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October 29, 2009

Prospectus Hit and Run

From One to the Other

by Jay Jaffe

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In yesterday's chat, Bronx Banter's Alex Belth asked me, "Is there any particular pitching matchup that you are looking forward to in the series?" I responded that the matchup I was most looking forward to was between CC Sabathia and Ryan Howard, particularly given the prospect of the big man pitching three times for the Yankees in a seven-game series, and the slugger's less-than-sterling reputation against southpaws. "I think that matchup will tell us something about what's going to happen over the next four to seven games," I wrote.

If that's the case, the Yankees are in trouble. Howard stepped to the plate with two out and a man on in the first inning on Wednesday night. Sabathia had gotten quick outs on a Jimmy Rollins bunt and a Shane Victorino popup, and was one strike away from retiring Chase Utley when he suddenly lost the strike zone with three straight balls. Though he got ahead of Howard on a called strike, the slugger roped his second pitch into the right-field corner for a double, and Utley might have scored had it not been for Nick Swisher playing the carom perfectly. Sabathia then walked Jayson Werth to load the bases, and only escaped the inning when Raul Ibaņez grounded a 3-1 pitch to Robinson Cano to end the threat.

During the first two rounds of the playoffs, Howard went 2-for-11 against lefty pitching, but those two hits were huge, a two-run double off of Clayton Kershaw in Game One of the NLCS which expanded the Phillies' lead from 3-1 to 5-1 and chased the struggling southpaw, and a two-run homer off of Randy Wolf in the first inning of Game Four. The Phillies as a team got just 14 hits off of lefties during those first two rounds, but seven of them were for extra bases, including five homers, producing an uneven .194/.322/.444 line.

They only got four hits off Sabathia in seven innings, as he settled down after that shaky 27-pitch first frame, but two of those were solo homers by Utley. Which isn't to say Sabathia was all that sharp. In marked contrast to Andy Pettitte's religious devotion to first-pitch strikes in Game Six of the ALCS (20 out of 25), the big man got ahead of just 12 of 27 hitters, at one point starting with ball one to seven hitters in a row, including Utley on his first homer.

The two Utley jacks would have been enough, given how well Cliff Lee pitched for Philadelphia. In this battle of former Indians Cy Young winners who were traded the following summer-Mark Shapiro's worst nightmare, basically-there was never any doubt who had the upper hand. Lee dominated, striking out seven of the first 14 hitters he faced: Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira (twice), Alex Rodriguez (twice), Hideki Matsui, and Jorge Posada. He also made two plays in the field which showed how in control he was, visibly sneering while making a basket catch on a sixth-inning Johnny Damon popup that scarcely forced him to budge from his landing spot, and snaring an eighth-inning Robinson Cano grounder behind his back.

The record shows that Lee only got first-pitch strikes to 16 out of 32 batters, but he went to 0-2 eight times, whereas his opposite number only got there four times. The irony is that Lee also went to 2-0 seven times, while Sabathia only got there five times, and thus ran up his pitch count. There wasn't all that much separating the two pitchers, and over the course of a seven-game series in which the two starters are slated to pitch on three days' rest in their next two turns, it may count in the Yankees' favor that Sabathia, the experienced one in such matters, threw only 113 pitches, while Lee, who's never taken the ball on short rest, threw 122 pitches. Whether or not that's a strike against Charlie Manuel remains to be seen.

That's because the Phillies piled on four more runs once Sabathia left, as the Yankee bullpen, and particularly Phil Hughes, showed its vulnerability. Coming on in relief of Sabathia to start the eighth, Hughes walked both Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino to put the Yankees right in the path of the oncoming train of Utley and Howard. Damn the inning, I suggested in our Roundtable last night, Yankees manager Joe Girardi should call upon Mariano Rivera given the persistent reverse platoon split his cut fastball produces:


Split         vs LHB           vs RHB
2009     .182/.238/.273    .211/.236/.350
Career   .206/.256/.261    .218/.272/.326

That's a difference of 75 points of OPS in 2009, and 81 points for a career of over 2000 plate appearances from each side. Girardi, stuck in his button-down plastic-fantastic Madison Avenue scene, went by the book and called upon lefty Damaso Marte who, for whatever his merits, is not Rivera. He got a positive result, striking out Utley and retiring Howard on a fly ball that allowed Rollins to advance to third, but he also required a replacement to maintain the platoon advantage against the righty Werth. On came not Rivera but David Robertson, who spent the ALCS being treated like the ass end of the staff, perhaps due to his rookie status, perhaps to the fact that he's got bone chips in his elbow which will require surgery. Robertson walked Werth to load the bases. Girardi, after a conference on the mound, stuck with the kid, but Ibaņez slapped a single through the right side of the infield to plate both Rollins and Victorino, and suddenly the Phillies' lead had doubled.

