The conventional wisdom would seem to say that after CC Sabathia starts Game 1 in the ALDS, Andy Pettitte will go in Game 2 followed by Phil Hughes in Game 3 and A.J. Burnett in Game 4.
That sounds reasonable enough, and I’m sure there are plenty of fan-managers out there who concur. However, I thought it might be worthwhile to devise a partially altered plan. Check out the table below to see last year’s playoff performances from Sabathia, Pettitte and Burnett. This isn’t really a true point of reference by any means, but I do find the data interesting nevertheless.
Obviously, CC Sabathia has to grab the bull by the horns in Game 1. The big fella is not only being paid to be the marquee name of the rotation, but he’s flat-out earned it -- so much so that he’s found himself in Cy Young contention. Despite last night’s vomit-inducing meltdown, CC obviously provides the best opportunity to come away with a victory in any given game.
Now, depending on how the remainder of the season goes, the Yankees could end up being the Wild Card in which case they’d face the Twins in Minnesota. Should the Yankees win the AL East, they’d be scheduled against the Rangers in New York. With regards to Sabathia, it really doesn’t matter which outcome happens. I trust him just as much on the road as I do at home regardless of the opponent.
I agree that Andy Pettitte should be responsible for Game 2. Historically speaking, Pettitte has always been a huge asset for the Yankee organization during postseason play. His ability to get critical outs seems to elevate, and the wins begin to manifest. This was particularly apparent in 2009 as he was the winning pitcher during the final games of each playoff series. This doesn’t even include the fact that he’s posted great numbers this year up until his injury and has resumed the pattern now that he has returned. Although 75% of Andy’s allowed home runs this season were surrendered in NY, he’s still the team's second-best pitcher. Moreover, should Girardi opt to use him third (for some stupid reason such as staggering the lefty/righty combination of pitchers), he’d lose out on the option of using him twice in a series.
So here’s where things get tricky. It’s Game 3. The obvious answer would be to go with Phil Hughes. Phil’s been one of the team's better pitchers over the course of the season and probably deserves an opportunity to close out a series (or at the very least, keep the team afloat for another game). More importantly, he’s generally been much more predictable despite having a mediocre (at best) second half. With that being said, Burnett does have more experience as a starting pitcher in the playoffs. He also has the ability to be unhittable if he happens to be in the right frame of mind. However, “veteran presence” always comes secondary in my book to quantifiable reasoning for success. Advantage this go-around has to reside with Hughes.
I think the important decision really lies in Game 4 (should the series get to that point). I do not want to see Phil Hughes or A.J. Burnett take the mound. In essence, whichever pitcher doesn’t start Game 3 will get an all-expenses paid trip to the bullpen. But wait! There's more! For a limited time only, that pitcher will remain in the bullpen and not contribute to a devastating, playoff-ending loss.
I want the Yankees' think tank to once again lean on the three-pitcher rotation model. CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte need to take care of business in the elimination games should it come down to that. CC is more than capable of pitching on abbreviated rest as is Andy. Yes, this increases their workloads. Yes, this strategy is very short-sighted in nature. I don’t care. The idea of being sent home because A.J. or a flustered Phil shows up is not acceptable for me. This is the postseason, and if there is ever a point to exhibit desperation and urgency, it'll be in October.