My gut instinct, upon looking at the schedule, was to dig in my heels against it. I had heard, as most of you have, the famous 4.65 ERA statistic for pitchers on 3 days rest since the wildcard era began (see here – prior to 2009). A closer examination of that arguments, however, shows just how insufficient and misleading that statistic actually is. Yes, since 1995, ERA’s on short rest have been bad, but that statistic does not tell the entire story. There are some serious problems with using that statistic in a blanket fashion, as most sportswriters have been doing.
It’s still a fairly small sample size. If you look at games since 1969, here, ERA on 3 days rest is 3.85, which is only a fraction higher than 4 days rest (3.60). Yes, each era is different but this statistic shows that, physiologically, there isn’t a huge problem with pitching on short rest. Naturally, then, some guys are going to be able to do well in this situation, while others will struggle.
So, naturally, we have to look at each guy and judge each case individually to see whether it’s a good idea. You have to examine each pitcher’s size, body type, throwing motion, stuff, makeup, and work load, as well as their track record on short rest. Fortunately, each of these pitchers has something of a history on 3 days rest that we can look at. I already examined CC, here, and it’s become even more obvious since then that he is one of those rare guys who is built for this exact type of scenario. Even if he doesn’t have his absolute best fastball, he has a fantastic makeup and 2 other plus plus pitches to go to. So, how does AJ Burnett stack up?
One pitcher who DOES rely on sheer power, however, is AJ Burnett. He’s the guy who initially concerned me when I looked at the schedule. AJ has more of a lanky build than CC or Andy, and went through a variety of nagging injuries throughout his early career which made some question his toughness. His makeup has also been frequently targeted as his statistics have never matched up to his stuff. His lack of focus in allowing big innings would seem to make him one of the last guys you would want on short rest, battling without his very best stuff.
His numbers, however, would seem to bely these observations. He is a career 4-0 with a stellar 3.25 ERA and 1.074 WHIP on 3 days rest. His stuff does not seem to suffer much on short rest (8.0 k/9 vs 8.7 on 4 days). The only cause for concern is the miniscule baBIP of .233 (compared to .293 on normal rest) which could indicate luck or it could mean that guys aren’t getting good swings off of him. Regardless, though, his numbers (small sample size notwithstanding) are much better than I would have thought. As we saw on Thursday, he is capable of throwing his curve at a high volume and still be unhittable. It may be that, when he doesn’t have his best heater, and he’s a little tired, he throws more curveballs and is even less hittable (though I don’t have access to those numbers to back that up). It could simply be the case that, in a big spot, when he’s tired and anxious, he’s actually focusing more than in a typical game on 4 days rest. Or this could be a simple case of sample size. I’d have to say, though, looking at the numbers makes me think that Joe should take the plunge and give AJ a shot on short rest. We seem to have a better chance of getting a good start out of him than Gaudin, who hasn’t pitched regularly in a long time.
So what do you guys think? If Pettitte is good tonight, do we start A.J. and hope he continues his recent form, or try Gaudin and the pen for multiple innings?
Update: Sorry, I ran out of time to cover Andy Pettitte on short rest. Here we go:
Andy, in many ways, profiles as the exact opposite to A.J. Burnett. His body, pitching style and makeup are all ideally suited for coming back on short rest. He has the prototypical wide shoulders and beefy lower half (yes, that’s exactly what you think it is) that characterizes a workhorse. He’s thrown 200+ regular season innnings on 10 separate occasions. His makeup is also off the charts, with a reputation as one of the toughest pitchers in the game, he is the ultimate battler. He once went through a whole season in Houston while clearly needing elbow surgery and only able to throw an n 85 mph fastball. Even if he does get tired and lacks his best stuff on 3 days rest, he can find a way to grit through the outing on sheer guts.
His numbers, however, unlike Burnett, suffer noticeably on short rest (4-6, 4.15 ERA, 1.43 WHIP in 14 career starts on 3-day rest). These statistics, however are possibly a little deceiving. He had two seasons which spike all of his stats: 1995, he allowed 7 earned runs in two starts (9.2 innings). I think it’s safe to toss out that season, however, as it was his rookie season and he’d thrown far more innings than he’d ever thrown in his career. His awful 2001 start against the D-backs in the World Series, however, you have to, at least, take into consideration. That was his second start on short rest, however, while this would be the first time he’d be asked to do this by Girardi. Joe has also been very careful to keep Andy well rested and he’s had many extra rest days in the postseason so the danger of a real stinker should be lessened. Take out those two bad years and you have ERA’s of 3.46, 3.66, 2.01, & 3.79 – not too shabby.