The Mythical Number Two Starter


(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

The last two offseasons have been all about finding a number two starter for the Yankees, someone to pair with CC Sabathia. They made a huge offer to Cliff Lee last winter, and this year they’ve at least made an attempt at Yu Darvish after showing little interest in C.J. Wilson. We fans have already started looking at next winter’s free agent crop in anticipation of the search continuing next year. Something got lost in translation somewhere along the line though, what exactly are we talking about when we refer to a number two starter?

Whenever we talk about prospects, we tend to pigeon-hole them into rotation slots because that’s the easiest way to talk about their long-term potential. A number one starter is one of the best pitchers in baseball, but a number two is still really good, but a notch below number ones. A mid-rotation guy is solid but lacking something (a third pitch, command, etc.) that prevents him from being any better. A number four or five starter, a back-end guy, they’re generally easy to find and lack a number of things to be a successful starter long-term. Baseball America puts a list of tools and their importance to the various positions in their Prospect Handbook every year, and they define a number two starter as someone with two plus pitches, an average third pitch, average command, and average makeup. That’s prospects though, big leaguers are much different.

The term “number two starter” is pretty vague when talking about guys in the Majors. You could take it literally and consider the second best pitcher in every rotation a number two starter, but I think we can all see the problem with doing that. If you’re a die-hard believer in WAR, then perhaps a number two starter is someone in the 3-5 WAR range, give or take a little. If you’re going to stick with that definition, then looking at a player’s value over several years is important. Pitchers that consistently sit in that range are more reliable that someone who has had an up-and-down career. Does that apply to the Yankees though, do they need that consistent 3-5 WAR guy in the rotation? You can make that case, but I don’t buy into WAR enough to say that definitely.

Realistically, what the Yankees need is a pitcher better than the group of Ivan Nova, A.J. Burnett, Phil Hughes, Hector Noesi, David Phelps, etc. That’s essentially what it boils down to. That guy doesn’t have to be as good as Cliff Lee, but it sure would be nice if he was. That’s what they need right now heading into the season, which is different than what they’re going to need ten months from now when the playoffs start. Ten months from now, they just need someone to pitch like a number two, it doesn’t matter who it is or how they were acquired or how much they’re being paid. Nova was that guy last year, but they probably shouldn’t count on him doing that again. It’s not that he can’t, but young pitchers tend to be unpredictable. Of course, the better your staff is, the more likely it is that someone steps up and pitches like that number two in the playoffs.

Now I don’t want to come off as the spoiled Yankees fan I so obviously am, but the playoffs are not a given. They’ll be a little easier to get into now with the second wildcard, but the Yankees have a really good team and have a better chance than most at qualifying for the postseason. There is some value to winning the division now, so perhaps they need that mythical number two starter right now to help them to another AL East crown. I’m not sure it’s an absolute necessity, but it wouldn’t hurt. The point is, number two starters come in all shapes and sizes, and they don’t have to pitch like a number two all season long. Timing is everything. Sometimes we get too caught in labeling people certain things that we forget about context.

Categories : Musings


  1. William says:

    DoN’t bet on hamels or Cain to get to FA. Go after Kuroda,and hope Banuelos or Hughes deliver on their potential and become a no.2 starter.

  2. Mister Delaware says:

    I’d like to go back in time and get Haren.

  3. Peter R says:

    Still grumpy about Yu, despite what you say Mike.

    Maybe the Yanks are holding their money for next year as an earlier article speculated? Or maybe they really are “budget conscious” (or cheap as we call it around here) now.

  4. waka flocka says:

    i wonder if Cashman will actually trade some of these prospects he’s stock pilin while they have value

  5. Monteroisdinero says:

    The Cards lost a #1/2 for the season and won it all. YCPB.

    • William says:

      Okay, the yanks loose CC, and see if they make it out of the regular season into the postseason.

      • Cris Pengiucci says:

        But if they do, someone (or 2) might step up, have the performances of their careers, and the Yankees may win. While not likely, it has happened and will happen again.

      • Ted Nelson says:

        CC always seems pretty loose..

        Yankees won the division by 6 games without trying to win the last few games.

        They were 12-11 in games CC started. To lose the division, the Yankees would have to go 5-18 in the replacement starters’ starts.

