2011 Season Preview: Fourth and Fifth Starters

Mailbag: Chavez, Nunez, Martin, Hall of Famers
Spring Training Game Thread: Playing Two

As we count down the days and weeks leading up to the season, we’re going to preview the 2011 Yankees by looking at each of their core players and many, many more. A new preview will go up every day, Monday through Friday, from now until Opening Day.

The Yankees currently have a few pitchers battling for two rotation spots, but it really comes down to three. For this preview we’ll look at the trio.

Freddy Garcia

Best Case

(Dave Martin/AP)

If only this were 2007. That year Garcia’s best case scenario was a solid No. 2 pitcher. But he hurt his shoulder that year and threw just 58 innings. Since then he’s struggled to stay healthy. The ray of hope here is that he threw 157 innings last year, which is more than he threw in the previous three years combined. He also produced serviceable numbers. That leaves some room for upside projection.

Last year Garcia had to acclimate himself to life with a sub-90-mph fastball. That’s not an easy adjustment for any pitcher — we can look to Javier Vazquez as an immediate example. Now that Garcia has something of a full season under his belt with his diminished arsenal, there’s a chance he can harness it and produce better results in 2011. We’ve already seen in spring training that he’s working on all four pitches. If he mixes and matches and uses his changeup to his his advantage, there’s a good chance he can top last year’s results.

The Bill James projections have him at a 3.89 ERA — though a 4.57 FIP — through 148 innings. That seems like an aggressive forecast for even a best case. But since Garcia is nothing but a prayer anyway, let’s peg this as his best case. The chances of it happening are maybe one in 100,000, but maybe the Yanks hit the lotto.

Worst Case

The worst case with a pitcher with Garcia’s injury history always involves considerable time on the shelf. With Garcia it would probably mean getting rocked during the month of April and then getting hurt. That would inflict the maximum pain. Not only would they get just a few starts out of him, but then they’d lose the chance for him to get into a groove and compensate for those poor performances.

While Garcia looks good now, and while he pitched decently at times in 2010, he provides no guarantees for 2010. His worst case is considerable — perhaps the worst of the three, since he stands the chance to cause the most damage. He likely has a longer leash than Colon, which could backfire for the Yankees.

What’s Likely To Happen

A player with Garcia’s stuff and injury history is tough to peg for a likely case, because there’s so much room for variance. I don’t think it’s likely that he starts 28 games again this year, but the Yankees don’t necessarily need that. I also think that if he does make, say, 20 starts, that he has a few very good ones in him. So where does that leave us for a likely scenario?

I’d say that the most likely case is between 15 and 20 starts with between a 4.30 and 4.60 ERA. Garcia showed last year that he can survive with a sub-90 fastball and his arsenal of secondary pitches. This year he brings more experience to the table. I think that raises the bar, if only slightly.

Bartolo Colon

(Kathy Willens/AP)

Best Case

If Colon breaks camp with the team he will have bad games. In the best case scenario he won’t have so many of those bad games, and they’re like four innings, five runs than two innings, seven runs. There’s also the occasional start where he gets a couple of lucky hops and some solid defensive plays and keeps the other team at bay. Mix in a few five- or six-inning, two or three run performances and it becomes a decent part of a season.

How big a part of the season? Colon is 38 and hasn’t been healthy since 2005. For him to make it through May would constitute a positive outcome. That would make for something like 15 starts at a 4.50 ERA — that magic number. Not bad, not great, blows some games, makes some a little easier. Marcel has him at 66 innings and a 4.36 ERA. The Yanks will take that early in the season. It could be worse. It could be…

Worst Case

Sidney Ponson circa 2006. In 2008 he might have had a 5.85 ERA, but he also had the occasional game where he’d walk more than he struck out, but only allow two or three hits and luck his way into a win. The 2006 version of Sidney Ponson was far more putrid. His best game was his first, four runs in 6.2 IP. After that it was some of the worst pitching I’ve had to endure since the early 90s.

If, after 16.1 innings, Colon, like Ponson, has allowed 20 runs — and has an OPS allowed of .988 — then I presume the Yankees will cut him. That’s a pretty putrid case by any measure. The only way it could get worse is if they let him continue pitching. Considering the implications of doing so while competing the AL East, I have faith that they will not. Ponson’s 2006 had better be the worst case, and even then I hope they’d cut it a bit shorter.

What’s Likely To Happen

It’s no fun saying it, but the most likely case if Colon makes the team involves him pitching a few terrible starts, a few serviceable starts, and then getting hurt. No one wishes injury on the guy, but let’s be realistic. He hasn’t been healthy since 2005, and it’s highly unlikely that changes after five years of injury and inactivity.

