2010 AL Playoff Rotations: New York Yankees

Going into the season, the Yankees looked like they might have the best starting rotation in the league. Things didn’t quite work out that way: Javier Vazquez had an unforeseeable collapse (I mean, “obviously can’t pitch in New York”), Andy Pettitte got hurt, A.J. Burnett Burnetted the season. The Yankees’ group of playoff starters still looks good against all of baseball once their updated CHONE projections are taken into account (using CHONE’s projected context-neutralized ERA and FIP derived from the projected line). However, the Yankees staff becomes less intimidating once compared with the Twins, Rangers, and Rays. This is not to say that the Yankees have the worst rotation in the AL playoffs, but it is not the clear advantage for them one might have expected in March.

1) CC Sabathia CHONE 3.28 nERA, 3.60 FIP
2010: 4.8 WAR, 3.55 FIP, 3.78 xFIP, 3.34 tERA, 3.18 ERA

To be clear: I don’t think CC Sabathia should win the AL Cy Young. Nonetheless, 2010 isn’t a constant, either, and if in earlier posts I seemed to give Sabathia a bit of the short shrift, it may have been due to an overemphasis on the current season. Yes, the most recent season carries the most weight, but 2008 and 2009 also (should) figure into estimates of a player’s true talent. When everything is taken into account, while Sabathia has been outperformed in 2010 by fellow playoff pitchers Cliff Lee, Francisco Liriano as well as others not in the playoffs, he’s probably still one of the best pitchers in baseball, and his CHONE projection reflects that. Sabathia’s strikeout and walk rates have declined a fair bit from his monster 2008, and a (very) small bit from 2009, but are both still very good. He’s still a horse, averaging about seven innings a start. This season his groundball rate is up to around 50%, making him an even tougher opponent. A number of pitchers clearly had better seasons than Sabathia in 2010; but he still matches up with anyone in the playoffs.

2) Andy Pettitte CHONE 4.27 nERA, 4.23 FIP
2010: 1.9 WAR, 3.96 FIP, 4.10 xFIP, 4.04 tERA, 3.17 ERA

Pettitte’s WAR is relatively low because injuries limited him to 125 innings over 20 starts so far this season. His ERA is excellent, but Pettitte doesn’t have a recent track record of being this much better than his FIP and xFIP, and his tERA is in line with FIP/xFIP as well. Pettitte isn’t a groundball machine any more. His strikeout rate isn’t average, but it isn’t terrible, and he avoids walks. Pettitte is far from dominating, but he is still a good pitcher when he’s healthy, and the Yankees really need to him to be healthy.

3) Phil Hughes CHONE 3.9 nERA, 4.10 FIP
2010: 2.0 WAR, 4.29 FIP, 4.37 xFIP, 4.02 tERA ,4.21 ERA

Hughes has had a bit of a rough time of it lately, and although he hasn’t become the ace some thought he would be, he’s had a solid if unspectacular season. In the transition into the rotation from the bullpen he has predictably lost some strikeouts, but his K rate is still good, and he has continued to do well in avoiding walks. Hughes’ main problem is that he’s been one of the more extreme flyball pitchers in baseball this season, which, combined with an average HR/FB rate, has led to a lot of homers. Hughes’ numbers up fairly well against #3 starters in the AL playoffs. However, although Yankee Stadium is relatively neutral with respect to run scoring generally, it seems to favor the home run, which could be a problem for Hughes in the playoffs given his skill set.

4) A.J. Burnett CHONE 4.16 nERA, 4.46 FIP
2010: 1.0 WAR, 4.81 FIP, 4.65 xFIP, 4.77 tERA, 5.33 ERA

Burnett didn’t quite (ahem) deliver what the Yankees were paying for in 2010. They didn’t expect a fourth starter, but that’s what he will be in the playoffs. In the first round, the Yankees are hoping Sabathia can go on short rest so Burnett won’t have to pitch at all. That’s a good idea. Putting the contract and expectations aside and comparing Burnett with the other fourth starters in the playoffs, he comes off okay. Although his strikeout rate is down, it’s still around average, and his walk rate is almost exactly the same as his career rate. When you compare his 2010 numbers to other #4 playoff starters like Nick Blackburn and Tommy Hunter, he’s the the better pitcher. Only three years and about $50 million dollars left on a guy I just tried to compliment with favorable comparisons to Nick Blackburn and Tommy Hunter.

I haven’t covered potential injury problems recurring with, e.g., Andy Pettitte. It is clear that the Yankees would not be too thrilled at the prospect of having to start Javier Vazquez (whose stunning 2010 collapse deserves a detailed analysis of its own) or Ivan Nova in a playoff game. Almost as frightening (or more) for Yankees fans would be that such a situation would force Burnett to start in the ALDS rather than potentially being skipped. Pettitte and Hughes compare well to other #2 and #3 starters in the AL playoffs, although I think the Rangers have an edge against them with C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis. The Yankees obviously are counting on Sabathia quite heavily to match up with other teams’ aces, pitch deep into games, and possibly pitch on short rest to minimize the amount of Burnett. This last point is especially important if the Yankees’ opponent decides to pitch their ace on short rest as well. It will be fascinating to watch it all shake out, and some surprises inevitably are going to make me look foolish.

Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
11 years ago

“”Going into the season, the Yankees looked like they might have the best starting rotation in the league…Javier Vasquez had an unforeseeable collapse””

According to who exactly? A lot of people saw Vasquez’s collapse coming a mile away and I don’t recall many people outside of Yankee die hards saying they’d have a better rotation than the White Sox, Red Sox or Mariners.

11 years ago
Reply to  Jonathan

There were some people who thought the Yanks might have the best rotation in baseball. (Nobody said the Mariners would have the best rotation in baseball. I’m sorry, but nobody saw Doug Fister, Jason Vargas, and Ryan Rowland-Smith and thought they were the new 1990’s Atlanta Braves.)

And actually, many NY fans were mistrustful of Javier Vazquez from the very beginning after watching him melt-down in 2004.

11 years ago
Reply to  waynetolleson

People saw the Mariners rotation of Felix, Cliff Lee, Bedard, RRS, and Vargas as being a good rotation.

11 years ago
Reply to  waynetolleson

“People saw the Mariners rotation of Felix, Cliff Lee, Bedard, RRS, and Vargas as being a good rotation.”

I live in Seattle. I don’t know of a single person who seriously counted upon Erik freakin’ Bedard for anything.

Cliff Lee and Felix Hernandez, I’ll grant you. They were as a good a 1-2 punch as any in recent baseball history. Vargas was a really nice surprise, and so was Doug Fister before he went on the DL.

RRS was a disappointment, but not a completely surprising one. He always seemed to be doing it with smoke & mirrors every time I watched him pitch.

The funny thing about baseball is that the Mariners were a 100-loss team in 2010, and had they held-on to Lee, no team would have wanted to face the Mariners in the playoffs.

Baseball is a funny game.

11 years ago
Reply to  Jonathan

Who foresaw Va(z)quez’ collapse? After his Cy-Young-calibre season last year? Please cite one article. People expect a low 4 ERA from Javy in 2010, given some regression and a shift to the AL East, but not a 4-5 mph drop in fastball velocity.

11 years ago
Reply to  delv

I wouldn’t say that I would have foreseen this collapse. However, I did see Vazquez collapse in 2004. The guy just has never responded to pressure, and NYC is constant pressure from Opening Day. I didn’t expect this steep a collapse, but having seen it once before, I can’t say I’m entirely surprised, either.