Starting Chad Gaudin Is Just Asking For Trouble

Perhaps this is just selective memory, but the 2009 World Series seems to be coming together rather tidily. The narrative is clear, with the defending champion Phillies facing a Yankees team that is hungry to reclaim what was once regularly theirs. The primary talking point is simple: both teams are offensive powerhouses, and whichever team keeps the damage to a minimum will prevail. Generally, there seems to be little drama (although Pedro Martinez pitching Game Two at Yankee Stadium is pretty great) or intrigue.

Of course, as a neurotic Yankees fan (redundant?), this is unacceptable to me. It is my duty to find something either to fret about or something to caution as underestimated in its importance. Luckily, I have found both in the person of Yankees starting pitcher Chad Gaudin. Manager Joe Girardi and his staff are toying with the idea of giving Gaudin a start in Game Four or Five, thereby preventing C.C. Sabathia, Andy Pettitte, and A.J. Burnett from pitching on short rest throughout the series. Unsurprisingly, since he hasn’t pitched since October 3rd, there have been reports of Gaudin being “stretched out” for a possible start. As you may have guessed, I think starting Gaudin is a terrible idea, and for a different reason than you’ve probably heard most opponents of the idea cite.

Chad Gaudin’s chronic inability to retire left-handed hitters is a huge reason for concern. Since 2002, lefties have hit .293/.389/.433 against Gaudin (righties: .249/.318/.409). Even more starkly, Gaudin’s career K/BB against lefties is 0.84, as opposed to 2.80 against righties. These trends held true in the 2009 season as well. Lefties hit .296/.408/.415 against him, walking one more time than they struck out. Gaudin’s problems against lefties are not a prolonged fluke. They are a real problem, chronicled in real data over a significant sample size.

This deficiency wouldn’t be worth so much thought if the Yankees were playing a balanced or heavily right-handed team. The Phillies, however, get a great deal of their offense from left-handed hitters. Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Raul Ibanez form the heart of the Phillies’ lineup (righty Jayson Werth is mixed in there), and they are preceded by switch-hitters Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino. Here are each of their numbers against right-handed pitchers, both career and in 2009:

  • Ryan Howard: .307/.409/.661 (career), .319/.395/.691 (2009)
  • Chase Utley: .302/.375/.536 (career), .279/.387/.489 (2009)
  • Raul Ibanez: .290/.354/.496, (career), .267/.342/.517 (2009)
  • Jimmy Rollins: .272/.327/.435 (career), .257/.306/.422 (2009)
  • Shane Victorino: .287/.347/.415 (career), .283/.347/.440 (2009)

The greatest concern of these five hitters is Ryan Howard. As I’ve mentioned before, Howard is the best hitter of right-handed pitching in baseball, and among the very worst against lefties. This factor alone should make the Yankees think twice about starting a fringy right-hander like Chad Gaudin. It gets worse. Utley murders major league pitching of either handedness, making Gaudin’s difficulty with lefties even more problematic. Interestingly, Ibanez posted a significant reverse split in 2009, destroying left-handers and hitting acceptably against righties. Even if this is a real change in Ibanez’s performance (which it isn’t), Gaudin turns average left-handed hitters (like 2009 Ibanez) into above-average ones because of his significant control problems against them. Starting Gaudin against these three hitters is just asking for trouble.

To be fair, Jimmy Rollins’ and Shane Victorino’s numbers against right-handers aren’t overwhelmingly impressive. In fact, both switch-hitters are stronger against lefties. But it isn’t their ability to put the bat on the ball against Gaudin that worries me. Instead, I’m fairly certain that Rollins and Victorino will draw walks. Rollins has never had a great eye, but he walks more against righties than lefties. Victorino walks more against lefties than righties, but has decent plate discipline overall. Ultimately, it’s not hard at all to envision Gaudin starting the game by walking one or both of them (Rollins leads off, Victorino bats second), and then having to retire the slugging, lefty-heavy heart of the order with runners on base. It’s a terrifying prospect that should never come to pass.

I understand why the Yankees would consider giving Gaudin a start; having Sabathia, Burnett, and Pettitte pitching on short rest for half the series is a tough alternative to face. This is, however, the World Series. A team must go with nothing but its best in all but the most hopeless of circumstances, and Gaudin is not the Yankees’ best. If the Yankees opt to give him a start (a decision that is still very much up in the air), they are essentially choosing to neutralize Werth, Pedro Feliz, and Carlos Ruiz, while taking their chances with Howard, Utley, and Ibanez. That looks an awful lot like a bad idea to me under any circumstances, but particularly so when the stakes cannot get any higher.

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