Thus in a high-leverage spot, Girardi had the chance to make an aggressive move to go to his best pitcher to face the heart of the Phillies' order, damn the possibility that somebody else might have to face the weaker hitters in the bottom of the order in the ninth. Never mind that in this day and age such a move would have been considered unorthodox and controversial; the point we stress here regarding reliever usage is that sometimes the game needs saving in the seventh or eighth inning. This was clearly one of those times. In an earlier age a Bob Lemon or a Dick Williams would have called upon Goose Gossage or Rollie Fingers (check their postseason game logs). By sticking to the book, Girardi missed the Yankees' last best hope to stay in the game.

From there, it scarcely mattered that Brian Bruney and Phil Coke allowed two more runs in the ninth, as the game was 99 percent lost. Which didn't flatter Manuel's decision to stick with Lee, who'd thrown 95 pitches through seven and, protecting a 4-0 lead, breezed to 106 pitches through eight. A four- or six-run lead is something any bullpen should be able to protect without going to its closer, even one as notoriously shaky as the Phillies' pen, against a lineup as imposing as that of the Yankees. Manuel gave Lee a shot at the shutout and Lee labored, allowing consecutive singles to Jeter and Damon to start the ninth, and then a run when Rollins airmailed the second leg of a potential double play ball far off the mark, Utley style. He did strike out Rodriguez and Posada to end the game and underscore his dominance, but we'll have to see whether that extra effort impedes his ability in his next turn.

It may not, if Game One is the shape of things to come. In my preview and just about every other chance I've had to yap about this series over the past 72 hours-radio, chat, roundtable-I've tilted towards the Yankees because I felt that their lefty pitchers matched up better with the Phillies' lefty hitters than vice versa. I took the same tack in my NLCS preview, but because of a couple of big blows, I was wrong. For at least one night in the World Series, my losing streak continued. Round one goes to the Phillies, who are starting to make a believer out of me.

---

When Pedro Martinez and Vicente Padilla faced off in Game Two of the NLCS, they not only provided once of this fall's most memorable playoff battles, they made history of a sort. For the first time ever, two starting pitchers who had made less than 10 appearances for their current teams squared off against each other in a postseason game. As Martinez prepares to take the ball for a World Series Game Two start, it's worth recalling the October efforts of these Johnny-come-latelys, a list that includes some of the game's great hired guns and a few interesting interconnections.

Since divisional play began in 1969, a total of 18 pitchers have made postseason starts under such circumstances. By and large, they haven't fared quite as well in October as they had during the regular season, or at least with the teams with whom they finished the year:


                  ------------Regular Season----------    -----Postseason----
Pitcher           Year Team      G    IP     ERA  SNWP    G   IP    ERA   W-L
Marty Bystrom     1980 Phillies  6   36.0   1.50  .703    2  10.1  3.49   0-0
Tommy John        1982 Angels    7   35.0   3.86  .501    2  12.1  5.11   1-1
Don Sutton        1982 Brewers   7   54.1   3.29  .605    3  18.0  6.00   1-1
Rick Reuschel     1987 Giants    9   50.0   4.32  .579    2  10.0  6.30   0-1
John Tudor        1988 Dodgers   9   52.1   2.41  .599    2   6.1  5.68   0-0
David Cone        1992 Blue Jays 8   53.0   2.55  .640    4  22.1  3.22   1-1
Bob Wolcott       1995 Mariners  7   36.2   4.42  .560    1   7.0  2.57   1-0
Bret Saberhagen   1995 Rockies   9   43.0   6.28  .469    1   4.0 11.25   0-1
Denny Neagle      1996 Braves    6   38.2   5.59  .439    4  13.2  2.64   0-0
Ramon Martinez    1999 Red Sox   4   20.2   3.05  .606    2  12.1  3.65   0-1
Kent Mercker      1999 Red Sox   5   25.2   3.51  .555    3   9.1  5.79   0-1
Rich Harden       2006 Athletics 9   46.2   4.24  .554    1   5.2  4.76   0-1
Oliver Perez      2006 Mets      7   36.2   6.38  .456    2  11.2  4.63   1-0
David Wells       2006 Padres    5   28.1   3.49  .609    1   5.0 12.60   0-1
Franklin Morales  2007 Rockies   8   39.1   3.43  .568    2   7.0  5.14   0-0
Yovani Gallardo   2008 Brewers   4   24.0   1.88  .706    2   7.0  0.00   0-1
Pedro Martinez    2009 Phillies  9   44.2   3.63  .536    1   7.0  0.00   0-0
Vicente Padilla   2009 Dodgers   8   39.1   3.20  .554    3  17.1  3.63   1-1

