Starting pitching was supposed to be a strength coming into the season, or at least starting pitching depth was supposed to be a stretch. The Yankees have already used seven different starters this season after using just nine starters last year, and one of those nine was Dellin Betances in the utterly meaningless Game 162. Andy Pettitte’s return will hopefully solidify things, but Ivan Nova’s right foot/ankle injury looms and could make things a little hairy in the coming days and weeks.
The starting staff currently ranks 25th in baseball in both ERA (4.93) and FIP (4.55) through 36 team games, reflecting the slow starts by CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes, and Freddy Garcia and inconsistent performances by Nova and Hiroki Kuroda. Sabathia has pitched much better of late (last night’s start notwithstanding) and Hughes has shown signings of improving, but Garcia has already been banished to the bullpen. As a result, the starters have performed much better as the season has progressed. Here’s a breakdown of each complete turn through the rotation, so not including last night’s start by Sabathia…
Garcia made four starts before being replaced by David Phelps, but his removal from the rotation is just one reason for the improvement. Hughes got his act together to a certain extent and although Kuroda is still hit or miss, he has not allowed more than two earned runs in any of his last four starts. Getting CC back on track is has obviously been huge as well.
Interestingly enough, the strikeout, walk, and homerun rates really haven’t changed all that much. Sure they fluctuate each turn through the rotation, but they’ve generally sat right around 19%, 7%, and 4%, respectively. The runs (earned and unearned) per nine innings has been way down of late while the innings pitched is up, and that’s not a coincidence. Runs allowed and innings pitched are not mutually exclusive. With an injury-weakened bullpen, the Yankees are going to need as many innings out of their starting staff as possible.
The rotation still has a ways to go before becoming a strength, but at least they’re headed in the right direction. Hughes has to continue doing what he’s done in his last two starts against someone other than the Royals and Mariners, and Nova needs to stop allowing extra-base hits like they’re going out of style. As much as we all love Pettitte, he’s still a big unknown given his age and the long layoff. Progress is definitely being made though, we just need to see some more of it.