Not to beat that old drum again, but it’s amazing how strong the Yankees’ starting rotation has been despite all the questions coming into the season. Their 3.63 ERA is fifth best in the American League and tenth best among all teams, and their 3.84 FIP is fifth and 13th best, respectively. If you prefer xFIP to adjust some of the homerun stuff, they’re second and tenth best, respectively. No matter how you slice it, the Yankees rotation has been one of the ten or so best in baseball during the first half of the season. I don’t think many of us saw that coming.
Aside from the overall performance, the other thing that really stands out is how deep the starters are pitching into games. It all starts with CC Sabathia obviously, who completed seven innings for the fifth straight start last night and 13th time in 19 starts this year. He hasn’t thrown fewer than five innings in a start since May 8th of last year, a stretch of 46 straight starts. Furthermore, that game was the game in Fenway when they called for the tarp with two outs in the bottom of the fifth, when Sabathia had two strikes on the hitter. He had to be lifted at just 85 pitches due to the lengthy delay, so it’s safe to say he would have finished the fifth in that game too. The last time he failed to complete five innings in a start because of something other than rain was his final start of 2009, when the Rays rocked him for nine runs in 2.2 IP.
Joe wrote about A.J. Burnett’s performance in the late innings earlier today, mentioning that he’s completed at least five innings in all 18 starts this year. That’s noteworthy because he finished five innings only 21 times last year, so he’s definitely improved in that regard. Bartolo Colon has thrown at least six innings in nine of his 11 starts, with the two exceptions being the beating he took in Texas and a 5.1 IP start against the Angels. Freddy Garcia got rocked by the Red Sox a few starts ago, but otherwise he’s lasted at least five innings in his other 14 starts. Twelve times he’s completed six innings, six times he’s completed seven, including three times in his last four starts. Ivan Nova had gone at least five innings in all but five of his 16 starts before being demoted, and two of those five came in his first three starts of the season.
Overall, Yankees starters have thrown 526 IP on the season, the eighth most in the AL and 14th most in baseball. Every single team ahead of them has played at least 86 games while the Yankees are only at 84 because of the April rain outs. On a rate basis, it’s an average of 6.26 IP/start, the fifth best in the AL and sixth best in all of baseball. Already 60 times this year they’ve gotten at least six innings from their starter, more than seven out of every ten times. Compare that to 2009 and 2010 (table to the right), and you’ll see that they’re actually above the league average in percent of starts with at least six innings for the first time in the Sabathia-Burnett era.
The more innings the starters throw the better, because the back-end of the bullpen has been hit pretty hard with all kinds of injuries: short-term (Mariano Rivera’s triceps), medium-term (Rafael Soriano’s elbow), and long-term (Joba Chamberlain’s elbow, Pedro Feliciano’s shoulder). Whether or not Burnett can keep pitching deep into games or Garcia and Colon can hold up all year remains to be seen, but their early season impact on the pitching staff in terms of soaking up innings and sparing the bullpen is something that’s already done and in the bank.