Monday, October 4, 2010

Decisions, Decisions

The Yankees have a number of important decisions to make for their upcoming ALDS matchup with the Twins. It's not as easy as the Yankees have a lot of good players, so they just run those guys out there and hope talent prevails. While that still typically impacts series - positively or negatively - more than anything else, it is far more a macro, regular season, 162 strategy. In the playoffs, little things done by role players to change one game matter, because every game is magnified. Neither of the primary teams covered on this blog have ever had a role player come off the bench and steal a base at a critical moment to change a game and a series, but I can tell you from watching other teams play that this does happen. So you have to choose your roster carefully and employ it strategically.

For the Yankees, the biggest decision for the ALDS is how they want to line up their starters. For me this is a non-decision because it is so obvious, but it is still a decision. I would go Sabathia Game 1. No explanation needed there. Pettitte Game 2, because on the whole I think he is the second best/most reliable/experienced pitcher on the team, and as Joe Torre always said Game 2 is always the biggest game in any playoff series. If you're up 1-0, it's an opportunity to go up 2-0 and really be in the drivers seat. If you're down 0-1 you're trying to avoid going down 0-2 and really being in a hole. Andy Pettitte has been masterful pitching in Game 2's for most of his career, and I think you stick with him here. Hughes in Game 3. Ideally, you'd like to have him start on the road as opposed to at home because he has fairly dramatic splits this season, but a lot of that seems to be sample size. You also can't have everything just how you want it, so you have to prioritize. Pettitte in Game 2 (and a potential Game 5, more on this in a second) is more important than Hughes on the road vs. at home. You would also like to think Hughes might get a boost at home in a playoff frenzied Yankee Stadium, especially if the splits really are just sample size. You bring Sabathia back in a potential Game 4 on three day's rest, because that's what he does. Then you have Pettitte on full rest because of the two off-days for a potential Game 5. This is another reason you pitch Pettitte in Game 2, because you want his big game experience and track record of success in that spot. A.J. Burnett should get a start only if the Twins are substituted out for a local Minnesota little league team. I say little league instead of minor league because A.J. Burnett could not beat a Red Sox minor league team plus J.D. Drew on Saturday night, so that appears to be too high of a bar for him right now. Seriously, he should only touch a ball if it is absolutely positively necessary. The schedule seems to line up pretty nicely for the Yankees to go this route, so we'll see if they do.

Regarding the team in total, here is my ALDS roster:

STARTERS:
Sabathia
Pettitte
Hughes

RELIEVERS:
Rivera
Robertson
Wood
Chamberlain
Logan
Burnett
Vazquez
Nova

STARTING POSITION PLAYERS:
Posada
Teixeira
Cano
Jeter
Rodriguez
Gardner
Granderson
Swisher
Thames (DH vs. lefties)
Berkman (DH vs. righties)

BENCH:
Cervelli
Kearns
Nunez
Golson

The starting pitchers and position players are easy. The decision lie with the bullpen and bench, and as I said above those decisions are important. The first five relievers listed are no-doubters. I take Burnett because if you needed someone really early in a game you're already probably in a bad spot, so there is little downside. He has the upside that he can give you a big outing and give you a chance to win. Vazquez is in because his stuff has been much better out of the pen than out of the rotation lately. He hasn't pitched much recently, but I like his experience if a long-man is needed in the middle innings. Between him and Burnett, there is at least a chance for a "we get the starter out of the game and have to deal with another established starter", even if it is in name only. Mental things like that can have an impact in October. I went back and forth between Nova and Gaudin. Two weeks ago I would have taken Nova running away, but he looked shaky on Saturday and he has so little experience that you worry about the moment getting to him. Not that Guadin has much more, but he has been in a few spots before. I went with Nova in the end because I think he's the better pitcher. You already have your experience with Burnett/Vazquez, and if they are getting to them then you have a different look in Nova.