    • Sweet Dick Willie says:

      But they needed a Bostonian-style collapse by the Braves just to make the post season.

  6. Jose M. Vazquez.. says:

    I don’t see the embattled AJ being a # again for the Yankees and I have been one of his most ardent supporters. I wanted Yu but I’m afraid that we may not get him. If that happens then I would not mind signing Kuroda for one year until one or both of the Bs are ready. Still, I hope I’m wrong about AJ and that he returns to what he was in 09.

  7. MattG says:

    This was the post-season that rebuts the “pitching wins in the post-season” argument. If you were generous, you would say this World Series featured one “number one” starter (Carpenter) and one “number two” (Wilson).

    Not that I am drawing any conclusions, save this one: There is more than one way to build a championship baseball team.

  8. Bronx Byte says:

    In truth, the No. 1 Yankee starter is the pitcher standing on the mound on any given day or night ready to throw the first pitch of the game.
    True, C.C. is listed as No. 1 in the starting rotation but Burnett has never been any better than a No. 4 starter.

  9. The Manchine says:

    Hughes, Nunez, Warren/Noesi, Bentances, Romine, & Hiroyuki Nakajima for John Danks and Gordon Beckham?
    I know, my trade proposal sucks.

  10. dkidd says:

    i’m coming around to the idea of this rotation:


    hug those prospects!
    lower that payroll!

    • FIPster Doofus says:

      Where’s Burnett?

    • CJ says:

      Dump Freddy and start banuelos or bentances. Play them or trade em, banuelos is the only one young enough to wait on.

      • FIPster Doofus says:

        If they wanted to dump Freddy, they wouldn’t have just signed him.

        • CJ says:

          My point is they shouldn’t have signed him. I’d rather start noesi betances Warren phelps banuelos

          • vin says:

            Those guys will all start where they belong… in Scranton.

            • Jason says:

              Betances and Banuelos need to iron out their control. Ideally they’d spend the year there and make a late season appearance (a la Matt Moore) but I think the state of the Yankees rotation (assuming we don’t obtain anyone this offseason) will force their earlier arrival.

      • Tom says:

        Awesome idea…. with each throwing 130innings last year, you shut them down in Aug, or let them go 50-70 innings more than last year?

        Or you could actually let them develop, build up the innings so they can actually throw a complete season, get much needed work on secondary stuff so they don’t devolve into Phils Hughes style 2 pitch pitchers, and show they can walk <4/9IP above A ball level competition?

  11. CJ says:

    Yanks didn’t like CJ Wilson as #2. The angels didn’t either, they liked him as a #3. Tampa has what 1a shields 1b price 2a hellickson 2b Moore?

    • Bo Knows says:

      the kind of stuff Moore has its probably anothe #1

      Rays rotation

      1 Sheilds
      1a Price
      1alpha Moore
      2 hellickson

      • CJ says:

        Moore is going to be scary good. I think moore’s floor is hamels with a kershaw ceiling Tampa rotation is nasty.

        • Mister Delaware says:

          I like Moore as much as the next guy, but you can’t just give him a floor of Hamels. And not because of the risk of diminished stuff due to injury or whatever.

          • CJ says:

            Should I use Dontrelle willis as a floor? You can’t use the “anything can happen” in baseball and life when looking toward the future. Or else one can say what if Robinson cano forgets how to throw the ball to first base. That can happen and has happened to a Yankee 2b, two in fact.

            • Cris Pengiucci says:

              So there you go. Anything can happen. Moore’s floor, then, could be “unable to even make it in the minors”. (But that’s seriously unlikely.)

            • Ted Nelson says:

              The generally accepted way to project the future is to assign probability to all possible outcomes.

              Therefore the Rick Ankiel situation is considered, but gets a small weight.

              “Floor” is a convenient shortcut to actual analysis.

              There are starters who look really, really, really good in the minors and don’t pan out in MLB, by the way.

              • Mister Delaware says:

                How small is the Ankiel, rumored-drug-related-control-meltdown, weight? Would Adenhart be considered too? JR Richard? Dave Dravecky?

                • Ted Nelson says:

                  This is not something I made up. This is basic introductory decision sciences that every undergrad business student is taught. Stop questioning me everytime I bring up this widely accepted process for projecting future outcomes and buy a textbook. Take a class at your local comunity college. You might be trying to make me look stupid, but you’re exposing your ignorance on the subject.

