Sixpence and None the Richer in The Bronx

The Yankees currently have six starting pitchers. Two are highly paid, two are hardened veterans, and two are on the young side, at least by comparison to their rotation mates. As a unit, they have compiled the sixth-best WAR among starters, but despite that, where each member fits in the rotation behind CC Sabathia is up for debate. Which one of the five should move to the bullpen or be demoted? Or, should the Yankees run out six starters? With the Yankees currently riding a seven-game winning streak as they march into the Fens this weekend, it’s a question that Joe Girardi will likely backburner for a few more days. While he’s procrastinating, it gives us time to debate the merits of each option. Let’s go through each, starting with the longest odds.

Phil Hughes gets dropped from the rotation: 25-1
Hughes has long been the golden boy in the Yankees rotation, outlasting both Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain. In his first four starts after coming off of the disabled list, he traded bad outing for good, but in his last outing he put a halt to that short-lived trend with a dominant start against the White Sox. He allowed just three baserunners in a six-inning “complete game” shutout. His WPA for the start was .276, his highest mark for a single outing since his start against the Twins last October 9. Even more encouraging for Yankees’ fans however, was that his velocity ticked back up to where it was last season. In a perfect world, Hughes comes back to form quickly, and is slated into the second or third starter’s role come postseason, and it’s likely Girardi will give him every opportunity to reclaim that status.

Freddy Garcia gets dropped from the rotation: 15-1
Garcia has essentially been the second-best pitcher on the staff this season. His edges over Colon are slight, but a few things tip the scales towards him. First, with more wins and a slightly better ERA, he has the edge in superficial stats. Second, Garcia has been better lately. His 3.55 ERA, 2.02 FIP and 3.52 xFIP over the last 30 days easily trump Colon’s 4.74, 3.90 and 4.09 marks in that same time span. Third, and perhaps most importantly, Garcia seems less likely to wear down. Garcia threw 157 innings in the Majors last season, and while they weren’t good innings, the endurance he built back up last year may help him down the stretch this season.

Bartolo Colon gets dropped from the rotation: 13-1
Colon is essentially even with Garcia, and there is a case for keeping Colon over Garcia. For one, his FIP and xFIP L/R and home/road splits have been less pronounced than have Garcia’s. His xFIP- for the year is 18% better than is Garcia’s as well. In addition, he has been much more efficient, as his K/BB mark reflects. But much of that brilliance came early. Colon’s xFIP has worsened with each successive month, and while his 3.76 mark in July was still none too shabby, it’s fair to wonder if he’ll last through October. Colon has shown a drop in velocity his past four starts, and while he rebounded from such a drop earlier in the year, his mojo may eventually run out. I also put Colon as more likely to lose his rotation spot because his mix of pitches — essentially just fastball and slider — would probably work better in the bullpen than the rest of his rotation mates. With a playoff spot all but assured even with two months to go, perhaps the Yankees could test him out in the bullpen now to see how he responds. If he is not able to physically handle the up and down grind of the ‘pen, perhaps a phantom DL move would be the way to preserve his bullets.

Yankees go to a modified six-man rotation: 10-1
This might be the best plan, both for the Yankees and for Girardi. The modification would be keeping Sabathia on his normal five-day schedule, with everyone falling in line around the big man. It would save Garcia and Colon some wear and tear down the stretch, and it would take the pressure off of Burnett, Hughes and Nova. Furthermore, it would spare Girardi from having to make a decision where there is currently no easy answer. If he lets a six-man rotation play out for the next four-five weeks, perhaps the person who doesn’t belong in the rotation will become obvious.

A.J. Burnett gets dropped from the rotation: 7-1
This would probably be the people’s choice. After all, the fans aren’t paying Burnett $16.5 million a year, and the Yankees make money hand over first, right? But the thing about Burnett is that much of his damage has been isolated in a few outings — in his four worst starts of the season, he allowed 26 runs for a 10.88 RA. In the other 19, he allowed 52 runs for a 3.90 RA. Perhaps those numbers aren’t as good as the other members of the rotation, but they’re still not bad either. In addition, Burnett’s xFIP has come down in each successive month since May, with his June and July marks of 3.78 and 3.76 being more than solid. I a vacuum may deserve his spot less than everyone else, these decisions are rarely made in a vacuum.

Ivan Nova gets dropped from the rotation: 5-1
Nova sure picked a good time for his best start of the year. But he’s the low man on the totem pole, and the one who’s tasted Minor League ball the most this year. In addition, of the five members of the rotation who have been healthy the majority of the year, Nova has the lowest K/9 and the lowest K/BB. He has been better in both regards over the past two months, and he has clearly shown enough to warrant keeping his spot in the rotation, but the same rationale that won out in sending Nova down on the heels of allowing just one run in Citi Field is likely the same rationale that will win the day now as well.

As I stated earlier, the Yankees are likely headed to the postseason no matter who gets dropped from the rotation now, if anyone is dropped at all. The real decision for Girardi will be who starts in the playoffs. At the moment, the only clear-cut choice is Sabathia.

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Paul Swydan is the managing editor of The Hardball Times and a writer and editor for FanGraphs. He has written for the Boston Globe, ESPN MLB Insider and ESPN the Magazine, among others. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan.

30 Responses to “Sixpence and None the Richer in The Bronx”

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  1. Tim says:

    It is really lazy to use odds that add up to 55%

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    • Telo says:

      The missing 45% is the last option: Clemens does some more roids, comes back from retirement and carries the Yankees to World Series.

