The New York Yankees announced yesterday that A.J. Burnett will start in the American League Championship Series.
Despite Burnett's well-documented struggles in the regular season (15 losses and a 5.26 ERA), this is clearly the right move by Joe Girardi.
If Girardi were to go with a three-man rotation, as he did in the Division Series, CC Sabathia would have to pitch on three days rest TWICE, assuming the ALCS went to seven games. Considering the innings that Sabathia has logged in the regular season (237 IP) and the fact that the Yankees taxed his arm in last year's postseason, this would not be ideal for his productivity or health.
The best set-up after Sabathia is to pitch Phil Hughes in Game 2, followed by Andy Pettitte and Burnett. Pitching Hughes in Game 2 allows Girardi to split up his two left-handed starters and also lines up Pettitte to match up against Cliff Lee or David Price in Game 3. Additionally, Pettitte would be the scheduled pitcher for a possible Game 7.
This scenario creates the ideal situation for Girardi and the Yankees. Burnett would have to lock in for only one start in the series and would not be matched up against either of the other team's top two starters. Burnett's upside and temperament are perfectly situated for this opportunity and the downside is minimal. The Yankees should have a well-rested bullpen going into Game 4, so even if Burnett falters, they would still be in excellent shape.
Cashman and Girardi certainly weighed their option in preparation for this series, however, none of their alternatives presented the talent and upside of Burnett. Since Girardi has been the Yankees' manager, he has excelled at handling a pitching staff. He understands that the staff must be looked at in its entirety and that each game flows into the next. Here, he gives Burnett a vote of confidence and sets up his rotation properly.
Win or lose, he's made the right call once again.