                  I was using Ankiel as a symbol for falling apart. Not saying exactly the same things might happen in the same ways. Obviously you have to do it in a practical way. WAR ranges, for example. 0 WAR is 0 WAR however you get there.

                  • Mister Delaware says:

                    I didn’t claim you made it up, I asked what weighting you would assign to the pitchers I mentioned.

                    • Ted Nelson says:

                      Try to understand what I’m saying. You keep criticizing it, but have not taken the time to understand it because you keep making false claims.
                      I am not weighing individual pitchers from the past. I am weighting his probability of achieving and maintaining certain levels of success. Ankiel was an example I gave to represent flaming out. It is possible Moore totally flames out for any number of reasons. I also gave that example in direct response to what I was commenting on. That is considered, but it’s a small weight in the total picture and it can happen to any player… Some with a greater probability than others.

                      That you don’t understand this concept means nothing at all in the grand scheme of things. You might want to dismiss what you don’t understand, but I’ll bet you this is exactly what the statisticians employed by the Yankees do (this being a dumbed down version)… because it’s a basic principal of the science of statistics. Again, read a book once in a while and you might be stunned how your knowledge starts to expand.

                    • Mister Delaware says:

                      How much weight would you give to Moore completely flaming out, a la Ankiel?

                    • Ted Nelson says:

                      I would run regressions to determine the impact of various factors on a prospects’ success, trying to develop a model or several models to get a decent projection.

                      Or a simpler way to do just the Ankiel thing would be to look back at a relevant sample of top pitching prospects and see what portion of them flamed out. There’s a trade-off between getting as comparable to Moore as possible and having a large enough sample size.

                      There’s no way to predict the future with complete certainty, but you can get an idea by looking at the past.

                    • Mister Delaware says:

                      So then do it, Teddy. Actually do something rather than talk about the somethings you would do. I’ll check back around 10:00 or so tomorrow morning. If you need an extension, you’ll need a pretty good reason, 16 hours is plenty of time.

                • Ted Nelson says:

                  This is not something I made up. This is basic introductory decision sciences that every undergrad business student is taught. Stop questioning me everytime I bring up this widely accepted process for projecting future outcomes and buy a textbook. Take a class at your local comunity college. You might be trying to make me look stupid, but you’re exposing your ignorance on the subject.

                  I was using Ankiel as a symbol for falling apart. Not saying exactly the same things might happen in the same ways. Obviously you have to do it in a practical way. WAR ranges, for example. 0 WAR is 0 WAR however you get there.

              • Art says:

                This is not what scouts/baseball teams do…

                What you are describing would be projecting something with far more quantitative and measurable inputs where actual simulations/projections can be done… something like a Monte Carlo simulation where each of the variables are tweaked, and you may run 10,000 simulations to get a range of outcomes and corresponding probabilities.

                Any undergrad taking a course like the one you apparently are suggesting people should take should know that type of methodology can’t be utilized in this case where the inputs are not as exact and quantifiable. Have you ever read a scouting report?(an actual report not a summary)

                Scouts basically project best and worst case… only they aren’t absolute best and worst case as that would be meaningless (every prospect could be a bust and everyone can be a late bloomer and potential HOF’r). They also don’t go through a range of 5 or 10 or 50 possible outcomes and start applying probabilities like you describe.

                How scouts do it is somewhat arbirary interms of definition – some may use 80% confidence levels (floor) and 20 confidence levels (ceiling or upside). Some may go 90/10 or 70/30, but typically it is two outcomes. The only thing that is somewhat standardized is how they evaluate individual skills… most do this on a 20 – 80 scale.

                The decision process you describe is useful but I think you are misapplying it here.

                • Ted Nelson says:

                  Are you in the Yankees front office? How do you know what they do and don’t do?

                  I am not talking about scouts. I am talking about a multi-billion dollar company that employs department of trained statisticians. The Yankees do employ statisticians. You think they just sit around jerking each other off?

                  These inputs are very quantifiable. Some of them are subjective, but scouts even quantify tools. Econometrics and statistics in general are not exact sciences. You can still get a decent idea of things using them.

