Jul
26

The Great What If?

By

(AP Photo/Brian Blanco)

Ever since Cliff Lee decided to return to Philadelphia this offseason, the Yankees’ rotation has been a “figure it out as we go” situation. Sergio Mitre was given a shot to win a job in Spring Training. Bartolo Colon was a total shot in the dark based on Tony Pena’s winter ball recommendation. Freddy Garcia was the last girl left at the bar. Kevin Millwood and Carlos Silva came and went. Someone named Brian Gordon even made two starts. It’s kinda remarkable that the Yankees have the sixth best ERA (3.68) and FIP (3.85) in the AL after all of that.

Despite that surprising success, the team is still on the lookout for a bonafide number two starter before Sunday’s trade deadline. So far we’ve heard about guys like Francisco Liriano, Hiroki Kuroda, Ubaldo Jimenez, Gio Gonzalez … you name it and the Yankees have/had interest in them. Here’s the question no one really wants to see to answer though: what happens if they don’t make a trade for a number two starter before the deadline?

* * *

It’s not often that you an take a pitcher and his production for granted, but CC Sabathia is a given. We know he’s going to make 34 or 35 starts. We know he’s going to keep the Yankees in the game every time out and we know that more often than not, he’ll do much more than that. We know he’ll be there to end losing streaks and extend winning streaks, and be ready to take the ball in Game One of any potential playoff series. I don’t like to think of it as taking Sabathia for granted, but that’s kinda what we’re doing. The rest of the rotation though, that’s where the questions arise.

In terms of raw production, Colon has been the team’s number two starter this year. Just check out some of the peripherals…

Colon: 7.96 K/9 … 2.34 BB/9 … 46.4% grounders
Sabathia: 7.91 K/9 … 2.34 BB/9 … 48.0% grounders

They’re the same pitcher in terms of strikeouts, walks, and grounders, almost exactly. Sabathia is better at preventing the long ball (4.2% HR/FB vs. 10.1%) and is far more durable, but the underlying performance is similar. Bart is already in uncharted territory, however. He’s thrown more innings this year than any year since 2005, and since that Cy Young winning season he’s made a total of four starts after today’s date, July 26th. The concern is that Bart won’t hold up not just the rest of the season, but deep into the playoffs. I’m not necessarily talking about breaking down, just running out of gas. Plain old fatigue. The fastball might go from 93-94 to 90-91, the two-seamer might lose some movement, 80+ pitches might become a chore, that kind of stuff happens. That’s why the DL stint may have been a blessing in disguise, maybe it extended his effectiveness for another two or three or six weeks. Who knows?

(AP Photo/Gail Burton)

Sweaty Freddy doesn’t have the same sexy peripherals as Colon and Sabathia, but he’s actually third on the team in FIP (3.65) and innings (111.2). Last night’s game was a classic example of what he can do; plow through a bad lineup with a slow, slower, slowest approach and generates more ugly swings than anyone else on the staff. It’s kind of fun to watch, actually, at least when he’s on. Garcia did throw over 150 IP last year, so there isn’t much of a concern about him holding up through September. It’s just a question about his effectiveness with a repertoire befit of a slow-pitch softball league.

As strange as this sounds after all the debate we had during the 2008-2009 offseason, A.J. Burnett has been a bonafide workhorse for the Yankees. He hasn’t missed a start all year and has completed at least five innings every time out. That has value. Yeah, his performance is erratic, but overall he’s been a low-4.00′s ERA guy with peripherals that suggest he should be a little better (3.97 xFIP) or a little worse (4.68 FIP). The important thing is that he’s not a complete disaster like last year, where he was ineffective and out of games early. At least now he’s giving them a chance.

The last spot in the rotation is far from settled. Something clearly is not right with Phil Hughes, whose fastball velocity is down from last year even after this season’s DL trip. The new grip curveball is better but it’s still not much of a swing and miss offering, and both the changeup and cutter look like they belong to a kid in rookie ball. His entire arsenal dropped a grade, if not more. Maybe letting him thrown 80.1 more innings in 2010 than he did in 2009 wasn’t such a great idea after all.

