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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.