                  • Ted Nelson says:

                    These tools are very, very valuable in finance, which is very comparable to managing player personnel in team sports.

                  • Art says:

                    When you say generally accepted… what front office are you in to know this?

                    Get off your high horse and stop acting like you know stuff and then insulting people…. any undergrad who could pass a stats (stats or business) class would know you are describing a process where inputs can be measured accuratedly, rough standard errors are known. You have offered NOTHING that says this is used by scouts/front offices.

                    Every team now employees people with statistical backgrounds… that is not evidence of this ABSURD process you describe exists where teams look at multiple outcomes and assign a specific probability to each outcome. And to clarify the absurdity is applying it to baseball, not the proc ess itself. Teams just don’t go through a pleyer nad have a model of 50outcomes with various probabilities….YOU ARE ASSERTING THIS, YOU PROVIDE EVIDENCE OF IT WHEN MAKING A BASELESS CLAIM OF GENERALLY ACCEPTED…. give me 10 teams that use the process you describe.


                    If the inputs are very quanitifable… please give me an example…. give me a standard error with those quantifiable measurments which then allow you to do a sim model generating a wide range of probabilistic outcomes.

                    In short instead of continuing to spew out opinions and passing them off as facts, how about some actual real examples of this? How about some actual evidnce of this apparent widespread business practice in the baseball world….

                    • Ted Nelson says:

                      I said it was generally accepted in statistics, not MLB baseball. I did not say I know for a fact teams are using this. I said that if teams are employing people with statistics/econometrics backgrounds… it’s pretty likely that they’re paying them to put the things they learned in school to use and not to jerk off.

                      I did study business and economics undergrad, and did learn these things. It’s not an absurd process. That you don’t understand it doesn’t mean it’s absurd. I have zero understanding of quantum physics, but if a physicist explained his work to me… I would not tell him he’s absurd.

                      If you don’t think baseball stats are quantifiable, I have no idea what to tell you.

                    • Art says:

                      I did not call the process absurd… I said assuming that a specific process is applied to baseball is absurd simply because it is “generally accepted” (and that phrase is another can of worms)

                      Please read my comment I’m not suggesting teams don’t use statistics, just the specific probablistic projection model you are suggesting is used (or “likely” used) in baseball is absurd. What you are couching as “generally accepted” may be true in some fields, but that should not be confused with generally accepted or likely used in baseball. As far as I can tell you have zero inside knowledge or esperience in the baseball world to support your assertion.

                      There is more than one way to apply statistics and the application of them is very field dependent based on the information, uncertainty and need…

                      To give you an example (since you seem to have a background in stats)… doing a Weibull analysis is a powerful tool and “generally accepted” in many areas/fields… doing a Weibull analysis on a baseball player would be absurd.

                      (For folks going “huh?” A Weibull analysis is a statistical way at looking at failure modes and can assess whether a failure is infant mortality vs a wearout mechanism as well as giving a rough indication/detremination of wearout rates… this would be useful for say a car part and less useful for say a pitcher’s arm)

                      I was not calling you or your work absurd… what is absurd is just automatically assuming something “generally accepted” in some fields makes it “likely” used in baseball without seemingly understanding the differences and limitations of the fields and the system you are talking about.

                    • Art says:

                      And if you could stop creating ridiculous strawman like:

                      “I said that if teams are employing people with statistics/econometrics backgrounds… it’s pretty likely that they’re paying them to put the things they learned in school to use and not to jerk off.”

                      Yes, you are spot on… if teams are employing statistician/econ folks and they are not using a specific probablistic projection system, then the only other thing they could be doing is “jerking off”

                      It’s not like they could be doing other types of analysis or using other projection systems than the one you are convinced they are “likely” using.

                      I’d say it’s likely teams are paying people to understand what the limitations of something they learned in school has in the specific field they are working in…. I’d say it’s likely they are not paying people to determine the % outcome a prospect has at being 40 different types of pitchers, because any statistician/econ guy worth his weight would understand what a useless exercise that would be and how there are much better metrics and projection systems that could be used given the limitations and information available in the baseball field.

                      But you seem to know what you are talking about and are emotionally invested in this argument.

