2011 AL Playoff Rotations: New York Yankees

Yesterday, I tackled the Tigers rotation, and when writing these sorts of pieces, I begin to appreciate Jim Leyland just a little bit — he keeps thing simple. Joe Girardi is anything but simple — there are several options on the table for the Yankees as they set up their postseason rotation. The way the American League schedule lines up, teams technically don’t need a fourth starter until Game 4 of the ALCS, provided they are willing to throw their Game 1 ALDS starter on three days rest in Game 4 of the ALDS (should such a thing be necessary, that is). Since we know that CC Sabathia is not one to shy away from such assignments, there is a good chance that the Yankees could roll with just three starters in the Division Series.

But who will that third starter be? Freddy Garcia seems to be the odds-on favorite at the moment, but Girardi could very well stand by A.J. Burnett. The decision could boil down to who the Yanks face in the Division Series, as Garcia has some impressive superficial numbers against the Tigers. At the moment though, those seem to be the only two candidates, as a back injury to Phil Hughes and the decreased velocity from Bartolo Colon seem to have relegated them to bullpen candidates at best. Nothing is set in stone, but it appears that Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Garcia and Burnett will be the Yankees’ four horsemen of the playoffcalypse, so we’ll focus on them.

CC Sabathia: 3.00 ERA, 3.02 xFIP, 75 xFIP-, 3.77 K/BB, 0.64 HR/9, 7.0 WAR
Since his rookie season of 2001, only one pitcher that has thrown more innings than Sabathia (Mark Buehrle) and only one pitcher has been more valuable (Roy Halladay). Simply put, Sabathia is the cream of the crop, and this year has been no different, as he has posted career bests in FIP, xFIP and SIERA. He has worked his curveball back into the mix this year, throwing his fastball and changeup a little bit less. He’s also been more efficient this year, getting to 0-1 more frequently, upping his K% and lowering his BB%. Neither of the latter percentages are career bests, but they are his best marks since coming to the Yankees. He has been better at home than on the road, but A) he’ll make most of his starts at home, and B) any pitcher would kill for Sabathia’s road numbers — his 3.26 road xFIP this year ranks 13th in the game.

Ivan Nova: 3.70 ERA, 4.16 xFIP, 103 xFIP-, 1.72 K/BB, 0.71 HR/9, 2.6 WAR
Let’s be clear — Nova’s here because of a little help from his friends. Of the five Yankees pitchers who tossed more than 100 innings this year, Nova’s RS/GS and RS/IP are the highest, and it’s not all that close either. In fact, only three pitchers in the game had a better RS/GS than Nova — Tim Wakefield, Derek Holland and John Lackey — and only Holland, Lackey, Jon Lester and Wakefield had a better RS/IP. Having said that, Nova has taken advantage of the opportunity his shiny wins total has afforded him. In the second half, he has kept the ball on the ground while cutting his walk totals. If there is one concern with Nova, it’s that he’s been much better on the road (3.51 ERA, 3.39 FIP, 3.92 xFIP) than he has been at home (4.19 ERA, 4.72 FIP, 4.45 xFIP) in his two years in the Majors, so I’m not sure the Yankees are set up to get optimal value out of him by pitching him in Game 2 (and potentially Game 5) of the ALDS, which will/would both be in the Bronx.

Freddy Garcia: 3.62 ERA, 4.35 xFIP, 108 xFIP-, 2.13 K/BB, 0.98 HR/9, 2.1 WAR
Garcia doesn’t do anything terrible impressive. Among Yankees’ starters this season, the only thing that he has been the team leader in is HR/FB, and he leads in that category by the slimmest, essentially non-existent margin. But what he has been is reliable. In comparing him to A.J. Burnett, we see that Garcia has only produced a negative WPA in 38% of his starts, whereas Burnett stands at 59%. Burnett has also been torched more frequently, as he has had eight starts this season with a -.200 WPA or worse, compared to just four times from Garcia. When you have a killer offense, you don’t necessarily have to have a three-hit shutout, you just want the game kept within reason. Garcia has shown he can do that with greater regularity than has Burnett, and as such is the leader in the clubhouse for the Game 3 nod.

A.J. Burnett: 5.16 ERA, 3.86 xFIP, 95 xFIP-, 2.08 K/BB, 1.47 HR/9, 1.4 WAR

I want it all: the terrifying lows, the dizzying highs, the creamy middles. — Homer Simpson

Yes, A.J. Burnett would be Homer’s kind of pitcher. Virtually any kind of performance is on the table when Burnett pitches, but after his strikeout rate bottomed out last year, it looked like we may have seen the last of the dizzying highs. However, he has rebounded nicely this season, posting an above-league average 20.7%. He has also brought his GB/FB ratio back to the level it was at in his last season north of the border. And that’s what makes his home run totals so head-scratching — he’s permitted fewer fly balls than he has each of the past two seasons, but has been tagged for more homers anyway. This has been especially troublesome in the second half. In the first half, Burnett was carrying a high but not quite string-of-obscenities high 14.3% HR/FB, but in the second-half, he has been tuned up for a truly mystifying 22.2%. Fortunately for the Yankees, it’s a pace that simply isn’t sustainable. There will be regression coming for Burnett — the question is will it come in time.

Let’s not forget Colon in all of this. As of this writing, Girardi has not ruled him out for the postseason rotation, and while his velocity has decreased while his ERA has increased in the second half, his FIP and xFIP over the past 30 days are both better than that of Burnett or Garcia, and his xFIP is better than Nova’s. He has still been efficient with his pitches in that timeframe too, as his 5.00 K/BB is better than any other Yankees’ starter, Sabathia included. Still, signs point to him not being in the mix at this point. We’ll see if his start in Tampa tonight changes things.

