All World Series, All the Time

Weather permitting, the World Series begins tonight in the Bronx, and as you’d expect, it’s a busy day for me. For starters, I had the honor of previewing the series for Baseball Prospectus, and I gave it a similarly epic-length treatment as the first two rounds. Cutting to the chase, here’s part of the stuff about the rotation, and particularly the two teams’ plans to throw at least some of their pitchers on three days’ rest:

Thanks to the ridiculous number of days off built into the schedule, the Yankees reached the World Series by relying on just a three-man rotation. The word on the street is that they’ll likely continue to do so, but that introduces a new wrinkle: while up to this point only Sabathia has needed to start on three days’ rest, the three-man plan requires each starter to do so for his second turn of the series, and Sabathia for his third turn as well if the series gets to a Game Seven. The Phillies are leaning towards matching Sabathia with Lee in all three starts—dark days for Indians general manager Mark Shapiro, to be sure—but given their depth and their various pitchers’ limitations, they’re unlikely to maintain the power trio act. The options for the two clubs thus look something like this (days rest in parentheses):

Game 1: Sabathia (7) v. Lee (9)
Game 2: Burnett (6) v. Martinez (12)
Game 3: Pettitte (5) v. Hamels (9)
Game 4: Sabathia (3) or Gaudin (11) vs. Lee (3), Happ (10), or Blanton (12)
Game 5: Burnett (3), Sabathia (4, if Gaudin Game 4), or Gaudin (12) vs. Happ, Blanton or Lee (4)
Game 6: Pettitte (3) or Burnett (5, if Sabathia Game 4 and Gaudin Game 5) vs. Martinez (5), Hamels (3), Happ or Blanton
Game 7: Sabathia (3, if pitched Game 4) or Pettitte (4, if Sabathia Game 4) vs. Lee (3, if pitched Game 4) or Hamels (4)

Despite the plans, the overall postseason numbers for pitchers on three days’ in the postseason during the Wild Card Era aren’t terribly encouraging: 86 starts, an average of just 5.4 innings per start, a 4.59 ERA, a 21-34 record for the starters, and more importantly a 31-55 record (a .360 winning percentage) for their teams. Perhaps because of that lack of success, the tactic has largely gone out of style, with just 10 of those starts coming over the past five postseasons, including Sabathia’s start in Game Four of the LCS, when he held the Angels to one run in eight innings on just 101 pitches.

The Yankees’ trio has a good deal of experience on short rest, though drawing conclusions from their small sample sizes is as hazardous as in any other endeavor. Sabathia famously went 2-1 with an 0.83 ERA in three consecutive short-rest starts for the Brewers at the end of the 2008 regular season, though he went a bridge too far and was bombed by the Phillies in Game Two of the Division Series, his fourth straight such start. While he wasn’t ridden as hard during the regular season this year, his innings total to date is one out shy of what it was going into last year’s postseason thrashing. That aside, between the regular season and postseason, he’s 4-2 in six starts with a 2.11 ERA and an average of 6.4 innings per start on three days rest. Though Pettitte hasn’t pitched on short rest at all since 2006, he has such 20 career starts, including six in the postseason; he’s 7-8 with a 3.93 ERA and an average of 6.4 innings. Burnett is a tidy 4-0 with a 2.33 ERA and 6.8 innings per start in such situations, all in the regular season, with three of them with the Blue Jays last year.

As for Lee, he’s in uncharted territory, having never started in the majors on three days’ rest. Neither, for that matter, has Hamels, Blanton, or Happ. Martinez did so only in the 1999 postseason opener, but departed after four scoreless frames due to a back strain. Since Manuel was notably resistant to the idea of Hamels going on three days’ rest last fall, it’s extremely unlikely he’ll do so here, which means that the Phils will likely deploy either Happ or Blanton in Game Five, leaving Martinez to make two starts in the Bronx. The new stadium notwithstanding, he’s no stranger there, but he’s a different pitcher from in his Red Sox heyday, and facing the Yankee lineup in that bandbox on a chilly night carries a higher degree of difficulty than facing the Dodgers on a bluebird day in Chavez Ravine.

As with the NLCS, a lot depends on the Phillies’ ability to counter the Yankees’ southpaws. Thus far in the postseason, they’re only batting .194/.322/.444 against southpaws, with a couple of well-timed Ryan Howard hits against Randy Wolf and Clayton Kershaw constituting the big blows. Sabathia and Pettitte are more battle-tested than that Dodger duo, and they’re throwing the ball better at this point in time. Given the likelihood of them starting the lions’ share the games, I’ve picked the Yankees in six.

More to come later today – a 2 PM Eastern chat, another Bronx Banter Breakdown video, and a Prospectus Roundtable to accompany tonight’s action.

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