Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Finishing The First Half Strong

With six games left until the All-Star Break, the Yankees are 20 games over .500. You'd like to see them go no worse than 3-3 in those final 6 games, closing out the road trip at 4-3 to be an even 20 over at worst at the break. Considering two of those six are another serving of Lee and Felix, 3-3 would be finishing strong.

I'd like to finish the first half strong too, writing my last post before the break about my favorite topic thus far this season. Since getting his turn skipped in the rotation right at the beginning of May, he's made 10 starts and a relief appearance, roughly 1/3 of a season's worth of work. He's 6-4 with a 3.05 ERA. Very good, but certainly not good enough that the naysayers can't find ways to write it off. What can't be written off is that for two months, which is twice as long as he struggled, he's held Major League hitters to a .189/.261/.335/.596 line. He's given up 43 hits in his last 65 innings. There's absolutely no way that can be qualified, it's too dominant for too long. It doesn't matter if you're in the AL, NL, whatever, if you're facing people who know how to hit a ball with a wooden bat at a high level then that's serious pitching.

It's getting to the point where you don't even need to talk about what he's done after the struggles, you can just talk about the season numbers. Halfway through the season, he's on pace for 14 wins and has a 4.81 ERA. Not bad for a 4-5 starter, and not that far from what you'd reasonably expect from Vazquez. And that's despite pitching about as poorly as you can possibly pitch for a month. But wait, a player with 2,500 innings worth of data is pitching more like his career averages across a huge sample than his averages across a singular month? Who would have thought? And I'm not directing this at people who have been debating this on this site with me, including my co-author. This is a general comment on all of the chatter about him not being able to pitch for the Yankees or in the American league because of one pitch and one bad month and the fact that he pitched better in the NL than the AL (which most everyone does, just because you are a lot better in the NL doesn't mean you are useless in the AL). That kind of sensationalism might be fun to talk about but isn't backed by a whole lot. There was a great deal of data that pointed to things normalizing, which is exactly what they have done for Vazquez.

All this aside, the real point here is that Vazquez's season is just one example of the Yankees' biggest strength thus far this season: rotation depth. Very few pitchers are able to pitch to their ability for the entire season, all 30+ starts. Just like hitters, they get hot and cold, they have big games, they have bad games. If you aren't deep, you aren't as well equipped to absorb the down cycles for your better starters.

Despite having three starters on the All-Star Team, only Pettitte has been dominant all season. C.C. started strong, went through a period of just being good, and is now pitching like an absolute ace again. Hughes started about as well as you could have possibly expected, then was just good, and has really struggled of late. Burnett was dominant for the first quarter of the season, and has been largely awful the second quarter. Vazquez was really bad for the first month, and has been really good since. When you read all of that, it doesn't really sound like a rotation that would be one of the best in the league. But it is, because when you're that deep hot and cold periods offset each other and you're getting something close to the average ability of the rotation in total at most times. The average ability of the Yankees' rotation is really good. They just need to hope to stay as healthy as they were in the first half in the second half.

1 comment:

the gm at work said...

Two things:

1. It is interesting that you wrote this post a week ago and planned it as your last post until the All-Star Break. I hope your ribs, neck, and glove hand are recovering nicely.

2. Your points on your boy Vazquez are fair. Even I will admit that if I were an AL contender trading for an arm at the trade deadline (completely theoretical because none of these guys are actually on the market), if given a) Vazquez, b) Chris Carpenter, and c) Daisuke Matsuzaka, I'd pick your boy. And I think that is darn near anonymous.