Sunday, October 31, 2010

Getting The Most Out Of Your Ace In The Playoffs

Cliff Lee is not your traditional rental. I think the Rangers have a very legitimate shot, especially with their new ownership group, of bringing him back. It's not like other rentals where you just know for certain they are gone the second the season is over. If that was the case, then Ron Washington's decision not to start Cliff Lee down 2-1 in Game 4 would be totally indefensible. If you have a player on a rental, you absolutely have to push the envelope to get the most out of them, within certain limits. Starting a player of Lee's caliber once or twice on three days rest would be within those limits.

Since it's the World Series, I don't think it really matters whether the player is a rental or not. If you have an ace like Cliff Lee, and you don't have four really trustworthy starters (no offense to Tommy Hunter, who is turning in an admirable performance as of right now), you should be starting your ace three times in the World Series if it goes 7. Yes, the last of those two starts will be on short rest. But again, it's the World Series. Especially down 2-1, do you want anyone else besides your ace deciding whether or not it goes 2-2 or 3-1? No. If you're going to go down 3-1, you want to go down 3-1 making them beat your ace.

Texas may very well come back and win this game (they are currently down 2-0), and be in an even better position than they would have been winning behind Cliff Lee, because then they'll be 2-2 with Cliff Lee going in Game 5. But I don't think you can take that risk. I'm not advocating to always start your ace on 3 days rest from the very start of the playoffs as that can backfire bigtime. It's not a black and white issue, it's very much situational. Once you get to the World Series, I think you've reached that situation. You're at a point where the total amount of potential games left to be played is very much quantifiable. You can plan for pretty much everything. And of course, it's for all of the marbles at that point. Start your ace on short rest in Games 4 and 7.

In other news, the Yankees brought Joe Girardi back for 3 years at $9 million. This is a raise from his initial contract, which was for 3 years and $7.50 million. A $500k per year range sounds about right for a manager already getting paid well and who has won a World Series and been to the ALCS in the last two seasons. My reaction to this is pretty neutral. First and foremost, it was expected. Even had the Cubs job been open, I thought Girardi would be back. With the Cubs job filled, it seemed even more likely. Beyond that, this is the right move. Girardi is not a great manager overall. He's an excellent regular season manager, and so far has been a poor postseason manager (I know the obvious response to this is that he just won a World Series last year, but just because a team wins the World Series does not mean their manager did a good job managing them to it.). Average those two things out and you have a good to very good manager. Those are the kind you want to keep bringing back. One of Girardi's biggest strengths is that he is typically on the cutting edge of what is going on around baseball, and is willing to adjust accordingly. Hopefully he does so if the Yankees make the playoffs again under him, realizing that the binder that gets him through the regular season so effectively by relying on averages does not matter as much in short series. Most importantly, if you did let Girardi go, who would you bring in? No, he's not sensational. But he's better than most alternatives. So even if you don't absolutely love him, it was the right move to bring him back.

Final thought, both the Yankees and Red Sox are looking for new pitching coaches. As the Yankees have seen first-hand with Kevin Long, having exceptional pitching and hitting coaches can have a huge impact on a team. As pitching becomes scrutinized more and more, especially regarding young pitchers, these are important hires for both clubs. For the Yankees, there has been talk about hiring proven guys who, like Girardi, are on the cutting edge of helping pitchers perform at their peak. Of course, I am in on this 100%. At the same time, I would throw David Cone's name into the mix. I have no idea if he's interested, and if he was, if the Yankees would be seriously interested in him, so I'm really just throwing this out there. But he has a few big things going for him in my opinion. First, he was one of, if not the primary, leader of the championship teams in the late '90's, so he'd be a good presence for the whole team, not just the pitching. Second, you know he has pedigree, and from listening to him as a broadcaster he is incredibly analytical and articulate in regards to the technical elements of pitching. When you combine those two things, you have someone who is able to command the respect of and relate to the Yankees big-name veteran pitchers while also connect with and develop their younger pitchers as well. I don't think this is a requirement for the job, but being able to do both would seem to help, and certainly is not easy to come by. His biggest detraction is that he has no experience, but given that Girardi would be overseeing him as a former catcher, and the two of them worked together for so long as players, it could be an ideal fit. I don't see it happening, but I think I might like to.


Anonymous said...


I'd have been very surprised if the Yankees didn't bring back Joe Girardi, if only because they have a track record of winning a World Series' with Italian guys named Joe as manager.

I'd like to address pitching guys on three days rest. I don't know the exact stats, but I thought I remembered reading/seeing/hearing that starters on three days rest in the playoffs have much poorer numbers than their regularly rested counterparts. I just remember watching Bartolo Colon pitching in the 1999 ALDS. In Game 1, he was a stud. He was throwing 100 MPH in like the seventh inning and shut the Sox down. The Indians pitched him on three days rest in Game 4 (why? I have no idea--he would have been rested for Game 5 and the Indians were up 2-1 anyway) and he got absolutely lit up. Ever since then I've always looked at that scenario as such--unless it's absolutely necessary to pitch a starter on short rest (see Derek Lowe in the 2004 ALCS) don't do it.

--the Gunn

Ross Kaplan said...

Game 4 of the World Series when your down 2-1 is about as much of a much start game as you can get. However, I'm not sure if this was Ron Washington's decision or Lee's. I do clearly remember Joe Buck and Tim McCarver having this same conversation during last year's World Series and distinctly remember them saying that Lee had never started on 3 games rest in his career. If Lee really wants to be mentioned in the same conversation as Gibson and Koufax he absolutely needs to volunteer to take the ball in that Game 4 situation even if his manager doesn't want him to.

As for Yankee's Pitching Coach, I don't love Dave Cone. Remember the last time the Yankees Pitching Coach was a legendary pitcher for the team, Ron Guidry, we had an ace in Randy Johnson who couldn't keep his era below 4. Maybe I'm basing this on what he's done in the past, but I think Leo Mazzone is the much better option.

the gm at work said...


I'm glad you wrote about the Cliff Lee thing, because I found it a little strange as well. For an organization against babying their pitchers, it's especially strange that they'd give the starter that gives you the best chance to win another day. By pitching him in Game 5, it means he's out in Game 7 as well. So not only are you decreasing your chances in a pivotal Game 4, but you're also decreasing your chances in the most pivotal of all pivotal games.

Not that Tommy Hunter pitched poorly, and not that pitching Cliff Lee would have meant the offense could get a hit off of Bumgarner. But it's about playing the percentages.

Also, two more Darren appearances. Two more runs.

Gunn, I was at Game 4 when Colon got rocked. It was awesome. But had Colon pitched Game 5, who knows - the ruckus that happened may have never had a chance to start.