Ivan Nova was solid in the first half but has been romanticized into an ace since going to Triple-A. That isn’t the case. He’ll come up to start one of two games this Saturday against the Orioles, give up maybe three or four runs in five or six or maybe even seven innings (it is the Orioles, after all), and then people will remember what he is. Nova can’t miss bats (5.01 K/9 and 5.2% swings and misses) and isn’t the greatest at limiting walks (3.63 BB/9), so he survives on his ground ball rate (55.3%). He’s a fine back of the rotation option, counting on him for more would be pretty foolish. Adam Warren was being prepared to start one of those Saturday games if Nova’s ankle didn’t heal up in time, and David Phelps was also considered for a spot start earlier this year. I’m sure D.J. Mitchell will get consideration as well. That’s the extent of the team’s pitching depth, which is what they’ll have to go to battle with the rest of the season if a trade is not made.

* * *

That patchwork rotation sounds scary, but we can make anything sound scary if we want. Look at the Rangers last year. They went to the World Series with 1) a legit ace, 2) a 30-year-old that a) led the AL in walks, and b) was in his first season as a starter, 3) a cast-off in his first year back from Japan, and 4) Tommy freaking Hunter. The 2007 Rockies had pre-surgery Jeff Francis, Aaron Cook, rookie Ubaldo, and JOSH FOGG. Those are just two examples of recent patchwork rotations that got to the Fall Classic, but you probably already picked up on the fact that both those clubs lost the World Series to teams with superior pitching.

The Yankees have a pretty big lead in the wildcard race (eight games in the loss column) plus a light schedule over the next month or so, so they’re in good position to make the playoffs. Nothing is guaranteed, but they’ve got a great head start with about 38% of the season left to play. They don’t need to add a starter to have a shot at playing in October, that much is pretty clear. Adding a number two guy behind Sabathia and ahead of everyone else is about improving their odds in the postseason. Anything can happen in a short series, like Jeff Francis out-pitching Beast Mode Brandon Webb or Cody Ross taking Roy Halladay deep twice in one game, That’s the beauty of baseball. The Yankees don’t need another starter, but it sure would improve their chances of doing damage in the playoffs if they got one.

Categories : Pitching, Trade Deadline

107 Comments»

  1. King George says:

    From the “For what it’s worth department”:

    Joel Sherman mentioned on his Twitter just now that the feeling is the Rockies want to move Jimenez and are calling the Yanks, Sox, Reds, and Blue Jays (yes, the Blue Jays).

    Also, just heard on the radio that the Yankees are considering presenting the Rockies with a package either today or tomorrow.

    Again, strictly speculation from radio and reporters. But, nonetheless, I think we’re now turning up the stove from low to high.

  2. Crime Dog says:

    I’d say its turning from “off” to “low”. Can anyone remember a slower pre-deadline period than this one?

  3. Bobby two knives says:

    yes! great article. your research affirms what I have felt; regardless of what happens the rest of the week, let’s hope Bart and Freddy keep it going, and Phil catches what they’ve got!

  4. Hester Prynne says:

    Nova can’t miss bats? You know who else can’t miss bats, Phil Hughes. And Nova gets more ground balls. With Hughes it’s 0-2, 0-2, 0-2, 0-2, 0 strikeouts. He can’t put hitters away. They just keep fouling off pitch after pitch after pitch until he throws his 90 mph fastball right down the middle.

    • Mike Myers says:

      Phil only spent 1 week on a fantasy team in my league… That shows is value way more than FIP or WAR

      True story

    • Nick says:

      At least Hughes has shown in the past that he can miss bats…see ’09 and ’10. even with this awful year his career k/9 is 7.7. I will take 50% of Hughes over 100% of Nova every single time.

