Sometimes it's better to be lucky than brilliant.
- Mac (Philly): Since Yankee stadium is a lefty power park, shouldn't Holland be starting tonight?
Rob Neyer: It sure would be nice to have that option. But Holland hasn't started in the last three weeks, and clearly isn't in the rotation plans.
There were three good reasons to start Holland in Game 4:
1. Holland is left-handed. The Yankees are marginally lefty-heavy in their lineup, with three lefty-hitting starters, two righty-hitting starters, and three switch-hitters (plus a DH platoon). Granted, Joe Girardi did Hunter a favor by starting righty-hitting Francisco Cervelli instead of switch-hitting Jorge Posada. Which basically evened things up ... Except there's a short right-field fence in Yankee Stadium, which (marginally) favors left-handed pitchers.
2. Holland is not home run prone. Or at least he wasn't this season. Hunter is. In his career, Hunter has given up 38 homers in 251 innings, or 1.4 homers per nine innings. Holland's home run rate is roughly the same ... but it was significantly lower this season. Last year, Holland gave up 1.7 homers per nine innings; this year he cut that number in half. Did Holland become a completely different pitcher? Not really. The fly balls just didn't travel quite as far in 2010.
3. Holland pitched at least as well as Hunter in 2010. Granted, in many fewer innings. Because he spent a big chunk of the summer in Triple-A (where he was good but not great), Holland pitched only 57 innings with the Rangers this season. Hunter pitched 128 innings, and went 13-4 with a 3.73 ERA. But Holland did finish the season with a slightly better strikeout-to-walk ratio and (as we've seen) a substantially better home run rate.
Considering the difference in their experience, along with the big difference in their records this season, it would have been incredibly difficult for Washington to start Holland against the Yankees instead of Hunter.
But considering all the factors listed above -- and now, after seeing Holland relieve Hunter in just the fourth inning of Game 4 -- it sure seems like that's what Washington should have done.
And then there's Girardi. If A.J. Burnett just makes a couple of good pitches to Bengie Molina (and the bullpen holds for three innings), Girardi looks like a genius. Instead, Burnett threw a fastball right where Molina (apparently) likes it. Boom goes the dynamite.
Should Girardi have ordered the intentional walk to David Murphy, just before Molina went deep?
As you probably know (or can guess), I'm not a big fan of intentional walks. In this case, and ignoring the specific players involved, the run expectancy increases from roughly .35 runs to .50 runs when you issue an intentional walk with two outs and a runner on second base.
Which is what Girardi ordered Burnett to do. But there's little practical difference between .35 and .50, and that difference mostly or completely disappears when you consider the difference between left-handed-hitting Murphy (who generally hits right-handed pitching fairly well) and Bengie Molina (who really, really doesn't).
Except for one thing: Molina does have some power, even against right-handed pitchers. That doesn't mean you don't pitch to Molina. It means if he's going to beat you, it's probably going to happen because you throw him a fastball he can handle. Which is exactly what Burnett did. Cervelli set up outside, and Burnett threw a belt-high fastball right into Molina's wheelhouse.
It happens. If Girardi erred, it wasn't in walking Murphy; it was in trying to get one more out from Burnett, who had thrown 97 pitches and been inconsistent with his location throughout. On my radio, Joe Morgan said that Girardi should have summoned Joba Chamberlain to face Molina.
I think Morgan was right. Girardi made a small mistake. Washington made a medium mistake, in starting Hunter instead of Holland. Actually, he made a couple of them. For the second night in a row he used Neftali Feliz in a game that was already decided; for the second game in this series, he didn't use Feliz when he might have done some good.
More often than not, the gods don't care.