Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Baseball conventional wisdom = still just half accurate

In 1965, Sandy Koufax started game 7 of the World Series. He had pitched in Game 2, not Game 1, because the opener fell on Yom Kippur and as a Jew he felt it would send a bad message to pitch on the Day of Atonement of his religion. He lost in Game 2, pitching six innings, allowing one earned run and striking out 9, then pitched a complete game shutout (4 H, 10 K) in Game 5 on three days' rest. Although Don Drysdale was on turn for game 7, Koufax was given the start on TWO days' rest. The result? Complete game, three-hit, 10 K, 132-pitch shutout on the road where the Twins' hitters swung and missed at 27 pitches(!). And Koufax did it with essentially one pitch -- his fastball, because his curve didn't work that day.

Jim "Mudcat" Grant -- one of the 13 African-American pitchers to win 20 games in a season or "Black Aces" as he calls his group on his website -- pitched game 6 of that same series. Grant started and won game 1, started and lost game 4, and then started game 6 on two days of rest. He pitched a complete game victory.

Fast forward to modern baseball where the complete game is a rarity. In 2001, Curt Schilling started games 4 and 7 of the World Series on three days' rest. His line for two no-decisions: 14.1 IP, 9 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 18 K. In 2004, Derek Lowe started game 7 of the ALCS on two days' rest and pitched six innings of one-run ball for the win. Anyone remember what Pedro did in 1999? Six innings of shutout relief in an ALDS game 5 do-or-die game against the Indians

The point is simple: pitching on three days' rest is not a life-altering occurrence for a competent starting pitcher.

The belief that Joe Girardi fouled up or may foul up the Yankees' World Series by starting Burnett and Pettitte on three days' rest is flat-out stupid. You put out your best players to beat the other team in a winner-take-all series and Girardi is doing the exact right thing. Burnett didn't lose Monday because of short rest, he lost because he pitched the same way in game 5 as he did in game 2 and the Phils stopped taking the first pitch. Burnett failed to adjust, the Phils didn't, and he got whacked. His career record on short rest was outstanding before that game. Pettitte should be ready to embrace the assignment, not worry about it. If he wins tonight, his legacy grows even greater than just being the winningest pitcher in postseason history.

In other words, this is no time for whining: it's time to man up and get the f---ing ring.

Pettitte is a man, unlike the whiny and fussy baseball press that thinks a guy who can throw a ball 90+ mph on 3,500-4,000 occasions each year will be decimated by the potential of having to do that same task on one occasion without the usual rest. I'd take him over Chad Gaudin in game 5 and a flaky Burnett in game 6.

On another topic, who's the MVP? If the Phils come back to win, unless Lee plays a major role in the game 7 win, the Phils' MVP would be Utley in a walk. Remember, in '77 Jackson won the MVP even though Mike Torrez pitched two complete game victories with a 2.50 ERA -- better numbers than Lee this year.

Utley's slugging percentage in this Series is currently seventh all-time for any World Series. He has tied Jackson for most home runs (5) and has the same RBI total Jackson had (8) when Reggie won the MVP in '77 (the record is 12) and has matched Reggie's six-game totals in five games. Utley has 22 total bases, which is three off the record by Jackson ('77, six games) and Stargell ('79, seven games). Even if the Phils lose, Utley has a credible case for being the second player on a losing team to win the World Series MVP (Bobby Richardson, 1960) -- in addition to his ridiculous OPS (1.651), homers, RBI and runs scored (6), Utley hit four of his five homers in the two games the Phils have won and has hit THREE off Sabathia, who was the best AL starting pitcher to play postseason baseball.

If the Yanks win and a Yankee gets the MVP, the race is closer -- Rivera has two saves and 3.2 scoreless innings; Damon is hitting .391 with 5 runs, 4 RBI and that crucial play in game 4; A-Rod is only 4-18, but he was 4-10 in Philly and has 6 RBI, all on the road. If the Yanks bonk, Utley wins.

Ultimately, The Monk would have no problem with either of these two scenarios: (1) a Yankee wins the World Series MVP award; (2) Utley becomes the second player on a losing team to win the award.

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