      • The Big City of Dreams says:

        I will take 50% of Hughes over 100% of Nova every single time

        —————————

        You’d be the only one

        • If I thought that there was a chance that 50% of Hughes could eventually become 75% of Hughes or 100% of Hughes again (and I do), I also would take 50% of Hughes over 100% of Nova.

          They’re both useful pitchers. Nova is better right now, as he’s healthier. Phil will probably get better physically with more time, though, and he’ll most likely become a better pitcher than Nova again sometime in the next year.

  5. Deadhorse25 says:

    Didn’t those teams end up losing in the World Series because their pitching was inferior to the other team

  6. David K. says:

    Nova is a lot better than you make him out to be, at least compared to the others on this starting staff. He is better than Hughes at this point. He is a lot better than A.J. Burnett. I’d rather see Nova pitching against a quality lineup than Freddy Garcia. One more thing, Nova appeared to be getting better with almost every start when they sent him down. Then he got hurt, so who knows what he’ll do against the Orioles. If he doesn’t pitch well the first game back, we should cut him some slack. I don’t know what everyone else sees in A.J. Burnett. I see a career .500 pitcher who is right at .500 for a team that is 20 games over .500. That’s pretty hideous.

  7. Engelbert says:

    Hahahahaha I totally forgot Carlos Silva existed until this article.

  8. David, Jr. says:

    I believe that they would prefer a lefthander.

    If the White Sox implode quickly, I wonder what John Danks would cost? Betances and Nova? More?

    • CS Yankee says:

      If the move pitching it would likely be for a stick.

      The said stick would need to have thicker skin than a Rhino or a bear, as Ozzie would chew it off and spit it at the media.

  9. LarryM.,Fl. says:

    Mike, the article was very good. I always wondered about the rotation and its designations/slots.

    My concern will be always the health of Bart and Freddie. Maybe this year against all odds the Yankees catch lightning with these two and go all the way. Yankeeography would have an all time ratings.

    • CS Yankee says:

      I think this health thing is over-played…

      Freddy…he is 34, doesn’t rely on his heater and pitched 150+ last year.

      Bart…legally rebuilt thru science, is still throwing mid-90′s with sick movement. Hammy’s aside, the arm is really strong and likely sound.

      It seems that these guys either have healthy years or unhealthy years…Beckett, Pettitte, etc.

      These guys have a better chance to stay healthy this year than not, now over the next few years it would be a longshot in having them not miss a lot of time.

  10. Granderslam says:

    When it comes down to it, Freddy has pitched exceptionally well, but he’s not someone I would feel comfortable with in a Playoff Rotation.

  11. first time lawng time says:

    I loved the article, especially the part where AJ got credit

    At least now he’s giving them a chance.

    Absolutely correct. What I’ve been saying all season. I’m glad someone else sees it.

    • Mike Myers says:

      yea, but…come on.

      If you have a child that gets F’s all the time, the one day comes home with a D-, are you really that proud?

    • bexarama says:

      I know it’s probably in response to the really personal hate he gets but please stop overdefending AJ. Please.

      • first time lawng time says:

        Why should I stop defending him? And how do I “overdefend” him? Is it really that big of a deal that I point out the positives in his performance?

        • bexarama says:

          Nothing wrong with defending him from stuff that’s wrong, like people calling him useless, but I’ve heard people run out every excuse in the book when he pitches poorly or even just not that well. “It’s hot. The strike zone was bad. He didn’t get run support. Posada was breathing his air. People didn’t believe in him.”

          He is what he is. He’s an okay pitcher who could strike out more and probably walks too many, especially of late, but is capable of dominance. He’s overpaid, but he’s not the first player to be so and won’t be the last. He’s been damn durable over his career with the Yankees and he seems like a guy who takes responsibility for his mess-ups. He’s not an ace or a great pitcher. When he’s getting paid, what is it, $16M and you’re* swooning because he’s keeping the team in the game, well that kind of says it all.

