It’s the matchup that no one wanted to see! Thanks to mother nature, the Yankees and Tigers both get to trot out starters they were likely hoping they could keep glued to the bench in what could be the Yankees’ last game of the season, as A.J. Burnett and Rick Porcello square off tonight in Game 4 of the 2011 ALDS.
As I’ve now noted several times, the parallels to the 2006 ALDS have grown to frightening proportions, what with the Yankees and Tigers again splitting two at Yankee Stadium, rain affecting the series schedule, and the Yankees being forced to hand the ball to their least reliable starter to stave off elimination in Detroit. When Jaret Wright took the mound in Game 4 of the 2006 ALDS, he had actually turned in a 101 ERA+ season. The 2011 version of A.J. Burnett was an 86 ERA+ pitcher. Good times.
By now everyone’s sick to death of the A.J. story — looks great for however many innings, but inevitably succumbs to that one big inning where everything starts rapidly spiraling out of control and before you know it he’s put the team in a six-run hole. That said, A.J. won’t be allowed the opportunity to punt this one, as Joe Girardi will head to the bullpen instantaneously at the first sign of trouble, what with the season on the line and all. Depending on how far A.J. can make it, there’s probably a decent chance he’d go to Phil Hughes to attempt to soak up some innings, but only if A.J. fails to make it to the 5th. Come the 5th inning, I’d imagine Joe will do whatever he can to utilize his top relievers for as many outs as he can get.
A.J. had one of the worst seasons in all of baseball in 2011 — something that seemed like it’d be pretty hard to do after his wretched 2010 — coming in with the third-worst ERA (5.15) among qualified pitchers in all of MLB, ahead of only Fausto Carmona and Brad Penny, who the Tigers surely hope they won’t have to go to should Porcello falter; the fifth-worst FIP (4.77); and the third-worst HR/9 (1.47). About the only positives to take away from A.J.’s season were that after losing 1.5 strikeouts per nine in 2010 he got his K/9 back over 8.00, and actually finished with the 10th-best K/9 in the AL; his xFIP was 3.86, which means that if he somehow managed to get the home run problem under control, there might still be an effective pitcher in there somewhere; and his curveball was the 2nd-most valuable in the league (13.2 wCB), behind only Justin Verlander. Of course, the curve is only so effective when it’s being set up the worst fastball (-31.4 wFB) in the league by far.
In addition to his 93mph fastball and 83mph curve, A.J. also sports a 92mph sinker that he uses about 10% of the time, an 88mph changeup 9% of the time, and a 92mph cutter that he throws 7% of the time. So while it’s not entirely inaccurate to say Burnett is a two-pitch pitcher given that he throws a four-seamer or curveball nearly 75% of the time, technically he does have three other offerings. The curve is of course his big swing-and-miss pitch, with a beastly 19.1% Whiff Rate. He actually also gets a fair number of whiffs with the change as well (13.8% against 12.6% league average), the rare instances he opts to throw it.
One thing A.J. does pretty well is induce hitters to swing out of the zone (30.9% O-Swing%, 17th in the AL), and he actually had the lowest O-Contact% (58.2%) in the league. Unfortunately, for as relatively unhittable as his out-of-zone stuff is, A.J.’s in-zone stuff is like catnip to hitters, who swung at his in-zone offerings 65.2% of the time (14th in the AL) and made contact with them 89.9% of the time (9th in the AL).
A.J. saw the Tigers twice during the regular season and pitched reasonably well — presumably why he got the nod over Hughes — throwing five innings of three-run ball (with six strikeouts) in the second game of the season, and seven innings of two-earned-run ball (though five total runs scored thanks in part to Eduardo Nunez) in Detroit on May 5.
For all of A.J.’s shortcomings, Porcello didn’t exactly have a year to write home about either, even if it did exceed his disappointing sophomore campaign in 2010. He managed to elevate his K/9 above 5.00, slightly increase his GB% and lower his FIP, although his 4.75 ERA was still the fifth-worst mark among qualified starters in the American League. I’m not really sure what it says about either the Tigers or the rest of the American League Central that Detroit managed to win their division despite getting 31 starts apiece from two pitchers among the top five highest ERAs in the league (the other being Brad Penny and his AL-worst 5.30, who may be caddying Porcello in this one).
This led me to wonder when the last time was that two starters among the top five worst ERAs in the league faced each other in a playoff game. I threw this particular question out to Twitter, and no one came back with a definitive answer, so until shown otherwise I’m going to go with this possibly being the only time ever. Even if it has happened before, I imagine the two such ignominious starters in question would be hard-pressed to outdo A.J. and Rick’s combined 9.90 ERA.
