Who Is Number Two in New York?

The New York Yankees could be in big trouble once the post-season rolls around. At least, that’s what some columnists might try to tell you. Despite the fact that the Yankees have all but clinched a playoff spot — and lead the league in run differential — there’s panic in the streets of New York over the pitching rotation. While the rotation has been pretty solid this season — as Yankee starters rank sixth in WAR — there are question marks surrounding every member of the rotation excluding CC Sabathia. With the post-season rapidly approaching, let’s take a look at the candidates for the number two slot in the Yankees post-season rotation.

Bartolo Colon

2011 WAR: 2.7 (2nd among Yankees starters)

One of the best early-season success stories, Bartolo Colon’s resurrection has been a huge boon for the Yankees this season. Colon is well on his way to posting his best season in the majors since 2005. Despite his resurgence, there’s still some reason to be concerned with Colon. Since he hasn’t performed this well since 2005, there’s always the fear that the “magic” is going to run out at any moment with Colon. Colon has also thrown 152 innings this season — his highest total since 2005 — and there’s reason to believe he could wear down under an increased workload. As his splits show, Colon’s xFIP has progressively gotten worse as each month has passed — leading to an August where nearly all of his stats bottomed out. Colon has been much better in 13.1 September innings, but concerns over his workload shouldn’t be completely dismissed.

Ivan Nova

2011 WAR: 2.3 (3rd among Yankees starters)

Nova has quickly become the next big thing in New York. Unfortunately, the optimism surrounding Nova likely has to do with his strong performances in traditional stat categories. Nova’s 15-4 record and 3.81 ERA are impressive, but neither is a true reflection of Nova’s actual talent. While his FIP and xFIP aren’t significantly worse, Nova appears to have been pitching over his head the entire season. Among all the candidates for the number two slot, Nova carries the lowest strikeout rate, and his 3.21 walk rate trails only AJ Burnett. While that’s hardly encouraging, Nova has been one of the most dependable starters on the Yankees this season.

Phil Hughes

2011 WAR: 0.6 (6th among Yankees starters)

This season has been somewhat of a disaster for Hughes. Coming off a breakout year, Hughes was expected to once again shown why he was once one of the best pitching prospects in baseball. Unfortunately, injuries struck and Hughes’ season quickly went downhill. His return to the rotation has been hit-or-miss, but he has the highest upside of all Yankees starters — excluding Sabathia — if he can return to form. A strong September push may convince some that he’s back, but Hughes has faced some pretty weak competition this month.

Freddy Garcia/AJ Burnett

2011 WAR: 2.1 and 1.4 (4th and 5th among Yankees starters)

Neither Garcia nor Burnett seem like legitimate options to fill the number two slot in the post-season rotation. Burnett’s struggles have been well-documented, while Garcia has only thrown 18.2 innings since August — few of which have been particularly encouraging.

After sorting out the viable candidates, it’s clear that Joe Giradi faces a difficult decision. If Colon can prove that his August swoon was just a blip on the radar — and not a sign of fatigue — he looks to be the best bet to follow Sabathia in the rotation. But if Colon falters at all in September, Nova is right there to steal that slot. It’s likely too late for Hughes to redeem himself this season, and Garcia and Burnett seem like afterthoughts at this point. The concerns surrounding the Yankees playoff rotation shouldn’t induce panic just yet in New York, but you can’t blame the fans for being a little worried about their current options.

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Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.

38 Responses to “Who Is Number Two in New York?”

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  1. test says:

    The title demands a cheap joke, ala Austin Powers – Burnett has clearly been #2 in New York

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  2. domingoes says:

    AJ Burnett has definitely pitched like #2, strictly in the poop sense of the word.

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  3. Yardisiak says:

    The encouraging thing about Nova is his bb/9 and k/9 rates have been progressing consistently in the right direction as the season progresses( until a rough patch his last couple starts). so while his overall rates are underwhelming there is statistical evidence he has begun to become more then a 4/5 starter. I would go Nova game 2.