None of this gives us much insight into what Martinez will do tonight, but what follows is a historical romp through the ages.

  • Marty Bystrom, 1980 Phillies: As a 22-year-old rookie, Bystrom didn't even debut until September 7, but he made his presence felt by beginning his major league career with 20 consecutive scoreless innings, including a complete-game shutout in his first big-league start. His postseason debut was an even bigger deal, as he got the call to start the decisive NLCS Game Five against the Astros (ace Steve Carlton had pitched Games One and Four). Bystrom rewarded manager Dallas Green's faith with 5 1/3 innings of one-run ball, and the Phillies eventually won a see-saw game in 10 innings to advance to the World Series. Again starting Game Five-this time ahead of Carlton, who would have been on three days' rest-Bystrom held the Royals to one run through five frames, but faltered in the sixth when he surrendered a leadoff homer to Amos Otis and then two consecutive singles, one of which would score the go-ahead run. Nonetheless, the Phillies pulled the game out by scoring two off Dan Quisenberry in the ninth inning, and they would wrap up their first World Championship ever two days later.

  • Tommy John, 1982 Angels: Acquired from the Yankees on August 31, John already had 11 postseason starts to his credit when Gene Mauch tabbed him to pitch the ALCS opener against the Brewers. The 39-year-old soft-tosser yielded three runs in the first three innings, but hung on for a complete-game win. Alas, he was knocked out in the fourth inning of Game Four, having yielded four hits, five walks and six runs.

  • Don Sutton, 1982 Brewers: John's former Dodger teammate, who was traded from the Astros to the Brewers on August 30, would take the mound in Game Three having already delivered a key win for his new club. Facing the Orioles and fellow future Hall of Famer Jim Palmer on the last day of the season, with the two teams having come into the game tied in the AL East stanidings, he delivered eight innings of two-run ball as Harvey's Wallbangers roughed up Palmer. In the ALCS, Sutton shut out the Angels for seven innings but surrendered three runs in the eighth before getting the hook; the Brewers still won. His luck ran out against the Cardinals in the World Series, as the Brewers lost both games he pitched, one a squeaker, the other a blowout.

  • Rick Reuschel, 1987 Giants: Acquired from the Pirates in late August, Big Daddy was knocked around by the Cardinals in the NLCS opener, yielding five runs in six innings as the Giants lost. After he yielded three runs in four innings in Game Five, manager Roger Craig chose to pinch-hit for him amid what became a decisive four-run rally. The Giants won that game to take a 3-2 series lead, but their season ended when they lost the next two contests by failing to score a single run.

  • John Tudor, 1988 Dodgers: The 33-year-old Tudor already had nine postseason starts under his belt when he was acquired from the Cardinals in a mid-August trade which sent Pedro Guerrero to St. Louis, and which was necessary because the Dodgers had no other lefty starters once Fernando Valenzuela was lost for the season. After pitching well down the stretch for the Dodgers, Tudor lasted just five innings of Game Four of the NLCS, the 12-inning epic that's best remembered for Mike Scioscia's game-tying ninth-inning homer off Dwight Gooden and Orel Hershiser's bullpen cameo the day after he'd thrown seven innings. Tudor's Game Three start in the World Series was even more brief, as he retired just four hitters before blowing out his elbow. After surgery, he made just six appearances the following year.

