Schedule forces Yankees to go short
The fallout created by Major League Baseball’s shoehorning of the wild-card games into a postseason schedule not specifically built for it was discussed at length with respect to the Division Series round. The loss of a travel day forced the reversion to an awkward 2-3 format that allowed the lower-seeded team to open the Division Series at home. That problem was readily apparent months ago, and it received a fair bit of attention, both here and elsewhere.
What received less attention, if any, was the potential impact on the American League Championship Series, which hinged on the possibility of the matchup between the top seed and the wild-card winner going five games. Because that came to pass, the Yankees didn’t get an off day between eliminating the Orioles and taking on the Tigers. Thus, they’ll play five games in five days, standard operating procedure in the regular season but rare in the playoffs, either requiring a team to expand its rotation to five starters or to force at least one pitcher to work on short rest. Some reward for finishing with the league’s best record, right?
Faced with the option to start a stretched out reliever — either rookie David Phelps or grizzled vet Derek Lowe — or add Freddy Garcia or Ivan Nova to the ALCS roster, Yankees manager Joe Girardi has elected to tab Hiroki Kuroda to start on three days’ rest for Game 2, something the 37-year-old righty hasn’t done since coming stateside. Nova and Garcia were both roundly thumped for OSPes above 1.100 in the small sample of their 2012 appearances against the Tigers, and neither pitched well late in the year, which is why they were left off the Division Series roster in the first place.
“I’m not crazy about it, but there’s really not a lot I can do about it,” said Girardi of the decision to push Kuroda into relatively uncharted territory. “We made the decision last night that he was going to be here, and it wasn’t too hard.. From what I understand, he has done it in Japan before. And I know that’s awhile ago.”
Kuroda has worked on three days’ rest while stateside, making a relief appearance on July 12, 2009 following a 4 1/3 inning start; he was charged with three runs in 1 1/3 innings, though two of the runs scored after he exited. This year, the Yankees tried to work him on long rest as often as possible; of his 33 starts, 15 came on four days of rest, 15 came on five days and three on six or more days. The results suggested the extra rest helped, to a point:
In the absence of data, one can extrapolate to suggest that short rest may not be Kuroda’s forte. He’s not the only Yankee starter who may have to go on short rest in this series; if it extends to seven games, the strong likelihood is that Game 4 starter CC Sabathia would come back on three days’ rest, something he’s done four times in the regular season — including three down the stretch for the Brewers in 2008 — and three times in the postseason, including twice for the Yankees in 2009 en route to a world championship. In those seven starts, he’s averaged 6.4 innings per turn and put up a 2.40 ERA while striking out 8.4 per nine. Other than a start on the final day of the 2008 season, when he threw 122 pitches to clinch the Brewers a wild card berth, he has thrown fewer than 110 pitches in each of those outings; only in the 2008 Division Series did the short rest appear to come back to bite him, as he was roughed up for five runs in 3 2/3 innings by the Phillies, who dispatched the Brew Crew before Sabathia could get another turn.
In order to squeeze two starts out of his ace in a full-length series, Girardi had the alternative of using Sabathia on three days’ rest in Game 3. Instead, he chose to go with Phil Hughes in that game and keep Sabathia on normal rest for his first turn of the series, citing his recent workload, which has included five straight starts of at least eight innings.
“He worked really hard in his last two starts, that’s the bottom line,” said Girardi “We just felt that it’s best to have him fresh for Game 4 than risking him not being fresh for Game 3. Because someone is going to have to pitch Game 4 anyway.”
Here is how the rotations for the two ALCS teams stack up in terms of days rest, assuming no weather or injuries affect the schedule the managers have sketched out.:
|Date||Game||Yankees||Days Rest||Tigers||Days Rest|
If the series goes seven on schedule, Detroit’s starters will work on an average of 4.6 days rest, New York’s on an average of 3.9 — a difference that may or may not be meaningful. In general, AL starters have performed ever so slightly worse on five days rest than on four days in recent years according to both ERA and opponent OPS, but there’s a selection bias at work, in that good starters are less likely to be pushed back, and the difference is statistically negligible. More clear is the fact that AL pitchers haven’t performed well on three days’ rest, with ERAs above 5.00 in every year since 2004. For the Yankees, the moves to use Kuroda and Sabathia under such circumstances could be series-turners — in either direction.