                    • Ted Nelson says:

                      How else do you propose to project the future besides to look at the probabilities of different possible outcomes? You could become the next Ms. Cleo maybe if you can predict the future another way. Not meant as an insult… I just don’t know of another way.

                      You are making this overly complex. I am not saying that all teams or any two people would use the exact same model with the exact same weights and arrive at the same conclusion. It’s a really simple concept we use with everything we try to predict: what are the possible outcomes and how likely is each one?

                      I would assume that MLB teams have robust statistical databases, just as finance firms do… but maybe I’m wrong. If they do, this sort of analysis really isn’t that hard… getting it right is nearly impossible, but doing it is easy. In investing you’re (simplistically, assuming you always invest the same amount… or weighting for how much was invested) looking to be right 51% of the time. Make money more than you lose money. You’ll be extremely rich if you can consistently do that over, and over, and over. I don’t know what the success rate you’re looking for is in baseball. With amateur acquisitions (draft, IFA), I’m sure it’s very, very low. Tampa might be wrong in the draft 90% of the time (made that up), but their 10% might be a lot better than just about any other team. With $20+ mill per free agent or extension guys… probably looking for a much higher success rate. Not 100% though. You’re never going to predict the future right 100% of the time with something so volatile.

                      Some GMs might not have anyone doing this work or just disregard it fairly often to go with a gut feeling or whatever else. I would bet on it, actually. Subconsciously, though, I would bet even the most “gut instinct” GM assesses the probabilities of various outcomes to project players. Doesn’t quantify it, but just says guy projects as a #2-3 starter with an upside of an ace and a floor of a strong reliever with control issues for example. He’s weighting the probabilities of the different outcomes. I think it’s better to quantify it, then test your model going forward to see how it works and try to improve it. He might not, though. He’s largely ignoring the outcomes below that floor because he thinks their likelihood is too small to worry about, just like the likelihood he mimics Doc Gooden’s second season every year is too small to worry about. He’s probably also placing a probability of injury on the guy.
                      I sort of described Dellin Betances there. You could also use that to describe just about any elite pitching prospect, though, changing the probabilities for each scenario depending on who it is. Matt Moore probably has higher chances of the better scenarios and lower chances of relieving than Dellin (probably a little lower chance on injuries… though that’s a bit of a wildcard to me, would need to research it a lot more). For a guy further from the bigs, the floor gets lower.

                      I would assume someone like Andrew Friedman with a finance background and little baseball background is using these concepts on steroids in an organized model. Things I’ve never heard of nor considered.

                    • Art says:

                      Testing (trying to figure out last word-itis)

            • Mister Delaware says:

              Nah, he has better raw stuff than Dontrelle, I just can’t see Hamels as a floor for anyone. You’re basically saying “at worst, Moore will be among the top dozen starters in baseball”. Its just too high a standard to set.

              • Mister Delaware says:

                (Please note: My comments are different from Ted’s standard “you can’t know anything that hasn’t happened and thus all things are possible” comment. I’m fine with ceilings and floors, just not using Hamels as a floor for any 22 year old.)

                • Ted Nelson says:

                  I am so tired of you trying to make it seem like I am wrong out of your own ignorance. Go to a local university, find a stats professor, and ask how you project future occurrences. They will tell you the simplest way is to assign probabilities to the various possible outcomes and multiply to get a basic projection. This is first year, maybe second year stuff for undergrads. Common knowledge pretty much. Not some theory I pulled out of my ass.

                  You really think that you can predict the future? Are you a fucking psychic?

                  You can project the most likely scenario. Anything is possible, but some things are far more likely than others.

                  Try learning something instead of arrogantly basking in your ignorance.

                  • Mister Delaware says:

                    Remember what happened last time you told me to “find a professor”?


                    • Ted Nelson says:

                      Yeah, you jerked yourself off for a while.

                      Keep basking in your ignorance…

                    • Mister Delaware says:

                      A lot of other people jerked me off too. It was really funny and made you look really silly. Ha!

                    • Art says:

                      Mister Del…

                      I’m new to this board but is Mr. Nelson always like this? If so I will just ignore him as from just looking at a few recent threads and the one you linked it is becoming clear he is more interesting in ‘winning’ an argument than having an honest discussion (to the point where apparently the argument starts to evolve when it is clear it is not winnable or just turns into an attack)

                      It is also clear someone has “last word-itis” so I assume the only way things stop is for someone else to stop commenting and just let him go with his claims of I’m right and everyone is wrong/ignorant?

