We can all thank the Rays for winning both games in Arlington over the weekend, forcing both teams to use their best starters (Cliff Lee and David Price) in a decisive Game 5 tomorrow night, instead of Game 1 of the ALCS. We can also thank Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes for dominating the Twins lineup and giving us the next week to argue about how the Yankees ALCS rotation should line up.
Let me state the obvious: if your goal is to win (and unless your name is Jeffrey Loria it usually is), you want to have your good players play more and your bad ones play less, at least in a very general sense. Here, it isn't general at all. This is for all the marbles. The Yankees' goal is to win 8 out of the next 14 games, and they could have their ace pitching in nearly half of them if it wasn't for the dreaded short rest monster.
Everybody agrees that pitchers need some rest between starts (that is unless we're talking about Old Hoss Radbourn during the 1884 pennant stretch run - look it up), but let's remember that there still isn't a shred of medical, scientific, or physiological data that indicates a precise amount of rest that's required, nor is there any evidence that suggests occasional starts on short rest will have any kind of negative impact on a veteran pitcher's health, durability, or effectiveness, short term or long term.
None. Nada. Zilch. Just blowhard sportswriters who need to write about something to fill their columns. So when somebody warns that Pitcher A is 1-5 with a 4.67 ERA in 7 career starts on short rest, remember that we could just as easily be talking about how poorly he pitches in Tuesday road games on Canadian soil. Taking a tiny, unreliable statistical sample, and then judging it based on poorly correlated circumstances is not a recipe for sound strategic decision making.
AJ Burnett is only going to pitch once per series, at most, and the Yankees seem unwilling to ask Andy Pettitte for more than two starts per series due to his recent injury. So what this really comes down to, for both the ALCS and (hopefully) the World Series, is whether the Yankees' odds of winning are best with both CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes starting twice per series, or if the odds dictate three starts from Sabathia (potentially on short rest) and only one from Hughes.
Is that really even a question?
I think you'd have to be certain that CC was going to be 10-15% less effective on short rest to argue against it. If you want to make that argument, I'm listening.