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  4. CS Yankee says:

    1) CC
    2) Colon
    3) Nova
    4) Garcia

    Colon & Nova have earned that WAR in a short season (Bart started in the pen, Nova went down to AAA). If Colon wears a bit more & Steady Freddy improves I can see a 2 & 4 swap. The Rook needs to stay in the third game, which is what he is…a quality third starter with little experience. Hughes & AJ need to fight it out to see who gets “Zito’ed” this postseason.

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    • Greg says:

      I agree. As much as I’d love to see Nova in the second spot and think he deserves it, there is something to be said for experience in the playoffs.

      As much as I think neither of Hughes and Burnett should make the postseason roster, it makes sense for both of them to be there. I think Hughes can be useful in the bullpen, and I’d rather have Burnett take the start if the yankees need a replacement starter for whatever reason.

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  5. jim says:

    call up banuelos and betances.

    lol, it was fun to dream for a second.

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  6. Baseball Bob says:

    I think I would go with CC, Nova, Colon, Hughes. The real question for Yankee fans, though, is can the offense continue to pick up the so-so starters, until we get to the stellar bullpen. The Yankee starters 2-6 have all been mediocre (OK, AJ has been bad) but have kept the Yankees in the game while the offense and bullpen have pulled it out. They won 11 straight starts by Nova, for example, and he was good in about half of them.

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  7. whaaa? says:

    How does Hughes have greater upside than CC Sabathia? Hughes has accumulated 2.4 WAR in each of the last two years! That’s a far cry from CC’s production.

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  8. steex says:

    My head nearly exploded from this passage regarding Hughes: “…once again show why he was once one…” Clearly Hughes isn’t #2 material, he’s a #1 guy.

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    • Jason says:

      Hughes has never looked like a #1 or even a #2 guy to me. He doesn’t throw hard enough or have the secondary pitches to put hitters away. Plus, he lacks command. ….now Joba, when he first came up, had #1 stuff…. ….alas those days are long gone.

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    • steex says:

      I was merely referring to variations of “one” appearing three times within eight words, it was not intended to be an accurate indictment of his ability.

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  9. AndyS says:

    Derek Jeter is #2, I thought this was common knowledge…

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  10. Cody says:

    Colon definitely produces #2 stuff!

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  11. Jason says:

    Having watched the Yankees all year, I would go:

    Garcia (or CC on short rest).

    Hughes and Burnett are total crap shoots and likely to be out of the game by the third inning.

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  12. TK says:

    C.C. Sabathia – After three baskets of chicken wings, large cheese fries, and a chocolate shake, now that’s a productive #2.

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  13. William says:

    I feel like you’re underrating Garcia.

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  14. Cody says:

    Do you think the Yankees would risk:

    1. CC
    2. Colon
    3. Nova
    4. Garcia*
    5. Start Hughes. First sign of distress, throw in Burnett. Again, first sign of distress, throw in CC on short rest.
    6. TBD (The freshest pitcher available of CC, Colon, and Nova.)
    7. TBD (The freshest pitcher available of CC, Colon, and Nova.)

    I think that would be a good way to optimize your available SP with limiting damage. A bit of a gamble with not knowing who pitches games 6 and 7, but I could really see it working out.

    *Or you can do option 5 instead of 4 with Garcia being thrown into the mix for Option 4.

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  15. Brad Johnson says:

    I think one thing we can safely say is that if the Yankees advance deep into the postseason, they will be using CC Sabathia a LOT. Girardi better get comfortable lifting CC in the 6th or 7th and using his bullpen bridge.

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    • Baseball Bob says:

      In fact, the Yankee rotation for a 7-game series would likely look something like this:

      1 – CC
      2 – Colon
      3 – Nova
      4 – CC
      5 – Garcia/Hughes/Burnett
      6 – Colon
      7 – CC

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      • Mike says:

        I agree with Baseball Bob here, I thought the same thing for a 7 game series.

        Now in a best of 5 series in an ALDS, do you pitch CC in a game 4 or game 5? (if it goes there)?

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      • The Nicker says:

        This is correct. I would imagine the Tigers will do that same thing with Verlander.

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  16. Jose says:

    Imagine ’08 Milwakee Sabbathia season performance in this year’s playoffs

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  17. Michael says:

    That question has been asked all season and yet the team continues to win. Nova is good enought (this year) to fill the spot. We’ll worry about how good he is next year when he competes with all the kids coming up.

