The Yankees currently have six starting pitchers. Two are highly paid, two are hardened veterans, and two are on the young side, at least by comparison to their rotation mates. As a unit, they have compiled the sixth-best WAR among starters, but despite that, where each member fits in the rotation behind CC Sabathia is up for debate. Which one of the five should move to the bullpen or be demoted? Or, should the Yankees run out six starters? With the Yankees currently riding a seven-game winning streak as they march into the Fens this weekend, it’s a question that Joe Girardi will likely backburner for a few more days. While he’s procrastinating, it gives us time to debate the merits of each option. Let’s go through each, starting with the longest odds.
Phil Hughes gets dropped from the rotation: 25-1
Hughes has long been the golden boy in the Yankees rotation, outlasting both Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain. In his first four starts after coming off of the disabled list, he traded bad outing for good, but in his last outing he put a halt to that short-lived trend with a dominant start against the White Sox. He allowed just three baserunners in a six-inning “complete game” shutout. His WPA for the start was .276, his highest mark for a single outing since his start against the Twins last October 9. Even more encouraging for Yankees’ fans however, was that his velocity ticked back up to where it was last season. In a perfect world, Hughes comes back to form quickly, and is slated into the second or third starter’s role come postseason, and it’s likely Girardi will give him every opportunity to reclaim that status.
Freddy Garcia gets dropped from the rotation: 15-1
Garcia has essentially been the second-best pitcher on the staff this season. His edges over Colon are slight, but a few things tip the scales towards him. First, with more wins and a slightly better ERA, he has the edge in superficial stats. Second, Garcia has been better lately. His 3.55 ERA, 2.02 FIP and 3.52 xFIP over the last 30 days easily trump Colon’s 4.74, 3.90 and 4.09 marks in that same time span. Third, and perhaps most importantly, Garcia seems less likely to wear down. Garcia threw 157 innings in the Majors last season, and while they weren’t good innings, the endurance he built back up last year may help him down the stretch this season.
Bartolo Colon gets dropped from the rotation: 13-1
Colon is essentially even with Garcia, and there is a case for keeping Colon over Garcia. For one, his FIP and xFIP L/R and home/road splits have been less pronounced than have Garcia’s. His xFIP- for the year is 18% better than is Garcia’s as well. In addition, he has been much more efficient, as his K/BB mark reflects. But much of that brilliance came early. Colon’s xFIP has worsened with each successive month, and while his 3.76 mark in July was still none too shabby, it’s fair to wonder if he’ll last through October. Colon has shown a drop in velocity his past four starts, and while he rebounded from such a drop earlier in the year, his mojo may eventually run out. I also put Colon as more likely to lose his rotation spot because his mix of pitches — essentially just fastball and slider — would probably work better in the bullpen than the rest of his rotation mates. With a playoff spot all but assured even with two months to go, perhaps the Yankees could test him out in the bullpen now to see how he responds. If he is not able to physically handle the up and down grind of the ‘pen, perhaps a phantom DL move would be the way to preserve his bullets.
Yankees go to a modified six-man rotation: 10-1
This might be the best plan, both for the Yankees and for Girardi. The modification would be keeping Sabathia on his normal five-day schedule, with everyone falling in line around the big man. It would save Garcia and Colon some wear and tear down the stretch, and it would take the pressure off of Burnett, Hughes and Nova. Furthermore, it would spare Girardi from having to make a decision where there is currently no easy answer. If he lets a six-man rotation play out for the next four-five weeks, perhaps the person who doesn’t belong in the rotation will become obvious.
A.J. Burnett gets dropped from the rotation: 7-1
This would probably be the people’s choice. After all, the fans aren’t paying Burnett $16.5 million a year, and the Yankees make money hand over first, right? But the thing about Burnett is that much of his damage has been isolated in a few outings — in his four worst starts of the season, he allowed 26 runs for a 10.88 RA. In the other 19, he allowed 52 runs for a 3.90 RA. Perhaps those numbers aren’t as good as the other members of the rotation, but they’re still not bad either. In addition, Burnett’s xFIP has come down in each successive month since May, with his June and July marks of 3.78 and 3.76 being more than solid. I a vacuum may deserve his spot less than everyone else, these decisions are rarely made in a vacuum.
Ivan Nova gets dropped from the rotation: 5-1
Nova sure picked a good time for his best start of the year. But he’s the low man on the totem pole, and the one who’s tasted Minor League ball the most this year. In addition, of the five members of the rotation who have been healthy the majority of the year, Nova has the lowest K/9 and the lowest K/BB. He has been better in both regards over the past two months, and he has clearly shown enough to warrant keeping his spot in the rotation, but the same rationale that won out in sending Nova down on the heels of allowing just one run in Citi Field is likely the same rationale that will win the day now as well.
As I stated earlier, the Yankees are likely headed to the postseason no matter who gets dropped from the rotation now, if anyone is dropped at all. The real decision for Girardi will be who starts in the playoffs. At the moment, the only clear-cut choice is Sabathia.