Comparing the Yankees to their peers: The starters

Past Trade Review: Tyler Clippard
Yanks turned down K-Rod, not in on Beltran

So far, in examining the Yankees offense, we’ve learned that the infield is pretty good and that the outfield is phenomenal. It all adds up to the second-best offense in the league (though the most high-powered one). Yet it’s the pitching staff that has impressed the most this year. Thought to be one of the team’s weak points heading into the season, the pitchers have stepped up and have allowed just 3.80 runs per game, which ranks fourth in the AL. Let’s see how the starters stack up.

Comparing pitchers is a bit trickier than comparing hitters. Defense consists of two aspects: pitching and fielding. Both have an effect on run-scoring, and so when I say that the Yankees pitchers’ have held opponents to 3.80 runs per game, I really mean that the Yankees pitchers and fielders have done that. Sticking with the three-point comparisons, we’ll go with ERA, which includes both pitching and fielding, FIP, which isolates pitcher-specific events, and WAR.

NOTE: There are 113 qualified pitchers.

CC Sabathia

(Paul Sancya/AP)

Coming into the season, Sabathia was the one pitcher on whom the Yankees could rely. With only Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett as surefire rotation candidates behind him, the Yankees needed Sabathia to step up and again be the ace they signed to the most expensive contract for a pitcher in MLB history. He’s done that and more, turning in a superb first half.

ERA: 2.72, 14th. In years prior, a 2.72 ERA would certainly rank higher than 14th in the majors. But in this reduced run-scoring environment it’s a degree lower. Still, plenty of teams don’t have a player with an ERA nearly this low. It’s a great mark, even if it’s not top-10 in teh league.

FIP: 2.50, 5th. Now we’re talking. Thanks to a low walk rate and an even lower home run rate, Sabathia’s fielding-independent stats rank far higher than most of his peers. His strikeout rate has been rising, too, especially in his last few starts.

WAR: 4.8, 2nd. This is what happens when you have the second most innings pitched in baseball. Sabathia provides major value this way. He not only pitches quality innings, but he pitches a lot of them. There aren’t many workhorses left, and that’s one reason that Sabathia is the richest pitcher in baseball.

Bartolo Colon

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Who would have thought that Colon would even make the team out of spring training, never mind turn into their second best pitcher? Bart has been a pleasant surprise of the greatest kind. Not only has he been effective in the first half, but he’s been a joy to watch. That two-seamer is a thing of beauty, and we can only hope beyond hope that he remains healthy in the second half.

ERA: 3.20, 35th. Big Bart has done a great job keeping runs off the board in his 90 innings. His season is so far bookended by two tough appearances, meaning all the appearances in between were that much better. He certainly does take advantage of the defense, though he does have a decent strikeout rate.

FIP: 3.54, 42nd. Colon’s success might seem like luck, in large part, but he’s actually pitched well in fielding-independent terms. This is because he doens’t walk many batters, a 2.20 BB/9. That, combined with a slightly below average BABIP, means he has fewer runners on base when he allows home runs — he’s given up 11 in 90 innings. This does give some hope for the second half.

WAR: 1.6, 50th. Such are the perils of starting the year in the pen and then spending a few weeks on the DL. Colon would be higher if he had pitched more than 90 innings, but hey, he’s got fewer innings pitched than the other pitchers who are around the 1.6 WAR mark. Again, it bodes well for the second half — if he stays healthy.

A.J. Burnett

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

This is a big year for Burnett. He slid considerably in 2010, and the Yankees needed him to step up in a rebound effort. If he didn’t, who knows what they’d have to do. It’s not easy to deal with a guy who has that much money remaining on his contract. He’s been decent, at best, but it could obviously be a lot worse. It’s not acceptable really, but it’s reality at this point.

ERA: 4.15, 77th. Honestly, this could be a lot worse. It’s certainly below average, but it’s not nearly as bad as last year. The main difference is that he’s so far avoided his June, 2010-like implosion month. His strikeout rate is acceptable and his walk rate is predictably high, but Burnett has managed to get the job done.

FIP: 4.54, 96th. What happens when you give up a lot of homers and walk too many batters? Usually it will lead to an inflated ERA, but in the case of Burnett it has only inflated his fielding-independent stats. A .242 BABIP helps keep men off base, thus reducing the effect of the homers. I just fear that the magic wears off in the second half. On the other hand, xFIP, which normalizes home run rate based on fly balls allowed, has Burnett several degrees better, at a 3.85 mark.

WAR: 0.9, 83rd. Burnett has pitched 119.1 innings, so that’s not the issue with his WAR. Rather, it’s his 4.54 FIP. It would be a shame to see the Yankees get less than two wins over replacement for their $17.5 million, but that was the risk with Burnett. Of course, the original risk was that he’d get hurt and not pitch enough innings to eclipse 2 WAR. I don’t think anyone figured him to pitch this poorly.