          I agree with the point I’ve seen that someone like Sabathia would get more credit for a poorly/meh pitched game where the Yankees still won, but Sabathia deserves the credit of the doubt.

          * not you personally

          • first time lawng time says:

            I don’t understand why it bothers people what he gets paid. Also, there have been dominant starts on which he didn’t get run support. And a shitty strike zone will screw over any pitcher.

            • bexarama says:

              I don’t understand why it bothers people what he gets paid.
              Me neither but people are gonna bring it up. It is what it is. It’s too much, but he’s not the first or the last player that’s applied to, and it’s not going to stop the Yankees from making moves if they have to.

              Also, there have been dominant starts on which he didn’t get run support.
              Yes, agreed. There have also been times the Yankees bailed him out of blah starts and IMO he doesn’t have quite enough quality starts.

              • first time lawng time says:

                So why are you begging me to stop “overdefending” him, again?

                • bexarama says:

                  Because you say things like we all have to believe in him and then he’ll pitch well. And that AJ would never pitch as poorly as Hughes did on Friday, or whatever.

                  • first time lawng time says:

                    Because you say things like we all have to believe in him and then he’ll pitch well.
                    I don’t get how this bothers you, but try not to take comments so seriously.

                    And I never said he would never, I said, “He has never …this year.”

                    That doesn’t answer my question. WHY should I stop , not HOW am I overdefending him.

          • He was who we thought he was. Now if you wanna crown him, then crown his ass. BUT HE WAS WHO WE THOUGHT HE WAS!

    • David, Jr. says:

      Redemption is yours!

  12. bexarama says:

    I was thinking about this, and the rotations for both the teams in the 2009 World Series were:

    1. genuine ace
    2. hold-your-breath-every-time-he-pitches-because-it-could-be-dominant-or-a-disaster guy
    3. old dude, and the Yankees’ old dude had been battling injuries most of the year
    4. assorted crap

    I think the Phillies’ and Giants’ superrotations have made everyone go a little crazy. (Yeah, it’s completely awesome to have Halladay/Hamels/Lee or Lincecum/Cain/Bumgarner… but it doesn’t guarantee a thing. In years of dominance over the NL East, Maddux/Smoltz/Glavine won one World Series and got to three – granted, that’s hardly terrible or anything, I’m just saying.) I’d be happy for an upgrade just because the back end of the rotation isn’t the most reliable, but it just wouldn’t be worth it to trade, like, Banuelos for Edwin Jackson or Wandy Rodriguez or something. Ubaldo’s another case, but he’s not going anywhere.

    • first time lawng time says:

      What was the rotation for the 2009 regular season?

      All I remember is:
      1. CC
      2. AJ
      3. Pettitte
      4. Joba
      5. ??? (I rememer Mitre started one game, I think Aceves started one. Was it just assorted crap in the 5th spot?)

    • I think the Phillies’ and Giants’ superrotations have made everyone go a little crazy.

      That. The 2010 World Champs won a title on the strength of their dominant starters; but you could argue that most of the previous world champions in prior years actually had the inferior pitching staff.

      We obviously want more elite starting pitching, but we’re not doomed to lose if we don’t add anyone. Some amalgam of CC/Colon/Garcia/AJ/Nova/Hughes plus a top-3 offense in baseball and two or three elite relievers is more than enough to win any crapshoot playoff short series.

  13. Mike Myers says:

    I dont want Ubaldo….clearly something is wrong with him if they are trying to dump him. no one dumps their ace. Ubaldo 2012 = Scott Kazmir 2011.

  14. Waka flocka says:

    who does Colorado have in their rotation besides Chacin, Cook, and Ubaldo?

  15. theyankeewarrior says:

    “This team isn’t fully assembled.”
    ~Brian Cashman, March 2011

    HE WAS LYING THEN, TOO! TOTAL NINJA!!!!!

  16. Cris Pengiuci says:

    Seems the Astros are now looking at pretty much a salary dump of Wandy. Given the option, would you take Wandy for a B or C+ prospect or Jimenz for Montero, Nova, Betances (and perhaps one more not named Banuelos)?