Ivan Nova

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Best Case

The book on Nova is that while he pitched well last season, he struggled when facing a lineup for the third time. That’s because he relied mainly on two pitches, throwing almost two-thirds fastballs and then mostly the curveball otherwise. If he works in his changeup more, and it’s even an average offering, his upside becomes considerable. His best case would have him resembling a No. 3 pitcher.

If we’re talking about Nova’s best case, and his best case makes him a No. 3-type pitcher, then his best case also involves him breaking camp with the team, since that’s how he provides the most value. That would make his season line something along the lines of 30 GS, 190 IP, 4.00 ERA. To say that would be tremendous is an understatement.

Worst Case

Nova’s worst case involves him impressing enough in spring training that they part ways with Colon, and then he bombs to start the season. Then, after a month, he goes back to AAA and the Yankees implement a revolving door. No one works out, and Nova comes back, only to pitch poorly again.

This is the risk involved with any unproven pitcher. This scenario isn’t particularly likely, but it’s still within the realm of possibility.

What’s Likely To Happen

Right not it appears as though the Yankees will build depth and start Nova in the minors. He’ll make up it, of course, since the Yankees won’t get through 162 games with just Colon and Garcia in the 4/5 spots. What’s likely is something similar to last year, with certain improvements.

With all this in mind, I’d peg Nova’s most likely case As somewhere between his Bill James and Marcel projections. That is, a strikeout rate in the mid 6s per nine, a walk rate in the high 3s per nine, a few home runs, and an ERA between 4.00 and 4.50. That might seem like a wide range, because it is. We know little about what Nova can do in the majors, so a wide range becomes necessary.

Mailbag: Chavez, Nunez, Martin, Hall of Famers
Spring Training Game Thread: Playing Two
  • jsbrendog (returns)

    colon, comeback player of the year.

  • Gonzo

    Remember when Nova was all but a lock for the rotation?

  • Opus

    Speaking of Javier Vazquez, how has he looked in spring training?

    • CU Tiger

      I think he finally hit 90-91 with the fastball the other day. He was 86-87 his first few outings.

  • http://twitter.com/steveh_MandAura Steve H

    I don’t expect Garcia to improve much on last year (even with more experience with limited velocity), but would be thrilled if he could repeat last year for at least 20 starts. Much more often than not he gave the Sox a quality start. While I think using quality starts in any kind of comparison is a very flawed idea, getting a high percentage of quality starts out of your #4 and #5 guys carries value. If Garcia could give 6 innings/3 runs more than 60% of the time (like last year), the Yankees will win a lot of the games he starts, especially considering the lineup and bullpen superiority they have. If your backend guys can keep you in the game, this team will win a lot of those games.

  • Ted Nelson

    “But he hurt his shoulder that year and threw just 58 innings. Since then he’s struggled to stay healthy.”

    I don’t think this is really an accurate statement. It’s not really a struggle to stay healthy, just a struggle to overcome one major injury. He’s been healthy–not the same as before but healthy–since that one (major) injury. He had a hamstring thing that delayed his initial return by a month in 2010… that’s the only real injury I’ve heard of and not really a cause for alarm. He just struggled to make and stick with a MLB team in 2008 and 2009.

    “The ray of hope here is that he threw 157 innings last year, which is more than he threw in the previous three years combined.”

    He was injured for all of 2007 (played through pain the innings he did rack up) and 1/2 of 2008. You don’t look at a guy who has TJS and misses 12+ months and compare how many innings he pitched over that span to how many he did over 12 healthy months… I don’t see why you’d do it with Garcia. Almost all his innings 2007-2009 came “pre-injury” and at the end of 2009, which is something definitely worth pointing out. He missed a lot of time rehabbing and has been healthy (if far from his former self) since.

    “But since Garcia is nothing but a prayer anyway, let’s peg this as his best case. The chances of it happening are maybe one in 100,000, but maybe the Yanks hit the lotto.”

    I don’t think you’re representing Garcia at all accurately. I don’t think he’s a prayer at all. I don’t think he’s a very good starter anymore, but I don’t think he’s anymore a prayer than Burnett and probably Hughes too.

    “While Garcia looks good now, and while he pitched decently at times in 2010”

    I think that’s an understatement. It wasn’t just “decently” “at times” it was like 75% of his 28 starts where he pitched well. He threw a few real clunkers in, but his 2010 performance was better than AJ Burnett’s and somewhat comparable to Phil Hughes. Given that he has been healthy since recovering from that one injury, I’d say he has a chance to be the #2 starter if Burnett doesn’t improve and Hughes regresses a bit. Not a good scenario, but quite possible.