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    • Telo says:

      But yea, who writes an article prominently displaying the odds of a situation, and ends up so far off… it’s not like he was at 90 or 95 percent. Busch league nerdom right there. We are supposed to be getting the math right!

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      • Barkey Walker says:

        Yeah, I’d give you a 5 to even 25 %, “all other possibilities” but if it is about 10%, you should probably say, “and 1 in X… it’s pitchers so you never can tell.”

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    • Jack says:

      That would be a valid complaint if the goal of the article was to summarize ALL possibilities. He didn’t do that.

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    • Yirmiyahu says:

      Proper odds, based on 100%:
      Hughes 6.4%
      Garcia 10.6%
      Colon 12.3%
      no one 16.0%
      Burnett 22.8%
      Nova 31.9%

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      • Chas13 says:

        He gave odds not percentage chances. Like what you would get if you bet on them. This does not have to add up to 100.

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      • buddy says:

        And the people who take bets on these odds will probably be losing money if they add up to significantly less than 100.

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    • Neuter Your Dogma says:

      45% is the vig.

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    • David K says:

      The House gets to keep the rest.

      I wonder if you add up the Vegas odds of all the teams winning the WS, what those odds add up to? I am sure it’s more than 55% though, but certainly less than 100%. How else will the House make its money?

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  2. K.B.D. says:

    Odds on Burnett getting dropped should be much worse. Should he be removed from the rotation? Yes, but it simply won’t happen because they’re paying him too much money.

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    • JimNYC says:

      K.D.B. — how much money have they been paying Kei Igawa to pitch in AA for the last four years? I think it’s very possible that he gets kicked out of the rotation if he keeps up with the bad outings.

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      • vin says:

        Big difference between 4 million per year (with no luxury tax implications) and 16.5 (plus the luxury tax).

        AJ isn’t going anywhere, especially considering he’ll be around for the next 2 years.

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  3. Kolbe says:

    Someone gets hurt

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  4. John says:

    What are the odds that one or two of these six guys will be on the DL in Aug and Sep . Yanks decision is easy after that.

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  5. Hurtlocker says:

    Who cares as long the Yankees don’t win??

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  6. D says:

    I didn’t know that the author was a vacuum. It makes the article a bit more impressive.

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  7. Ashwin says:

    Hmmm… I’m not one to usually criticize typos but I think the expression is hand over fist and not hand over first.

    Either way, like hurtlocker stated, as long as they lose, I don’t care :)

    Great job guys. Keep the articles coming!

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  8. Tom B says:

    perhaps a phantom DL move would be the way to preserve his bullets

    What do you think this is… Boston?

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  9. Umbrella says:

    There is a huge mistake in this article that is much worse than the odds issue. Phil Hughes being demoted from the rotation is the 2nd or 3rd most likely outcome (next to Nova being bumped or using a modified 6-man rotation). To put the odds of AJ losing his spot as so much greater than Hughes losing his spot is crazy talk. Girardi has said repeatedly this week that there is no chance that AJ will lose his rotation spot. If you have been watching the Yankees for the past 10 or 14 days, then it is clear that there are only three true possible outcomes that Girardi will go with: Nova to the bullpen, Hughes to the bullpen, or modified 6-man rotation. Hughes has a guaranteed start next Tuesday, but nothing is set beyond that with him. Burnett has great job security, Girarid said so himself. Colon and Garcia have been much better than Hughes and Nova, so there is no discussion there either.

    So you really need to reconsider your possible outcomes. AJ, Colon, and Garcia have no shot at being bumped out of the rotation. It comes down to Hughes, Nova, or a 6-man rotation with Sabathia going on normal rest. Saying AJ has a relatively high chance to lose his job is just flat out wrong. If Hughes got rocked the other night he would be in the bullpen right now. Hughes is on a shaky leash due to poor performance. Nova is on a shaky leash just due to having the least experience. The others are all have solid job security.

    You can then rework your odds based on that, adding in an ‘injury’ or ‘other’ category if you like. But there is no point in separately considering that Colon, Garcia, or Burnett lose their jobs. The chances are so small that you could combine those three into one category and give it a really really small chance of happening.

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  10. joe says:

    Unless another club comes into play for the WC, I think it’s a good chance the Yankees go with a 6 man rotation in Sept (especially with expanded rosters). If they do this, the question is August where Girardi is now playing with a 3 man bench (Jones, Nunez, Cervelli)… if/when ARod comes back I assume Chavez and Nunez both remain on the roster which means demoting a relief pitcher (and Girardi sure loves him his relief pitchers!) or going back to a 5 man rotation.

    Since ARod is not due back to mid/late August and given the Yankees schedule (2 days off in Sept, one day off the rest of August + 1 double header at end of Aug), I see them sticking with 6 men at least until Arod comes back – and if he comes back toward the very end of Augusts, Girardi may roll with a short bench until the rosters get expanded

    Also I think Hughes is in 2nd behind Nova… he’s had one good start. And even with better velocity he’s still just a curverball/straight as an arrow 4 seam pitcher with a cutter he can’t reliably locate and a changeup that has not been developed.

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  11. GiantHusker says:

    I hope the Yankees aren’t reading this, as I would hate to think I helped them.
    Since the Yanks are virtually certain to make the playoffs, why not use some kind of 6-man rotation? They could save the arms somewhat, give everyone a chance to prove that they should start in the playoffs and have the other 5 ready to go if one of them gets injured.

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  12. cs3 says:

    well Hughes just came in out of the pen in a tie game in the 10th so…

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