Cervelli is an easy choice as a solid back-up catcher, although I would not advocate for any sort of personal catcher scenario this postseason as there was last October with Burnett/Molina. First, Burnett should not be starting. Second, you want Posada's bat in there every game. Cervelli has been crushing the ball lately and is very good defensively, and he's great to have if needed. He should also definitely be looked for late in games as a defensive replacement for Posada. But Posada is Posada, he's one of the best offensive catcher's in baseball history, he has to play every game. I'd take Kearns as an experienced bat to give you a pinch-hit option vs. lefties (assuming Thames starts games vs. lefties) as well as further outfield flexibility. That leaves two spots for Pena, Nunez, and Golson. Pena is by far the most experienced of the three, and would be the best choice if a full-time infielder were needed. But the Yankees have a full lineup that he won't be cracking unless there is an injury, in which case he could be added to the roster anyway. Nunez is more suited for the versatile back-up infielder role because he's faster and thus a better pinch-running option. With Gardner likely starting every game, Nunez is the top set of wheels off the bench. Then I take Golson as a second speedster off the bench who also creates outfield flexibility. I don't envision the Yankees doing any defensive subs late in games for infielders because none of them are getting pinch hit for under and circumstances save injury and all are pretty good fielders (which also minimizes the need for a glove-first guy like Pena). I do envision them potentially needing a defensive sub in the outfield. Not for defensive purposes, but if they start pinch hitting (for Gardner and Granderson) they will need subs. Golson is the best defender between him, Thames, and Kearns so he could fill this role nicely.

One of the biggest misconceptions out there is that the Yankees just steam rolled to a World Series title last year. Not true. Yes, they went 11-4 which typically indicates steam rolling. But, like most championship teams do, they caught a lot of breaks that kept things from being closer than they were. Rodriguez hit not one but two game tying home runs in the bottom of the 9th of Game 2's off of closers in the ALDS and ALCS. Right after the Yankees blew a lead in the bottom of the 8th of Game 4 of the World Series, the Yankees rallied off of a closer again, with Rodriguez getting the go-ahead hit, to win that game. These are amongst other things, but these are three of the biggest swing moments the Yankees had last October. If one, two, or all three of them don't happen the Yankees are looking at going to Minnesota 1-1 instead of 2-0, going to Anaheim 1-1 instead of 2-0, and potentially being tied 2-2 instead of up 3-1 starting Cliff Lee in the face for Game 5 and possibly going to New York down 3-2 instead of up 3-2. Any of these scenarios could have altered the course of their October bigtime, and there are others that involve bench players and the last guys in the bullpen. Of course you can point this out about almost any championship run, and that's exactly my point. The Yankees are no different than any other team. They need contributions from everyone and then have to hope to catch some breaks. The entire roster, and how it is used, impacts those things in the playoffs.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

PF

Anybody who puts up as many words in a post as you did deserves at least a few comments.

First, thanks for the Dave Roberts reference. While you are lucky enough to be preparing for playoff baseball, I'll be watching "Four Days in October." And frankly, that's not the worst alternative out there.

As for the Yankees pitching, I think too much is being made of Pettitte/Hughes/Burnett. Sure, they've had their issues--Pettitte's injuries, Hughes' ERA jumped pretty significantly in the second half and Burnett has really struggled, but take a look around--do the Twins have a kick-ass rotation? Not really. Neither does Texas. Tampa appears to, but I think that's more reputation than anything else. I agree that Yankee pitching is perhaps more uncertain than it has been in the past, but it's certainly not any worse than anything any other team is trotting out there.

Finally, it's important to take note of Kaplan's comment yesterday. Legally, it was on point. But are far as its relevance to anything going on in the world of baseball or even relating to New York's previous financial situation? It had absolutely nothing to do with anything. Ross, glad to have you back.

--the Gunn

Anonymous said...

Pat,

Did you copy the first paragraph of your post from a MLB on Fox playoff commercial?

Agree with your idea on starting pitchers.