    “I don’t think it’s likely that he starts 28 games again this year”

    Again, have you actually looked at Garcia’s injury history? Or just written him off because he missed a lot of time? Certainly–with no inside medical knowledge–we have to peg him as an above average injury risk since he may re-aggravate his shoulder. However, it’s not 157 innings and 28 starts in 2010… it’s 200+ innings and 37 starts from August 2009 on. Since he finally caught on with an MLB team, he’s been healthy. He hasn’t continually gotten hurt, he had one very serious injury and has seemingly recovered. How much of a risk re-injuring that shoulder is vs. an average pitcher getting hurt? I have no idea.

    • http://danielslifka.wordpress.com Jerome S.


    • nsalem

      I’m rooting for Freddy to have a very high winning percentage this year as he often has had in the past. Though a great W-L record may not say much to some about Freddy Garcia it would be quite good for a fan of the Yankees.

  • Kevin

    this is for real? colon has THAT good of a chance to make the rotation? oy.

  • Stan the Man

    Nova will be the 4th starter since Girardi is already hinted as much in every single interview he has given. No reason to carry dead weight in Colon since he won’t make through half a season and Garcia is a better fit right now as the 5 since his stuff isn’t nearly as good as Nova’s. Not sure why Nova who doesn’t have an innings limit would get set down when he already has had some seasoning at the big league level…the 4th spot isn’t nearly as important in April as it is after the All-Star break.

    • http://twitter.com/steveh_MandAura Steve H

      No reason to carry dead weight in Colon since he won’t make through half a season

      The reason is for depth. If you can get 65 solid innings out of Colon before he gets hurt you do it. If you let him go and Nova isn’t getting the job done, you can’t then go to Colon, who will most likely be in another organization at that point.

  • Connecticut Yankee

    Does Nova have an innings limit (Nova Rules)? If yes, we should try to get as many innings as we can out of Colon or Garcia.


    Who’s got the beat?
    Saturday, March 12, 5:49 PM [General]

    The Boston Red Sox are heavy favorites to win the American League pennant. They are the best team in baseball based on their roster and the opinion of scouts, and the song we hear is that it’s hard to make a reasonable argument against it.

    Boston has a charged offensive lineup, pitchers with solid résumés. They had a tremendously successful offseason, snatched super-slugger Adrian Gonzalez away from the Padres, signed the swift Carl Crawford to patrol their outfield and acquired reliever Bobby Jenks for the back-end of their bullpen. They went out and got all their men in the offseason, while their chief competition in the American League, the New York Yankees, didn’t get the one and only man they wanted, Cliff Lee. And lost veteran Andy Pettitte, the man they’d already had.

    We hear this Red Sox team will outslug the 1927 Murderer’s Row Yankees, win more games than the 1998 Yankees. We hear they will break records galore in their inevitable way to the World Series.

    That’s an easy tune to get up, get out, and dance to.

    But if a few weeks of Spring Training, and a little distance from the freneticism of offseason trades, contract renegotiations and free agent acquisitions has shown us anything, it’s that the New York Yankees are shaping up to be pretty good too. Maybe as good as the Red Sox. And — who knows? Maybe even better in the end.

    Certainly you can make that reasonable argument, the prevalent music notwithstanding.

    In baseball, the song usually starts with the pitching, and the Red Sox have plenty of it, we hear. There’s lefty Jon Lester at the top of their starting rotation, then Buchholz, Beckett, Lackey, Matsuzaka. This is a nice mix of veteran and up-and-comers, and when we key up the juke and set our ears to the lyrics, the scouts and pundits sure make them sound unbeatable. None of the lines ever ends in a question mark.

    As the song goes, Josh Beckett is on a mission. This makes for a stirring refrain, and it’s repeated often as the Spring Training beat goes on. But there are a lot of players on missions in the promising glow of Florida and Arizona sunshine, and an intellectually honest song might suggest that Josh Beckett’s body is not what it was once upon a time. That he has had three subpar years since 2007, as well as nagging and sometimes disabling injuries. And that last season was the worst of his career.

    Maybe Beckett will rebound and be the dominant fireballer he was four or five years ago, and the song some scouts are singing will become a fist-pumping anthem at Fenway Park. It’s hard to see how those scouts can tell he won’t break down again, though. Because cranky backs and shoulders don’t care about missions, and wear and tear on an athlete’s body doesn’t often reverse itself. You have to wonder how the song will turn out for Josh Beckett.

    You also have to wonder about the verse that says John Lackey will pitch better than he has historically pitched at Fenway Park, which isn’t well. And why he will be the big-game pitcher that he really hasn’t been since his rookie year with the Angels almost a decade ago. At least if you’re counting postseason games, in which he’s won just two out of six since 2005, as big ones.