  • David Cone, 1992 Blue Jays: Acquired from the Mets in a late-August deal which sent Jeff Kent to the Big Apple, Cone gave his new club more innings than any of these other late-season reinforcements, but his performance was a mixed bag. He made two strong starts in the postseason, tossing eight innings of one-run ball against the A's in Game Two of the ALCS, and six innings of one-run ball against the Braves in Game Six of the World Series, a game the Jays would win in extra innings to clinch their first title. Those two triumphs bookended a pair of fifth-inning exits under less triumphant circumstances, though the Jays would at least rally to win Game Two of the World Series as well.

  • Bob Wolcott, 1995 Mariners: Recalled in mid-August by the Mariners, Wolcott was a 22-year-old rookie for whom the M's had high hopes, having been their second-round draft choice in 1992. He debuted on August 18 and put up a 4.42 ERA in seven starts down the stretch, allowing more than three runs just once. Bypassed for a start in the memorable Division Series against the Yankees, he took the hill for the spent Mariners in the ALCS opener. He held the Indians to two runs in seven innings and got the win despite allowing 13 baserunners. It was a portent of things to come, perhaps; he lasted just 66 games spread over five seasons, finishing with a 5.86 ERA.

  • Bret Saberhagen, 1995 Rockies: Having helped the Royals to a World Championship back in 1985, this two-time Cy Young winner was picked up from the Mets at the July 31 trading deadline to aid the Rockies' first run at a postseason spot. He didn't help all that much, and was hit hard both in his regular-season appearances and his Division Series Game Four start. The Braves scored six runs in his four frames, including a two-run double by Chipper Jones and a two-run homer by Fred McGriff, and won going away, ending the Rockies' season.

  • Denny Neagle, 1996 Braves: Snagged from the Pirates in a deal that sent Jason Schmidt to Pittsburgh, Neagle lacked the seniority to get a Division Series start ahead of John Smoltz, Greg Maddux, and Tom Glavine. After pitching an inning of mop-up relief in Game Two of the NLCS against the Cardinals, he put together a strong effort in Game Four, tossing a one-hit shutout through the first six innings. He got two quick outs in the seventh, then allowed a single and a walk before getting the hook from Bobby Cox. Reliever Greg McMichael yielded a two-run triple to Dmitri Young and scored two batters later to tie the game, which the Braves ultimately lost. They won the series, however, and after pitching an inning of relief in a 12-1 World Series Game One victory over the Yankees, he started Game Four, which became an instant classic. The Braves took a 6-0 lead, but Neagle faltered in the sixth, allowing three runs and getting the hook. Jim Leyritz would tie the game with a dramatic three-run homer off Mark Wohlers in the eighth and the Yanks would win in the 10th, with Wade Boggs drawing a bases-loaded walk to force in the go-ahead run.

  • Ramon Martinez and Kent Mercker, 1999 Red Sox: Injuries ravaged the Boston rotation, which used 13 starters throughout the year, with not a single pitcher making 30 starts; Pedro Martinez led the staff with 29. Older brother Ramon had signed with the club as a free agent in March but spent the entire year on the DL save for a brief September cameo, while Mercker came over from the Cardinals in late August. Pitching on three days' rest for the only time in his career, Pedro started Game One of the Division Series against the Indians but departed after four innings due to a back strain. With the Sox down 2-0 in the best-of-five series, Ramon took the ball in Game Three, holding the Tribe to two runs in 5.2 innings as the Sox won 9-3. Though Mercker wouldn't make it out of the second inning, they would win a 23-7 blowout the next day. They took the series thanks to another offensive outburst backed by six hitless innings of relief from the suddenly healthy Pedro. Mercker went on to start Games One and Five of the ALCS against the Yankees, lasting just 7 2/3 innings in a pair of losses. Ramon fared a bit better but still took the loss for a 6 2/3-inning effort in Game Two.

  • David Wells, 2006 Padres: Wells had 26 postseason appearances and 16 starts to his name when he was traded by a sinking Red Sox team to the Padres on August 31. He pitched Game Two of the Division Series against the Cardinals, scattering seven hits over five frames and yielding two runs, both of them in the fourth inning. That was too much for the Padres, who failed to score a single run against Jeff Weaver and four St. Louis relievers. That trend continued, as the Pads scored just six runs in four games while going down in defeat.

  • Rich Harden, 2006 A's: The notoriously fragile Harden spent most of the year on the DL, making just one start between April 26 and September 21, and lasting more than four innings just once. The A's didn't need to call his number in a three-game sweep of the Twins in the Division Series, but he got a start against the Tigers in Game Three of the ALCS, with his team having lost the first two contests. He kept things close, surrendering two first-inning runs and then a fifth-inning solo homer by Craig Monroe, but the A's could only manage two hits against Kenny Rogers and company, and they were ultimately swept.