A groundball specialist, Porcello’s bread-and-butter of of course a two-seamer which averages 90mph and is thrown 43% of the time. Porcello also has a 90mph four-seamer (24%), 83mph slider (20%), 81mph changeup (81mph) and an almost-never-used mid-70s curveball. As you’d expect from such a pitch-to-contact-type pitcher, Porcello doesn’t generate many swings-and-misses, and in all reality almost profiles as if he should be wearing a Minnesota Twin uniform, except for the fact that he’s not quite the strike-throwing machine that Scott Baker, who led the league in Strike% (69% to Porcello’s 63%) is, or Carl Pavano, who led the league in First-Strike % (66% to Porcello’s 61%). One Twins-ian trait that Porcello did excel at was Balls-in-play percentage, coming in at #4 with 35%, right behind Pavano (36%) and rotationmate Penny (37%).
Of course, despite profiling like a Twin, for whatever reason the Yankees haven’t exactly hit him as if he were a Twin, putting up a .270/.350/.360 batting line against Porcello across 22.2 innings. Porcello does have a 5.32 career ERA against the Yanks in four career starts, with two clunkers and two gems, the last of which came this year against — who else? — A.J. Burnett in that May 5 game, as Porcello went 7 innings and surrendered two earned runs. Porcello actually hasn’t given up a home run to a Yankee since his first-ever start against them on April 29, 2009, when Nick Swisher took him deep — to this day it remains the only home run he’s ever yielded to the Yankees.
A.J. fared quite a bit better against lefties (sOPS+ of 105) than righties (144 sOPS+) this season, and was also better at Yankee Stadium (113 sOPS+) than on the road (136 sOPS+). Obviously neither of these bode well as Burnett faces a righty-heavy lineup at Comerica Park, but what are you gonna do? Porcello unsurprisingly tames righties — which is rather unfortunate given that Yankee righthanded hitters have a mere five hits in 34 at-bats this series, good for a .147 batting average — and is significantly bel0w-average against lefties — which is fortunate, given that the Yankees’ lefthanded hitters are carrying the offensive load. Unlike his fellow staff members, Porcello was actually worse at home (138 sOPS+) than on the road (100 sOPS+), so hopefully that plays into the Yankees’ favor.
This game would appear to be about as big a toss-up as any, and I can’t imagine either team is thrilled about having to use one of its least effective starters in an elimination game, though obviously the Tigers have a cushion. Based on their track records, it seems like both pitchers could come in and dominate the opposing lineup, or both could get bounced before the fifth inning.
That being said, the Yankee bats are past due to break out at Comerica Park, and I think Porcello’s difficulties with lefthanders bodes well for the Bombers’ big lefty hitters. At least it better; otherwise the book on the overachieving 2011 Yankees will have come to a rather abrupt end.
LIKE TYA ON FACEBOOK
- TYA To Merge With It’s About The Money, Stupid
- What about Kevin Youkilis?
- Teix Now Front And Center On The “Needs To Produce” Radar
- Cashman: Heathcott A Dark Horse Candidate
- A Dog Chasing Cars
- Outfield Trade Targets
- The Problem With Brett Gardner
- A Look At Relief Prospect Branden Pinder
- The Yankees Should Be Realistic, Put Team on Short Leash in 2013
- Briefly discussing the internal options to replace Curtis Granderson
- walkfit platinum reviews on The TYA staff on the Yankees’ television and radio broadcast teams
- essentialtexting.com on Open Thread | Game 3 | Detroit Tigers vs. New York Yankees | Sunday, April 3, 2011
- www25.tok2.com on Sabermetrics Doesn’t Have A Monopoly on Not-Stupid: Mike Trout is the AL MVP
- グッチ 財布 on Sunday Links-Joba’s Timetable, Comparing eras, Pineda
- raspberry ketone diet 1200 on Sabermetrics Doesn’t Have A Monopoly on Not-Stupid: Mike Trout is the AL MVP
- Free riot codes on Off-Topic
- Fran on The Great Subway Race
- sleeping bag hand Orientation on What about Austin Romine?
- camping stove heat diffuser on What about Austin Romine?
- 手機殼 on The Yankees’ Standing In The AL East Right Now
TagsA.J. Burnett Alex Rodriguez Andy Pettitte Austin Romine Baltimore Orioles Bartolo Colon Boston Red Sox Brett Gardner Brian Cashman Bullpen CC Sabathia Chien-Ming Wang Cliff Lee Curtis Granderson David Robertson Dellin Betances Derek Jeter Francisco Cervelli Freddy Garcia Game Recap Hiroki Kuroda Ivan Nova Javier Vazquez Jesus Montero Joba Chamberlain Joe Girardi Johnny Damon Jorge Posada Manny Banuelos Mariano Rivera Mark Teixeira Melky Cabrera Michael Pineda New York New York Yankees Nick Johnson Nick Swisher Phil Hughes Prospects Rafael Soriano Red Sox Robinson Cano Russell Martin Tampa Bay Rays Yankees