Freddy Garcia

(Frank Franklin II/AP)

Garcia hasn’t been a surprise on the level of Colon, in that he doesn’t dazzle with his stuff. But he has been far more effective than anyone could have wished. When the Yankees signed him to a minor league deal it made sense, since they had recently heard of Andy Pettitte‘s retirement. At that point I thought he’d fill in for a month or two and then be back on the scrap heap. But he’s been a big part of the rotation’s success so far.

ERA: 3.13, 32nd. This is the biggest surprise of all. Who would have thought that Garcia would have the second-lowest ERA on the team through the first half? I’m guessing it’s only slightly larger than the number of people who thought he’d be here, period. Garcia has used smoke and mirrors to work his way through lineups, but hey, the Yanks will take it at this point.

FIP: 3.97, 72nd. While Colon has put up solid fielding independent numbers, Garcia has been a bit less than that. Again, it’s to be expected. He’s kept the ball in the park despite a low ground ball rate, but he has an embarrassingly low strikeout rate. Still, even if he regresses to his FIP in the second half, he’ll still be only slightly below average. Again, I’m pretty sure everyone would have taken that from Freddy when he signed this winter.

WAR: 1.3, 71st. As with Colon, this is largely a product of innings, just 92. Since FanGraphs WAR is based on FIP, Garcia gets dinged a bit here. Again, the idea is not to show what should have happened. Rather, it’s to give the pitcher credit for only things that he, and not the defense, did.

The Yankees have also gotten 22 starts out of Ivan Nova, Brian Gordon, and Phil Hughes. While I’d love to put them into the comparison, Nova is in AAA and the other two have combined for 25.2 innings. Nova would rank just ahead of Burnett in the ERA and FIP categories while falling 0.1 WAR behind (on account of innings pitched). Overall it’s hard to argue with the effectiveness of the starting staff. It might not be pretty, but they’ve gotten the job done.

Past Trade Review: Tyler Clippard
Yanks turned down K-Rod, not in on Beltran
  • Mark

    Excellent summation. Will there be a comparison of bullpens or the bench?

    • Joe Pawlikowski

      Probably, but not as detailed on an individual level. It’s hard enough to do for starters, nevermind relievers.

      • Cris Pengiuci

        And after that, how about looking at an overall, team vs. team ranking? Clearly St. Louis has the best outfield. How’s their infield stack up? Phillie’s got great pitching, what about IF & OF compared to the Yankees?

      • Mark

        Thanks joe, thought it might be a review of the stats for the pen as a whole.

  • Steve O.

    The fact that the Yankees got 4.6 fWAR from the quartet of Colon, Burnett, Garcia, and Nova is a huge success for the Yankees.

    It’s pretty insane that CC Sabathia’s racked up 4.8 fWAR alone. Beast mode.

    • B-Rando

      This also puts fWAR in perspective (or any WAR for that matter). It’s pretty crazy to think that the way Sabathia has pitched has been so far above replacement that it equals the total performance of the other starters above replacement.

    • jsbrendog

      and he is a notorious second half pitcher. mlb should be afraid. very afraid.

  • FIPster Doofus

    More like CyCy Sabathia, amirite?

    • hogsmog

      If the last three starts are what Second Half Beast Mode is going to be, then I think he could easily at least finish in the top 3.

      • http://deleted Total Dominication

        Well, if you mean striking out 10 per 9 with an era of 0 for the remainder of the season, I think you should set your sights a little.

  • ItsATarp

    AJ is an interesting pitcher… I’m not sure why AJ is giving up Homes Runs at an accelerated pace, nearly 4% above his career average and well above league avg. In fact for july his xFIP is at a glowing 3.17 but an ugly 5.33 FI, but AJ’s strike out rate has increased per month but so has his walks. Also another confusing thing about the homeruns is that AJ has been getting 48% ground balls which is comparable to CC’s 48.4% ground ball rate, yet CC’s HR/FB rate is over 10% lower than AJ’s. Basically IF AJ’s numbers normalize, we might see a good improvement in AJ’s numbers even with a slightly higher BABIP.

    • Mike Myers

      Its a simple calculation. His ‘suckness level’ aka SL increases 97% in non contract years.

  • Guest

    I think AJ will likely be better in the second half. His HR rate (especially late in games) is laughable. I know some of that is due to his own lack of command in the K-Zone, but the rate is still so high that I imagine at least of some of it is luck.

    Here’s hoping I’m right.

  • EndlessMikeJr

    Forgot to mention that we still need a starter in the second half. People think we can win in the postseaon with these guys.

    Like in 2008 when evevyone on here thought Kennedy,Hughes and Joba were all that was enough to make it were disspointed.This year it will happen again when this staff fails in the postseason.

    Again this site tends to make up the craziest crap.

    But hey I like