Welcome to this week's edition of Kicking and Screaming, a Walkoff Walk introduction to Pitch F/x. Today we learn the importance of a favorable umpire.
Much is being made of the Yankees decision to pitch A.J. Burnett on three days rest. The somewhat-erratic starter was electric in Game 2 but putrid in Game 5. While starting Chad Gaudin might sound like a good idea (when you ignore his struggles to retire left-handed batters), many are suggesting that Burnett was either awful or squeezed by home plate umpire Dana DeMuth. Which was it?
Before I get to the nitty gritty, understand I one thing: I started writing this post with hopes of absolving Burnett. I'm hardly an apologist for the Girardenius, I thought starting Burnett was the right move. The Yankees, currently in the driver's seat to becoming World Series champions, don't have a fourth or a fifth starter. Burnett pitched well in lower-leveraged situations on similar rest. There was no noticeable difference in his velocity (average fastball was 94.17 on Sunday night, 93.14 in Game 2.) What happened? Let's look at his stuff first.
So we see A.J.'s movement in both games on one graph. Nothing really stands out. His curveball (in the bottom right) moved just as much as did his fastball (upper left. Four seamer above and two-seamer below). A few flatter curves last night but neither did any damage. One thing we can certainly see is far, far more curveballs during his 7 successful innings in game 2. How come? Find out after the jump!
This is A.J.'s strikezone from Game 2. Lots of called strikes on the important side of the plate (away to lefties, remember we're looking from the catcher/ump's perspective.) If Burnett can establish is Hammer of Doom here early, you're in for a long night. Now, was Game 5 a different story? Did he go to the well and find it empty?
Hardly a squeeze job. We don't see Burnett working to that outside corner because he failed to get ahead of the Phillies. Once a batter has Burnett behind, he can sit on the fastball because he knows he isn't going to hit the spikecurve. Chase's beautiful visage is as fat a fastball that you can ask for, and Chutley did unto it as only Chutley can.
There is one pitch that likely got Burnett hot though, the lone green circle in the bottom right hand corner of the zone. That was a 1-1 pitch to Jimmy Rollins erroneously called a ball. 1-1 pitches tend to be pivotal, as the difference between 2-1 and 1-2 is a world apart. After walking Rollins, Burnett fell behind Utley and Howard with pitches that weren't often close; loading the bases and sealing his fate.
It's easy to second guess Girardi and his decision to pitch Burnett on short rest. It should be noted that some pitchers (coughLeecough) are very reluctant to go on 3 days rest, so perhaps the notoriously flaky Burnett should be lauded. His is a case of command and control > stuff. Not even the Hammer of Doom can overcome the dreaded 2-1 count.