    The scouts aren’t singing odes to Daisuke Matsuzaka’s 11.42 ERA in eight spring training innings. With his 9-6 record in 2010 — and 4-6 record the previous year and his tendency to work himself out of games early with inflated pitch counts — singing about Dice-K would make the tune kind of monotonous for listeners.

    Better to stick to Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz when you’re working out your melodic and lyrical hooks. Well, Lester anyway. With Buchholz, the scouting songsters might want to hold off until they see a bit more of him in the big leagues. He had an excellent 2010 even without striking a lot of people out. Maybe he’ll get more strikeouts this year, and maybe all those groundballs he induces will be caught by infielders like they were last year, even though some of that is luck, and luck being a fickle lady, it could be a few more of those balls will slip through for hits.

    So while thoughtful ballads don’t get people up off their backsides, the fact is there are some legitimate questions about Red Sox pitching.

    There are also questions about second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who got that screw in his foot last September, being right. And about third baseman Kevin Youkilis, who got that torn muscle in his right thumb surgically fixed up. And about center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who broke what seemed like a rib a day last season. Questions about how Crawford, used to playing to empty stands, will adjust to playing in a home ballpark where there are loud and temperamental fans. Questions about how Gonzalez will do the same.

    If the Red Sox get unhappy answers to a couple of those questions, the sexy, shake-your-booty dance mix that’s all these DJ scouts and experts are running out on us might have to get a bluesy, introspective remix. Which would not be so good for the iTunes market in New England.

    But what’s bad for them is good for New York. So could the sad song being sung about the Yankees be reworked to have some Bronx pop?

    You can certainly make the reasonable argument.

    Start with the pitching again. There’s CC Sabathia up in the ace slot. Then Hughes, Burnett and Ivan Nova and either reclamation project Freddy Garcia or Bartolo Colon to round out the bottom of the order.

    It’s never catchy to run off numbers, but it should be noted that with the Chicago White Sox in 2010, Garcia went 12-6 with a 4.68 ERA and 1.376 WHIP, giving up 171 hits in 157 innings pitched. That compares well to Lackey’s 14-11/4.40 ERA/1.419 WHIP over 215 innings in which he surrendered 233 hits. It is superior to Matsuzaka’s statistics over the past two years, and stands up nicely against three of Dice-K’s four Major League seasons.

    If you’re a scout writing Garcia into the song, you could pen a pretty reasonable stanza about how he’s capable of having a 2011 season that’s as good or better than his last one with the Chicago White Sox. He’s been pitching well in spring training. His fastball’s shown a significant gain in velocity from 2010. And if you want to add a dramatic flourish . . . he seems to be on a mission.

    Despite all this, it might not work out for Freddy. He might not even make the team out of camp. But if he does, the Yankees will have possibly found themselves a fourth or fifth starter who can stand toe-to-toe with the Red Sox’s fourth or fifth starter, or even better . . . and for the baseball equivalent of spare change compared to the major moolah they are paying theirs.

    And if it doesn’t happen for him, it would mean Colon is pitching even better than he is.

    Either way, big picture, the significance is that you could stack the Yankees and Red Sox rotations up against each other — CC and Lester, Beckett and Burnett, Buchholz and Hughes, then Lackey/Matsuzaka and Nova/Garcia or Colon — stack them up side-by-side, and not find a tremendous edge for either team.

    As for the everyday players, the Yankees didn’t make a lot of song-worthy moves in the winter. They didn’t need a first baseman because they already had Mark Teixeira, the one the Red Sox let get away. They didn’t need a third baseman because they already had Alex Rodriguez, the one who’s going into the history books. They didn’t need a second baseman because they have the best in baseball in Robinson Cano, and they didn’t need outfielders because they felt their outfield was pretty well set. And although the scouts aren’t singing about it, a lot of other people watching Yankee spring training games are saying their center fielder Curtis Granderson might just be primed to have himself a big year.

    There are questions about Brett Gardner’s health like there are questions about Pedroia and Youkilis and Ellsbury. There are questions about whether eight-inning reliever Rafael Soriano will withstand the pressures of New York, like there should be questions about Jenks performing in Boston, although Jenks isn’t nearly as good a pitcher.

    There are few reasonable comparisons between Mariano Rivera and Jonathan Papelbon. Though Papelbon himself made them once upon a time, you probably won’t hear him do it again. That tune is as old as the River Dance.

    So to return one final time to an already overextended song metaphor, the upshot of all this is that it’s too soon to be writing a theme song for either leading contender in the American League East. That only the upcoming season will determine which, if either, is the best of anything. That the sweet notes of Spring Training could turn sour a month or two down the road, and that a little bounce in the mix could turn a sad song into a hip-shaking, booty-quaking hit for either team.

    Reasonably speaking.

    Follow Jerome Preisler on Twitter