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  18. everdiso says:

    Colon’s clearly #2, IMO.

    I’m no yankees fan, but what’s funny to me is that everyone is still trying to think negatively about the Yanks’ starters (not good, going to regress), and everyone is still trying to think positively about the Red Sox’ starters (just injured, will be fine when healthy).

    Even making the question about the “#2 slot” somehow being the biggest issue in the first place reveals that bias, because that’s really the only possible weakness you can find in that starting staff.

    Even if the Red Sox were healthy, they still wouldn’t have edge.

    Sabathia (30): 31gs, 7.2ip/gs, 2.93era, 2.79fip, 2.98xfip, 0.219war/gs
    Beckett (31): 27gs, 6.4ip/gs, 2.49era, 3.36fip, 3.59xfip, 0.152war/gs

    Colon (38): 23gs, 6.1ip/gs, 3.52era, 3.79fip, 3.49xfip, 0.100war/gs
    Lester (27): 28gs, 6.3ip/gs, 3.07era, 3.67fip, 3.54xfip, 0.125war/gs

    Garcia (34): 23gs, 5.9ip/gs, 3.67era, 4.02fip, 4.29xfip, 0.091war/gs
    Bedard (32): 22gs, 5.6ip/gs, 3.50era, 3.53fip, 3.45xfip, 0.105war/gs

    Nova (24): 25gs, 6.0ip/gs, 3.76era, 4.05fip, 4.11xfip, 0.088war/gs
    Buchholz (26): 14gs, 5.9ip/gs, 3.48era, 4.34fip, 4.26xfip, 0.071war/gs

    Burnett (34): 30gs, 5.9ip/gs, 5.20era, 4.70fip, 3.94xfip, 0.047war/gs
    Lackey (32): 26gs, 5.8ip/gs, 6.19era, 4.81fip, 4.68xfip, 0.042war/gs

    Hughes (25): 14gs, 5.1ip/gs, 5.90era, 4.53fip, 4.72xfip, 0.050war/gs
    Wakefield (44): 21gs, 6.1ip/gs, 5.33era, 5.05fip, 4.83xfip, 0.029war/gs

    I guess the Yanks have a question mark on whether they have a legit #2, but at least that’s better than having a question mark on whether they have a legit #1.

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    • MarchHare says:

      I’m not sure what this is supposed to demonstrate. Are Lackey and Burnett going to face-off in a post-season game? Maybe if it’s played in a Lewis Carroll novel where everything is absurd and backwards. If that’s the case then yes, I suppose Burnett has the edge. Unless the Chesire Cat is pitching!

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  19. Cidron says:

    how did it go early in the season, even pre-season, “CC, then Hughes. then we lose”

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  20. Hot Ish says:

    The Yankees are top ten at the least in XFIP, FIP, and SIERA for starters. (I looked it up like a month ago but I’m sure they’re top 10, too lazy to check) but somehow they have questions while the Red Sox don’t while their amid a possible collapse.

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  21. kick me in the GO NATS says:

    I am hoping the Yankees lose, but I am more confident in Colon’s ability in a top game than the others. Of course I root for the former Expos.

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    • Matt C says:

      Considering what the Expos had to give up to get him I think I would despise Colon if I was a Nats/Expos fan.

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  22. Matt C says:

    Granted I’m not a Yankee fan so I don’t see him very often but the few times I’ve seen Nova pitch he has looked really good. Quite frankly I’m shocked that his peripherals(in particular his K rate) is that bad. From what I seen he appears to have better stuff than that rate indicates. So if it was up to me I think I’d put him number 2.

    Also I don’t buy into the whole “you need somebody with postseason experience” thing, I think that is completely overblown. I think there have been plenty of exceptions in recent history to shut that theory down.(03 Marlins, 06 Tigers, 08 Rays, 2010 Giants among others)

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  23. thecouga says:

    You guys should be more worried about the Tigers than the Red Sox. Verlander and Fister are going to mow people down in the playoffs. If I were a Yankees fan, I’d be worried about reaching the second round more than how they compare to the Red Sox.

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