Monday, August 15, 2011

Getting 6 Down To 5

The Yankees are currently using a 6-man rotation. I don't think it was ever planned this way, but Ivan Nova and Phil Hughes, to their credit, have pitched their way into making it happen. The Yankees have stated that they are going to get back down to 5. It as been reported that they might get creative in the way they make that happen - like skipping one of Colon/Garcia every time through the rotation to give them extra rest - and I would not be surprised if they end up going that route. But they also might go a more traditional route and simply remove someone from the rotation.

If they do, there are basically three sub-tiers within their rotation. The first - where you'd try to move mountains to make sure they got the ball every fifth day - is Sabathia. The second - established in the rotation - is Colon, Nova, and Garcia. That leaves the third - candidate for removal - to be Hughes and Burnett.

Make no mistake about it, I don't think Hughes is a candidate because of the way he's pitched. He struggled in those first three starts of the season, but since coming off the DL he's gotten increasingly better. He's 3-2 with an ERA just over 4.00 in 6 starts since coming off the DL. But his last 3 starts are 6 IP/2 ER, 6 IP/0 ER, and 6 IP/2 ER. Small sample size, but that's what you're looking for. The reason I think Hughes is in the mix to get bounced is because he's probably the best candidate to transition smoothly to a relief role, because he was so successful setting up Rivera for the 2009 Championship team. I don't necessarily agree with it, short term or long term. Short term - if they can get him going he might have the highest upside in terms of being that number 2 behind Sabathia that they need. Long term - I don't know if him not getting innings, especially as his season was already shortened, is a good thing. I suppose you could make the same argument to the contrary, that since he's not going to get his innings anyway this year he can pitch out of the bullpen and start fresh the next year. Either way, my guess is there's a chance he could find himself in the pen.

That brings us to one of the hot topics in New York right now, A.J. Burnett. Based purely on overall numbers - 8-9, 4.60 - he'd be the one to get bounced. But as Cashman urged everyone to do in his defense of Burnett over the weekend, you have to look inside those numbers. It's easy to take those black and white numbers and just blast him - as DV and many others like to. And that's fine. But to see what his value has been for this team - good or bad - we have to dig deeper.

When we do so, it's not quite as bad as it seems. Burnett has made 24 starts this year. In 15 of them (62.5%), he's allowed 3 earned runs or less. In 6 more (21 total, 87.5%), he's allowed 4 earned runs or less. Now hold on one second. In all but 3 of Burnett's starts this year, he's given his team a chance to win. You may not see that as enough for what he's getting paid, but at this point what he's getting paid is inconsequential in terms of what his role is. They have him, and they are paying him the money, and now they have to do what is best for the team based on performance only. And his performance hasn't been that bad. He is 8-9 because he has the 28th worst run support of any starter in the game. If he was, say, 12-7 - not at all inconceivable given the numbers above - this may not be as much of a conversation even if the ERA remained unchanged.

That said, there have only been 5 starts all year (21%) where Burnett has been dominant. While he has only had 3 stinkers (12.5%), the problem is it seems like he is always one pitch away from having one. A lot of his 3-4 run outings seem and feel worse than they are because, after going 5 scoreless, he'll give up 4 runs in the 6th and surrender the lead (exactly what happened in his last start, against the Angels). I used to be able to live with this inconsistency better, because of what Burnett would give you at the high end. That is, he'd give you some stinkers, but he'd also give you the games where it was over before it started because he was so dominant. While he's limited the stinkers, the dominant performances have also shrunk. Given that he always feels like he's one pitch away, and that his 3-4 run performances can feel a lot worse, it's tough to trust him.

Considering all of this information, there is no easy answer. I'd prefer to see Hughes in over Burnett, but I don't necessarily want Burnett out. I could even make the case that while I definitely prefer Garcia over Burnett in the regular season, I prefer Burnett over Garcia in the playoffs, should the Yankees get there, because Burnett has more of a chance to shut a good offense down. There's also the issue of whether or not Burnett, with his control problems, can even pitch out of the bullpen. At the same time, maybe his stuff plays up and he can pound the zone more with his 4-seamer in short stretches, and then use his nasty breaking ball more selectively. You get my point here, there's no easy answer.

I'll be honest, before digging into these numbers, the answer would have been pretty easy for me - Burnett. If I had to make the call, I'd still probably go with him because of how on the brink he often seems of imploding, even when pitching well. I think this is especially the case for the regular season, but again my concern would be if you remove him now it's tough to get him back physically and mentally for a potential big playoff start, and I might prefer him to Garcia in that scenario. So again, really not easy, especially after looking at those numbers.

Should be interesting to see what the Yankees end up doing. It will also be interesting to see how Burnett's start in Kansas City goes tonight.


the gm said...


Thank you for writing this and keeping it real. I think what we can all say here is that if Burnett had the run support Lackey has received this year, he'd have better numbers than Lackey. He can escape the crappy fifth or sixth inning like Lackey has.

The problem is, and as you said through the text machine that last night was a perfect example, a baseball game is nine innings, not four innings. A starting pitcher is supposed to get through at least seven, not four. If Burnett continues to go four scoreless and get shelled in the fifth, he either puts the Yankees in the precarious position of needing to come back from a deficit or in the precarious position of torching their bullpen by giving them 4-5 innings of work every time the guy takes the mound at the beginning of the game.

It is interesting to see that you are calling for the removal of Burnett from the rotation, not because you're a fanboy of his, but because of his potential/ceiling/whatever compared to that of some of the other guys in the rotation. By "other guys" I mean everyone except for Sabathia, his ceiling is higher than. Who knows what the deal is with this guy, but he needs to keep it together for longer.

Anonymous said...

good points dv. last night was pretty much a perfect example. the final line was acceptable - 5.2 IP, 3 ER (burnett himself said last night this line is nothing to get overly excited about, but it is still acceptable in my book considering the yankees' offense). but what that line doesn't tell you is that he gave up all 3 runs in the 5th while also surrendering a 2-0 lead. the yankees came back to win the game, but with the way the yankees' 7-8-9th inning relievers are lining up, it is critical that yankees' starters and their middle relief hold close leads in the 5th and 6th innings to deliver those three pitchers the ball with a lead in the later innings. as i said in my post, fair or not, burnett seems like he's always one pitch away from surrendering that lead.

on your final point, two things. first, at this point i'm not totally sold that his ceiling is higher than hughes, colon, or nova. just as we used the numbers to prove that burnett hasn't been that bad, the numbers also prove he hasn't been that dominant. i'm not going to put any of those guys ahead of burnett in terms of ceiling, because outside of colon none of them have had a lot of dominant starts either; but i'm also not putting burnett above them.

second, his ceiling is higher than garcia's. and that's what makes removing him from the rotation tricky. i like garcia more for the regular season, but i might prefer burnett in a potential playoff start depending on the matchup. as i mentioned in the post, if you remove burnett now it's tough to put him back in. you risk losing him physically and/or mentally. it's not an easy decision, and it will be easy to see how the yankees' approach it. it's a good problem to have at the end of the day, 6 guys who are pitching well enough to be in a rotation in a pennant race.

- pf

Anonymous said...

anyone care that thome hit 600 homeruns? i certainly dont


Anonymous said...


Sorry for the late comment here but have been busy being the anti-JD Drew lately.

As has been said I thought this was a well written logical post. My only addition is that if you are the Yankees I think you keep Hughes in the rotation provided he is pitching okay. Of course there are no free lunches here and if he's not performing you take him out. But I just don't know how much more you can jerk this guy around without jeopordizing his confidence/career.