Bandi

Ross Kaplan said...

Pat - I don't want to see AJ even warming up unless we're either up or down by 10 and every other reliever has food poisoning. It's one thing that every pitch is either grooved down the middle of the plate or in the dirt, but what's worst in my opinion is that the guy is a headcase. Pat you were allegedly at that Sat night game so you saw this in person, but arguing a call at 1st base allowing a runner to sneak in home from 3rd is absolutely inexcusable at any level. I don't want to see him near the mound this month unless absolutely necessary.

Gunn - I still refuse to acknowledge the events of October 2004 as such I will be boycotting 4 Days in October.

When you look at the AL rotations none of them really stand out outside of the Rays which in my opinion is overrated. The recent formula of riding a 1A and 1B guy to the Series just isn't going to happen this year in the AL. Lee, Price and Sabbathia are legit shutem down aces, but beyond that the playing field is awfully even between starters 2 - 4 on the AL teams well except for Minnesota who's staff isn't miserable, but solid however that isn't good enough in October.

the gm at work said...

Pat, this is a solid post, and so were the ones you threw up there when I was JDing out last week. I think your point about having a reasonably-established pitcher like Burnout coming in from the bullpen is a huge asset. Guy might pout about it and punch his fist through a door, but having a guy who was basically a playoff hero last year come in while the Twins are up 4 runs in the third is definitely an advantage NY has but perhaps nobody else does.

It was nice to see that you actually said something negative about him, too. Good for you for keeping it real.

Gunn, I am not convinced that is an intentional Dave Roberts reference. First of all, after reading 150 of his posts a year throughout the last 3.5+ years, I can usually tell when he's being clever. I really think he's just referring to National League teams. Plus, I'm pretty sure everything that happened after Game 3 of the 2004 ALCS has been blocked out of his mind and replaced by dreams of Mark Teixeira signing contracts in his underwear.

Bandi,

Tomorrow, it will be up for debate which of the four ubiquitous postseason commercials of the HYD Baseball era is the best ever. The Dane Cook series, the affirmative action blogger series, the Frank TV series, and the All You Need Is Love (Blackberry) series.

Patrick said...

good points from everyone on the playoff pitching staffs in the AL.

gm -

thanks.

i think i typically keep it real, maybe moreso than you. your idea of keeping it real is ripping someone at every possible juncture. actually, even at junctures where it's not really possible, you do it anyway. my idea of keeping it real is calling it like i see it. you would keep it real with aj burnett by ripping him every time he has a bad start or two. i realize he's an up and down pitcher so i'm not going to do that. i'm sorry that you feel this is me not saying enough negative things about him.

if you're not convinced that was an intentional dave roberts reference, please allow me to officially convince you. i think it was pretty obvious. to your second point on this topic, that was my way of saying that everything after about that series after game 3 has been blocked out of my mind.

TimC said...

Maybe an intentional Mussina in Game 7, '03 ALCS reference, too, with the comments about an established starter coming out of the 'pen early...

Patrick said...

timc -

that was unintentional, but good point. that was a little different because (1) mussina, despite being available in that game, was a starter in that series where all of these guys would only be available out of the pen (although this doesn't change the impact this strategy has, it's worth noting), and (2) nobody the yankees would bring in out of the pen would be anywhere near a mussina in terms of ability. that was really a special circumstance. but the idea is definitely the same. good spot outta you.

the gm said...

Pat F,

Well played. I misunderestimated your cleverness, as I am used to you providing insight and me providing quips.

Although, thinking more into this, one of the few decorations I have in my cubicle is a printed-out comment you left on August 14, 2009 regarding why Chris Woodward is a better option than JD Drew pinch hitting. This was the height of your cleverness.

Then again, I also have a Kaplan comment in my cubicle, so I'm not sure if that's really a gold standard in the first place.

Despite an extended clip of an unpleasant former co-worker and the repeating motif of Lenny Clarke trying too hard, Four Days in October was pretty great.