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.
According to Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post, Nationals infielder Danny Espinosa declined to attend the team’s annual Winterfest because of his dissatisfaction with management following their trade for outfielder Adam Eaton.
A source told Castillo that Espinosa’s unhappiness stemmed from a belief that the acquisition would jeopardize his starting role in 2017. With Eaton in center field, Trea Turner will likely return to his post at shortstop, leaving Espinosa out in the cold — or, as the case may be, on the bench. The move shouldn’t come as a big surprise to Espinosa, however, as Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo spoke to the possibility of trading the infielder or reassigning him to a utility role back in early November.
Offensively, the 29-year-old had a down year in 2016, slashing just .209/.306/.378 with 24 home runs in 601 PA. Defensively, he still profiles among the top shortstops in the National League, with eight DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) and 8.3 Def (Defensive Runs Above Average) in his seventh year with the club.
Espinosa will reach free agency after the 2017 season.
The Red Sox might be trying to move the wrong pitcher, according to the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo. Cafardo revealed that while the Sox have been trying to market right-hander Clay Buchholz, more teams would be interested in trades involving southpaw Drew Pomeranz.
The club appears reluctant to deal Pomeranz, especially because his price tag comes in at a cool $4.7 million to Buchholz’s $13.5 million in 2017. Those who have already expressed interest in the veteran hurlers, including the Twins, Mariners and Royals, also seem put off by Buchholz’s salary requirements as he enters his 32nd year.
Health could be another factor preventing teams from jumping to make trade offers, as Cafardo quotes an AL executive who believes the “medicals on both Pomeranz and Buchholz probably aren’t that great.” Neither pitcher suffered any major injuries during the 2016 season, though Pomeranz missed just over a week of play due to forearm soreness.
Pomeranz outperformed his fellow starter in 2016, pitching to a 3.32 ERA and career-best 9.8 K/9 through 170 2/3 innings with the Padres and Red Sox. He got off to an exceptionally strong start in San Diego, where his ERA dropped to 2.47 through the first half of the year before the Padres dealt him to Boston for minor league right-hander Anderson Espinoza. Buchholz, on the other hand, struggled with a 4.78 ERA and saw a decline in both his BB/9 and K/9 rates as he worked out a career-low 1.69 K/BB through 139 1/3 innings with the Sox.