                      My comments were not meant to troll him and with just a single comment I get a “do you work for the Yankees?” response… is this pretty normal and par for the course?


                    • Ted Nelson says:

                      Art, you have told me that what I studied in school and do for a living is absurd. Are you serious?

                    • Mister Delaware says:


                      Yes, this is pretty much what to expect. In Ted’s world, he is the only poster logical enough to know that all hypotheticals brought up here are based on incomplete information. This means they are not worth debating beyond debating just how stupid the other poster is for (1) bringing up the hypothetical and (2) not recognizing that he or she is working with incomplete information. He is able to do this because he is the only one here with a statistical background.

                      Its fun when you’re in the mood.

                    • Art says:

                      Mr D… Thanks for the heads up.

                      When my original comment which ended with “The decision process you describe is useful but I think you are misapplying it here.” has now eventually been translated into me calling him, his (alleged) education, and his (alleged) living absurd I was trying to figure out how that leap was made.

                      I guess he took me challenging why/how one specific projection system he described would be used in baseball (and specifically calling that absurd) as a personal affront and thought that basically means that system is worthless everywhere and that baseball doesn’t use ANY projection systems.

                      I’ll stop now as my intent was not to troll and my words are being wildly manipulated and turned into strawman (apparently I now think baseball stats are unquantifiable and teams either don’t hire stat/econ guys or just pay them to “jerk off” since they don’t use one specific projection system)


                    • Ted Nelson says:

                      Mr Delaware, coming from someone who trolls the board to rip people more than discuss baseball your words don’t mean anything. I have no prbl with people epressing opinions based on incomplete info. I have a problem when people make arguments with huge logical holes in them and then tell other commenters that they are definitel wrong.

                      Art. I have a feeling you are another of MrDelaware’s alter egos. However, if after my writing a virtual essay thoughtfully explaining my opinion on the matter you can only question whether I want the last word and claim I am manipulating your words… I don’t know what to say. I notice you have no response for how one would go about projecting the future in another manner. The accepted projections of scouts are an informal version of what I’ve been referring to.

                    • Ted Nelson says:

                      The one or two of you might note that the Orioles just hired an Econ professor to value players. Probably not going to use any tools from Econ to do so, though. Rumor is he will jerk off and whichever plaegr’s picture more spunk lands on is projected to have a better future.

                    • Mister Delaware says:

                      You didn’t turn in your 10:00 assignment, Ted.

                    • Mister Delaware says:

                      (Also, this new tendency of yours to talk about front office guys jerking off in every post is really creepy.)

    • Ted Nelson says:

      Unless you have more than one person better in your rotation he’s effectively your #2. The Yankees only have one more starter in the rotation right now.

  12. JohnC says:

    Can’t Noesi do just as good a job as Garcia at the back of the rotation?

  13. Holy Ghost says:

    It really doesn’t make a difference what you call the #2,3,4, and 5 starters.

    #1 needs to be the best starter or the ‘Ace’

    #2 through 5 just need to be good or atleast consistent

  14. Nathan says:

    It’s too bad that Wang couldn’t stay healthy after getting hurt during the interleague game. He would have been a great #2 starter behind CC.

    • Jason says:

      Now he’s a 3/4 starter in the Nationals rotation behind Strasburg and Zimmermann…But yeah he’d be a solid #2 starter behind CC.

    • Craig Maduro says:

      Nah…he was on his way out. The trade rumors had already started to swirl. From what I recall reading, Wang wanted (or had at least hinted at wanting) a deal in the neighborhood of A.J. Burnett’s and the Yanks weren’t willing to go that high on him. I would have loved to trade Wang for Javy instead of Vizcaino.

  15. IB6 UB9 says:

    If the Yankees save all this money then we can get lower ticket prices!!!

    (j/k please don’t supply-demand everyone to death.)

  16. Phil says:

    Why wouldn’t a #2 starter just be the #31-60th highest WARs?

  17. thurdonpaul says:

    i guess im just being optimistic but i say AJ is gonna have a very good year in 2012, not saying fantastic, but very good.

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