Lost in the various teeth-gnashing over Joe Girardi sticking with A.J. Burnett for tonight is that the Rangers are turning to a less than stellar Game 4 starter of their own in Tommy Hunter.
On the surface Hunter’s numbers this season look great, as he went 13-4 with a 3.73 ERA in 23 starts, but a deeper look reveals a pitcher the Yankees have a very good chance of teeing off on.
Hunter served up 21 long balls in 128 innings, which works out to 1.5 homers per nine innings. Among all the AL pitchers who threw at least 120 innings this season only Javier Vazquez and Brian Bannister had a higher home run rate. And he’ll be facing a Yankees lineup that was one of just three MLB teams to smack 200 or more homers this season.
Beyond his overall difficulty keeping the ball in the ballpark Hunter is like most right-handed pitchers in that he’s far worse against left-handed batters than right-handers batters, and seven of the nine hitters in the Yankees’ lineup tonight will be swinging from the left side.
During his 250-inning career left-handed batters have hit .285 with an .832 OPS against Hunter, compared to .241 with a .678 OPS by right-handed batters. Not surprisingly in two previous starts against the Yankees he’s 0-1 with a 6.75 ERA, allowing seven runs on 14 hits in 9.1 innings. He also lasted just four innings against the Rays in Game 4 of the ALDS, taking the loss.
Burnett has been horrible for months now, so there’s a good chance he’ll be horrible tonight, but his struggling would hardly guarantee a Rangers victory. Hunter is a run-of-the-mill back-of-the-rotation starter whose great-looking record this season is due largely to excellent run support and the Yankees present a particularly tough matchup for a right-handed pitcher who struggles versus left-handed power bats. New York may not be able to out-pitch Texas tonight, but out-slugging them is still very possible.
The Athletics and Royals swapped outfielders on Saturday. The Athletics sent Billy Burns to Kansas City and the Royals sent Brett Eibner to Oakland.
Burns, 26, doesn’t provide much in the way of offense, but he runs the bases well and plays solid defense. He was hitting .234/.270/.303 with 11 doubles, four triples, and 14 stolen bases in 274 plate appearances.
Eibner, 27, was batting .231/.286/.423 with three home runs and 10 RBI in 85 plate appearances. He has spent most of the season with Triple-A Omaha, where he’s put up a .902 OPS in 219 PA. Eibner played the outfield corners in the majors, but racked up a ton of time playing center in the minors, so his versatility will be valuable to the A’s.
Burns will become eligible for arbitration for the first time after the 2017 season while Eibner has hardly accrued any service time, which might explain part of the motivation behind the trade for the small-market Athletics.
The Nationals announced on Saturday afternoon that the club acquired closer Mark Melancon from the Pirates in exchange for reliever Felipe Rivero and minor league pitcher Taylor Hearn.
Melancon, 31, put together another solid season for the Pirates, leaving the club with 30 saves, a 1.51 ERA, and a 38/9 K/BB ratio in 41 2/3 innings. He led the majors last season with 51 saves and has a 1.80 ERA since joining the Pirates in 2013. Melancon is earning $9.65 million this season and can become eligible for free agency after the season.
With Melancon out of the picture, the Pirates intend to have Tony Watson take over the closer’s role.
Rivero, 25, has handled the seventh and eighth innings for the Nationals this season, compiling a 4.53 ERA and a 53/15 K/BB ratio in 49 2/3 innings. He’s just shy of one year of service time, so the Pirates will have control of him for a long time.
Hearn, 21, was rated the Nationals’ 27th-best prospect by MLB Pipeline. He was originally drafted by the Pirates in the 22nd round of the 2012 draft but he didn’t sign and ended up going back to college. The Nationals took him in the fifth round of last year’s draft. This season, between rookie ball and Single-A Hagerstown, Hearn put up a 2.79 ERA and a 39/13 K/BB ratio in 29 innings. He’s a long way away from the majors, so he’s essentially a lottery ticket for the Pirates.
The Nationals needed an upgrade at closer as Jonathan Papelbon has struggled this season. The right-hander has allowed runs in each of his last three appearances, ballooning his ERA up to 4.41 with a 30/13 K/BB ratio in 32 2/3 innings. It will be interesting to see how Papelbon, who has never made a habit of letting his feelings go unspoken, handles a demotion to the eighth inning.