Monday, February 14, 2011

Burnett and Hughes (In That Order): Stand Up!

63 games. 5.80 ERA. 1.625 WHIP. 16-17 record. Pretty ugly, right? Wrong. Really ugly. Those are the numbers that Wang, Chamberlain, Hughes, Mitre, Gaudin and Aceves put up for the Yankees in 2009 as their 4th and 5th starters over the course of 63 starts and 32.5% (304 of the 935) of the innings pitched by Yankees’ starters in 2009. It’s all downright terrible.

Except for the one column where it matters most. The Yankees went 39-24 in these games. They were 15 over in the games started by the 4th and 5th spots (7.5 per starter) despite them pitching terribly, and 28 games over in games started by the 1-3 spots (9.3 per starter) with them pitching wonderfully. They were better in games started by the guys pitching well, no question. But they weren’t crippled in games started by the guys pitching poorly. That’s because they had the best offense in baseball and one of the best bullpens. You don’t have to be complete in every facet of the game to do a lot of winning.

I don’t point this out to say that having good 4th and 5th starters is meaningless. Obviously, it’s easier to win if the starting pitching is better. I also don’t point this out to say that because the Yankees were okay in 2009 with poor starting pitching out of the 4th and 5th spots means they will be okay in 2011. We all know it doesn’t work like that.

I do point this out for two reasons. One, to say that it’s possible to get away with having deficiencies in certain areas if you’re dominant in other areas. The more mediocre you are across the board, the tougher it is to get away with deficiencies. The Yankees offense and bullpen aren’t exactly expected to be mediocre. Two, is it possible that Nova, Mitre, Garcia, Colon, and whoever else might just do better than a 5.80 ERA and a 1.625 WHIP across 300ish innings? Mitre’s had the worst career of the bunch, and his career ERA is 5.27 and his WHIP is 1.496. Nobody expects Garcia and Colon to be what they once were, and Nova is young, but it’s hard to imagine them being worse than those numbers. That was some truly awful pitching in 2009.

So for every little bit they are better, it will be easier for the Yankees to win. And I can see them being better. Nova showed a live arm and some promise in a short stint towards the end of last season. People are high on him, not necessarily as someone can eventually pitch towards the middle-top of a rotation, but as someone who can slot in the back end or be a good swingman. Freddy Garcia was 12-6 with a 4.64 with the White Sox in a substantial hitter’s home park last year. Great numbers? No, but solid. He’s spent almost all of his career in the AL, so he knows how to pitch here. And he gets lefties out better than righties because of a still-nasty change-up, and this is a big thing to have as a righty in Yankee Stadium. These are my two picks to win the last two spots out of Spring Training, and I could see it not being all that bad for the Yankees, even if it’s nowhere near great.

The main point, though, is that even if it’s a disaster, all of this talk about the back-end of the Yankees’ rotation is misdirected. The 4 and 5 spots were a disaster in 2009, and the Yankees were just fine, not only because of their strong offense and bullpen, but because of how consistent and stabilizing their 1-3 starters were. That, in my opinion, is where the focus should be again this year, not on the back end: Hughes and Burnett. If they can slot in the rotation behind Sabathia and be as good as Burnett and Pettitte were in 2009, the Yankees can find ways to win the 40% of games started by other guys (and that’s before we entertain a potential acquisition). What they can’t do is find ways to win 60% or 80% of their games. That’s a different story. You need more starting pitching than 20% or 40%, and it’s on Hughes and Burnett, not Nova, Mitre, Garcia, Colon, or whoever else to provide that. It’s their responsibility. They are the ones getting paid the big money, have the big billing as guys with a lot of talent, or both. Hughes need to maintain or take another step forward in his development as an impact, top of the rotation starter, and Burnett needs to bounceback in a big way.

6 comments:

the gm at work said...

Maybe it's like one of those magic eye things where you have to look through the rose-colored glasses to actually gain real insight.

That's a great spot, PF. Good work. Those stats are insane.

And Freddy Garcia is the leading candidate for that position the Gunn was talking about - the Shawn Chacon/Aaron Small position.

Ross Kaplan said...

I wish I could be as positive as Pat, but after last year's performance I just don't have much confidence in Burnett's ability to bounce back in a big way. Also I think you're glossing over the other side effects of having two mediocre starters at the back of the rotation, namely the overuse of the bullpen.

I can very easily see 3 games in a row started by AJ, Garcia, and Mitre/Nova/Colon in which the bullpen will need to pitch at least 5 innings. This isn't to mention all the times Girardi takes out Hughes and CC after 100 pitches to protect their future and current aces. If that happens it will be a repeat of those 2004-2005 seasons where Torre essentially injured or rendered ineffective Quantrill, Gordon and Proctor through overuse.

On a related note, it boggles the mind why there is no talk about making Joba a starter again. True he's gone back and forth from starter to relieve more times than I can remember, but now it should be abundantly clear how much more valuable he is as a starter then as a reliever. Moving him back to the rotation will allow Nova and Mitre to fill in on spot starts or to take on Aceves' old role as the go to guy after your starter is a disaster or gets injured after 3 innings.

Patrick said...

gm -

what do you mean with your first point?

ross -

thanks for the comment.

i'm not necessarily being positive with burnett, i'm just saying it's on him to step up, much moreso than whoever the 4th or 5th starters are.

your downside argument is definitely valid, and i'm not saying that scenario doesn't exist. i just don't necessarily think it will be that bad, and even if it is, the yankees have the offense and bullpen to attempt to absorb those shortcomings in the rotation should they arise.

there has been plenty of talk about joba to the rotation, the yankees just don't appear to be going that route.

the gm at work said...

Pat,

What I mean is that most observers will look at the 3rd and 4th starter spots and say, "this team is f***ed." However, as you have become digustingly optimistic about everything Yankees-related, probably since about 2009, only someone with rose-colored glasses such as yourself would come up with a fact like the one you came up with (regarding the 4th and 5th starters in 2009).

However, that fact is a telling one.

Patrick said...

that's one way to look at it. but another way to look at it is that i'm placing the greatest amount of responsibility and accountability with burnett, something that i can't hide from should he not pitch well again this season. my main point is that whether the 4th and 5th starters pitch well or not, that doesn't matter nearly as much as his performance. this is also something you've been calling for, and would contradict your last comment about me being too positive. but i guess as you try to keep the "i'm too positive" theme going for every post(and we all know how much you like your themes, and certainly won't let facts get in the way of them, rather twisting them to fit into your cookie cutter themes) it's tough criticize each and every one as being too positive without being someone inconsistent with previous criticisms.

Anonymous said...

Pat,

Good post- thought provoking. No huge disagreement from me.

Bandi