..he is a very clutch hitter..they must make him move his feet. up an in,,hard…we gave those games away in texas, except the lee start..our guys have good power away..lee can be beat..if they pull his corner stuff we lose..like everyone else.. diamondbacks had tougher pitchers, we lost ,but had their starters beat..and also the braves staff..we won’t have the brain locks rays had..maddon bunted in the second inning when lee was wild.. very odd.. let’s just play team baseball and we will win..if we can get into their pen early, taking a lot of pitches working wilson, it will set up the next day also..lets stay with what made us infamous with the umpires..long games..we need swish to be the same guy he was all year..patient..seems he swings at much more pitches out of the zone ..jeter also..jeter can set the pace..yanks in six..  (Quote)

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