Saturday, September 13, 2008

Should the Jays keep a 4-man rotation down the stretch?

Cito's bold decision to start Burnett and Litsch today on 3 day's rest has set the stage for a fascinating day of baseball. After a terrific start, AJ Burnett has just been pulled with two on, none out and an 8-0 lead in the seventh inning.

I was expecting Cito to pull AJ after six innings and 90 pitches. On 3 days' rest, Burnett was expected to have a shorter leash; furthermore, the presence of September callups Scott Richmond and John Parrish gave Cito the option to pull his starter and not eat into his better bullpen arms which he may need for tonight's game.

Instead, Cito sent AJ out to start the seventh, perhaps intending to allow him a chance to get to an apparent 100-pitch target. It doesn't make sense; AJ is in line for the win and has three more starts left this year. It may seem like an inconsequential decision, but consider this:

The Jays have already affirmed plans to send Litsch tonight, Doc tomorrow and after Monday's day off, Marcum Tuesday vs. Baltimore. By that time, the Jays will have a much better picture of where they stand in the Wild Card race. Three games with Boston and one with Baltimore will be over, and Boston will have played two games against the Rays.

If the Jays can win tonight against Bartolo Colon and Doc can outpitch Lester tomorrow, the Jays will be sitting 4.5 games back. If Kazmir can beat the fading-fast Dice-K Monday, they're at 4.0 back.

The Jays have favourable opposition coming up in the Baltimore Orioles next week, with Chris Waters, Zach Jackson, and one of Garrett Olson and Dan Cabrera. After Kazmir, the Red Sox can expect Andy Sonnanstine and possibly David Price. With Beckett and Wakefield following Dice-K, they seem about even odds for the series, while the Jays have a legit shot at a sweep of the Orioles.

So is a 4-man rotation worth trying? Here's the probable starter usage under both 4- and 5-man rotations down the stretch, starting tomorrow:

4-man 5-man opponent

Sun 14 Halladay Halladay Bos
Mon 15 (off) (off)
Tues 16 Marcum Marcum Bal
Weds 17 Burnett Purcey Bal
Thurs 18 Purcey/Litsch Burnett Bal
Fri 19 Halladay Halladay Bos
Sat 20 Marcum Litsch Bos
Sun 21 Burnett Marcum Bos
Mon 22 (off) (off)
Tues 23 Halladay Burnett NYY
Wed 24 Marcum Halladay NYY
Thurs 25 Burnett Purcey NYY
Fri 26 Purcey/Litsch Marcum Bal
Sat 27 Halladay Litsch Bal
Sun 28 Marcum Burnett Bal

You've just traded two Jesse Litsch start for one by Halladay and one by Marcum, and now have Burnett ready for the playoff if needed (Halladay pitches the playoff if you run a 5-man). You also add Litsch to the pen.

I'm not sure that's enough to justify the move. I'd rather have everyone on top form. If needed, you can send Halladay and Burnett on 3 days' rest on the final two days. I'd like to get rid of that Jesse Litsch start next weekend against Boston, though we'll see how he does tonight before I decide how I feel about that one.

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