  • Oliver Perez, 2006 Mets: Acquired from the Pirates at the July 31 deadline in a deal for Xavier Nady, Perez was viewed as a project for Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson. He'd struck out 239 hitters in 2004, but lost his way over the next year and a half, putting up a 6.18 ERA across 42 starts before the Pirates gave up. He didn't give the Mets much reason for optimism in his seven starts with them thanks to a spate of gopher balls, though at least his strikeout to walk ratio doubled. But with Pedro Martinez-yeah, him again-out for the postseason due to a torn calf muscle and Orlando Hernandez scratched from his Division Series-opening start due to a calf strain as well, manager Willie Randolph had to patch together a rotation, and they almost made it work. With his team trailing two games to one against the Cardinals, Perez slogged through 5 2/3 innings and allowed nine hits and five runs, three of them on solo homers. But by the time he departed, the Mets had rolled up 11 runs of their own and would win 12-5. Game Seven rolled around with Randolph calling his number ahead of Steve Trachsel, who'd been torched for five runs in an inning-plus in Game Two. Perez valiantly gave the Mets six innings of one-run ball, aided by a spectacular sixth-inning play by left fielder Endy Chavez, who reached over the wall on a potential two-run homer by Scott Rolen to snag the ball, then fired back into the infield to double Jim Edmonds off first base and end the inning. Alas, the Mets' bullpen would falter in the ninth inning, sending St. Louis to the World Series.

  • Franklin Morales, 2007 Rockies: Debuting on August 18, the Rockies' top pitching prospect was one of the heroes of their late-season run, allowing just three runs and 11 hits over his final four starts, with the final one capping the team's 11-game winning streak. He didn't fare so well in the postseason, failing to get past the fourth inning in either of his two starts against Philadelphia and Arizona, though the Rockies won both games and both series. It got worse, as the Red Sox lit him up for seven fifth-inning runs in relief of Jeff Francis in the fifth inning of Game Five, all of them coming with two outs. He would make one more appearance in the series, but the Rockies were swept.

  • Yovani Gallardo, 2008 Brewers: The Brewers' highly-touted youngster missed almost the entirety of his second big-league season when he tore his anterior cruciate ligament in his third start of the year. Thanks to a dogged rehab effort, he made medical history by returning to the team in the same season, making a four-inning tuneup start and then getting the call for the team's Division Series opener against the Phillies, since CC Sabathia had pitched the season's final game to secure the Wild Card. Gallardo lasted just four innings and allowed three runs, all of them unearned due to an error by Rickie Weeks at the tail end of a sacrifice bunt by Cole Hamels. He pitched three scoreless frames in relief when Jeff Suppan was knocked out of Game Four, but it was too little, too late against the Phillies' juggernaut.

  • Vicente Padilla, 2009 Dodgers and Pedro Martinez, 2009 Phillies: Cast off by the Rangers in mid-August as much due to clubhouse issues as his performance, Padilla was on his best behavior and at the peak of his power-he struck out 38 hitters in 39 1/3 frames-as he helped patch the Dodger rotation. Nonetheless, many an eyebrow was raised when he got the call to start Game Three of the Division Series with the Dodgers up 2-0 against the Cardinals. He was brilliant, shutting out the Cards for seven innings on just four hits and one walk to help complete the sweep. He then got the NLCS Game Two call against Martinez, a brilliant duel in which he allowed just a solo homer to Ryan Howard but departed trailing 1-0 thanks to the wily Martinez's efforts to keep the Dodger hitters off balance. Our own Kevin Goldstein nearly had to eat his shoe, Werner Herzog-style, given the confluence of the two unlikely performances.

Alas, Padilla couldn't live up to that showing when attempting to save the Dodgers' season in Game Five, but his overall postseason performance ranks only behind Cone's 1992 stint with the Jays and Sutton's 1982 stint with the Brewers in terms of innings, and arguably ahead of the latter in terms of results.

We'll see what Martinez adds to the story tonight. As fate would have it, I'll be there in the bleachers, which should be a whole lot of fun.

Jay Jaffe is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jay's other articles. You can contact Jay by clicking here

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