The Yankees rotation is not as dominant as Detroit’s, but Sabathia, Nova and Garcia have been a healthy mix of good and dependable, and a fourth starter — be it Burnett, Colon or Hughes — may not be needed in any of the Yankees’ first eight postseason games, giving Girardi the luxury of putting off his decision for nearly two weeks. The composition of the Yankees’ rotation has been a complex thing all season, and remains so now, but chances are that once they make up their minds, it will be effective.

Tomorrow: Texas Rangers




Print This Post



Paul Swydan is the co-managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for ESPN MLB Insider and the Boston Globe. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan.


31 Responses to “2011 AL Playoff Rotations: New York Yankees”

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
  1. Jose says:

    3.86 xFIP….

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. Mr. Verlander says:

    Well, obviously with me starting 2 games in a series we are likely to beat the Yanks.

    Hell if it’s important enough, I’ll start 3 just because I can!

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Tom B says:

      Mr. Verlander doesn’t make starts on short rest. Who are you, imposter?

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Levi says:

      …and I suppose that you matching up against CC in at least one of those starts is just a minor detail, right?

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Jerome S says:

      Umm… I like you and don’t want to hurt you or anything, but Jim Leyland has different plans…
      Sorry…

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • joe says:

      Yankees are 5-2 in Verlander’s last 7 starts against them. (2-0 this year)

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Mike says:

      Fister and Verlander have 0 wins against the Yankees this year in 3 combined stats, although Fister’s start was while he was with the Mariners. Regardless, Fister owns a career ERA of 6.00 against the Yankees. You can talk about Fister all you want, remember how hot Brian Duensing was in the 2nd half for the Twins last year, and what happened to him in the playoffs?

      Plus the Yankees would counter with Ivan Nova who has not lost a start since June. I will say Fister > Nova however, but that still would be a good battle.

      Game 3 and 4 would be more pressure on Detroit when they have Scharzer and Porcello probably going, against Garcia and CC.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. Pat says:

    Burnett is a joke, he barely deserves to be on the playoff roster. Pitches a quality start maybe once a month, horrible. I’d love to see he and Lackey pitch against each other in a playoff matchup, that would be priceless.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • phoenix2042 says:

      i love how lackey and burnett are basically the same guy right now. they both sport 5 ERAs, are getting paid almost the exact same and do the same song and dance of pitching really well until they just implode one inning and give up a ton of homers. oh and both their teams hate them. i guess we learn here that free agent pitching is not worth it unless you buy a real ace like halladay, lee or CC.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. So You Know It's Real says:

    12 pitchers probably would not kill for Sabathia’s road FIP.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  5. So You Know It's Real says:

    xFIP*

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. JimNYC says:

    This is where not having Joba Chamberlain really hurts the Yankees. If they had Chamberlain, they could throw out Hughes – Chamberlain – Soriano – Robertson – Rivera for an inning a piece, and they’d only need to worry about getting four passable innings from Burnett (which still might be asking too much).

    Maybe next year.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • phoenix2042 says:

      maybe next year we will be talking about betances or banuelos. or cj wilson if they decide they want free agent pitching. hopefully the rotation with CC, an effective and healthy hughes, nova, banuelos and betances (latter two by july) and maybe a free agent pitcher will carry them far.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  7. Mike says:

    Here would be my rotation for the Yankees in a best of 5 and best of 7

    Best of 5
    1- CC
    2- Nova
    3- Garcia
    4- CC
    5- Nova

    Best of 7
    1- CC
    2- Nova
    3- Garcia
    4- CC
    5- Burnett
    6- Nova
    7- CC

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Paul Swydan says:

      The only issue with that is it asks CC to go on short rest four times. He’s a big dude, but I think if he pitches Game 4 of the DS, it’s likely that he pitches Games 2 and 6 of the LCS.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Mike says:

        Good points Paul, but then again, NY has been getting so much rain as of late so don’t be surprised to see a postponed game or 2 this year.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  8. Snow Leopard says:

    I love that Freddy and Bartolo waited until the end of the season to run out of gas. The Yanks didn’t really have a viable plan for a starting rotation coming into the year, but they rolled the dice and twice got lucky. The Baseball Gods picked a great time for that luck to run out …

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  9. Mike says:

    How did Freddy run out of gas? His September stats were not great, then again, if he was on the Red Sox, he probably has better September stats than any Red Sox starter that month.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  10. Mr. Verlander says:

    I see what you fellow are saying, but you are talking about the past.

    I have the ability to predict the future.

    And I’m telling you, the Yankees will at best be a comical threat that as usual, I will push aside relatively easily.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Mike says:

      I can predict the future too Mr. Verlander, you will be playing an above .500 team (whether it’s the Rays, Red Sox or Yankees) for the first time in over a month.

      I think the comical thing is your division. Great team, bad division.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Tom B says:

      Yes, your 12 innings 6 ER no decisions against the Yankee’s this season is most impressive.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  11. Mr. Verlander says:

    I have a horrible habit of pitching to my competition.

    I have actually pitched quite ineffectively against the Twins and such (usually do cocaine the night before), but I still usually still give up minimal amounts of runs anyways. It’s just so easy!

    Anyways, whichever of those teams I face, I don’t expect it to be particularly challenging.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  12. Ms. Verlander says:

    Justin! This is your mother! Stop making those asinine comments on the computer. You should be focusing for the playoffs. Those yankees aren’t gonna beat themselves, ya know. Go outside and throw and then run me a bath. Also, I’m not washing those dishes you left in the sink. I swear, child, sometimes I wonder how you made it this far in life…..

    Vote -1 Vote +1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Current ye@r *