    • Cris Pengiuci says:

      Jimenz Jimenez (He deserves to have his name spelled correctly). :-)

    • Crime Dog says:

      Wandy for a B or C+ prospect for sure That would be a nice pickup for the stretch run and 2012 and 2013 without giving up important pieces (if the reports of HOU looking at a salary dump are true

      • David, Jr. says:

        If this is true, I would go for Wandy. Left handed, which I like. Also, Houston was 15th in NL fielding percentage last year. Keep the farm system intact and do that.

    • Seems the Astros are now looking at pretty much a salary dump of Wandy.

      Meh, I’ll believe it when I see it. The Astros don’t do salary dumps very much; Berkman was the exception to the rule and even he wasn’t moved without a good relief prospect coming back in return.

      I bet Wandy is in Houston on Opening Day, 2012.

    • Reggie C. says:

      Jimenez. Bc he’s shown utterly overpowering ability in the past. He’d be a fantastic 1a ace , and if worse came to worse (ie. Cc opts out and signs elsewhere), ubaldo would the ace.

  17. Monteroisdinero says:

    Keep Montero and ride it out with Freddy and Bartolo. Healthy veterans having excellent seasons and with post season experience. Neither may be a #2 or #3 but they may get it done as a last hurrah and shot for some more money and one more contract in 2012.

    /optimistic

  18. ADam says:

    “Freddy Garcia was the last girl left at the bar” – LOL Best analogy ever….

  19. Favrest says:

    Montero is having a down year. Trading him noe would be selling low. Calling Jimenez an ace is laughable. He’s the best pitcher on his team. So is Jeremy Guthrie.

  20. MikeD says:

    Okay, any Yankee fan who has romanticized Nova into an ace since he went to Triple-A, please immediately report to Queens or Kenmore Square, MA to begin rooting for your new team.

  21. nsalem says:

    If Bartolo remains healthy, I give him as good a chance in a game 2 as any of the above mentioned starters. I think the best route to a ring this year without mortgaging our future is a) try to add another strong bullpen arm b) hope that we have an easy ALDS and use CC on 3 days rest in the CS and WS.
    I don’t think Liriano would be of any help to this team and the asking price for a Kuroda or Jiminez would be excessive to their true value.

  22. MikeD says:

    If a front-end starter is not available right now, then the Yankees should not strip their farm system of their high-talent (Montero, Bentances, Banuelos, Romine) just to secure the best that is available now, even if it improves the team somewhat. If those players are traded, it will take another few seasons to replinsh, and that means when a true front-end pitcher does become available in the future (like perhaps a King Felix), then the Yankees will not be in position to make a deal. They’ll be on the sidelines again.

    The Yankees have a good team, as usual. Despite what the media writes and some Yankee fan believe, the Yankees can’t have the best team every year. Sometimes we’re going to have to deal with the unthinkable: The Yankees only have one of the better teams and will need some luck and good timing to make back to the top of the mountain.

  23. Chuck says:

    What if CC signed with the Phillies?

  24. richard brown says:

    You had said that the Rangers went to the series with a castoff from Japan. The Yankees have a loogie prospect in Scranton that would cetainly qualify as a castoff from Japan. You know I’m talking about Kei Igawa, who has been lost in Scranton for much longer than Tom Hanks on his little island. He probably isn’t much better, or worse than anyone else on the long list of questionable lefty prospects and most important, there is no need to trade. Unless he is a total disaster, he will no longer get booed out of the ballpark, he will just be another player at the end of the bench.

  25. myles says:

    the yankees have the third best ERA in the AL not the sixth. that said, thanks as always for your insightful analysis!

  26. Tisha says:

    Yankees don’t have enough pitching or offense to get past Boston , Texas or The Phillies
    Cashman made no move to even try to get Pence. He is much better than Swisher and younger.

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