Apart from all the injuries, Bartolo Colon has been the big story out of the Yankee pitching staff this year, and for good reason. After Colon, the next big story has to be Freddy Garcia. Anytime your GM can pick up a couple players for under a million dollars a pop and have each of them post 116 ERA+’s or better (Colon’s is actually better than CC Sabathia‘s) it’s going to make the news. But the resurgence of these two has overshadowed two equally important, but different pitching story lines.
Lost amid the rest of the excitement is the fact that A.J. Burnett isn’t having such a bad year. His 4.09 ERA is good for an ERA+ of 102. His WHIP of 1.216 would be by far his best since 2007. His 0.9 WAR thus far is third best among starters on the team. Even his FIP and xFIP are solid, coming in at 4.33 and 3.91 respectively.
None of these stats is lights out in and of itself (except the WHIP, which is better than CC’s), but the complete picture is that of a pitcher who has gotten off to a respectable start to the season. Burnett is always erratic, but after his epic struggles last year who wouldn’t take a full season of this? Furthermore, the WHIP indicates some potential upside as the season continues. A.J. usually hemorrhages base runners. If his ability to get that under control so far this year is a genuine improvement, he may be able to build on his solid start. Either way, Burnett has quietly been the Yankees third best starter thus far in 2011 and has given them 88 innings, second most on the team.
The other pitching story line that has been over looked this year is Ivan Nova. My anecdotal impression is that Nova takes a lot of lumps from Yankee fans, which is a pity, because he’s off to a respectable start for a rookie fifth starter. So far this season Ivan has given the Yankees 67 innings of 0.7 WAR pitching, both of which rate him as a better option than Freddy Garcia. His ERA and ERA+ are 4.30 and 97 respectively, which is fine for a fifth starter. Furthermore, his peripherals are solid. His FIP is 4.32 and his xFIP is 4.52. While none of these stats will land Nova on the All Star team, he is putting together the best first-third of a season that we’ve seen from a Yankee fifth starter in some time.
The one hole to Nova’s game is that he doesn’t strike anyone out. His K/9 rate is 4.7, which is barely above his BB/9 rate of 3.9. The low strike out totals make him less exciting to watch, and also hurt many of his value stats. This, along with his dangerously high WHIP of 1.537, removes some of Nova’s luster. The negative impression is obscuring the fact that if Ivan can maintain his current rate stats for the entire season, give or take, he’ll have earned a role on the Yankees as either a back of the rotation starter, or a long reliever. One need look no further than all the injuries the team has recently sustained to see that this kid has value to the team over the long run, if he can keep up his current performance.
Bartolo Colon and, to a lesser extent, Freddy Garcia deserve to be the big story lines out of the pitching staff so far this year. Coming into Tuesday night’s game, Fangraphs had the Yankees trailing only the Red Sox in team WAR in all of baseball. That doesn’t happen if these two don’t come out of no where to solidify the middle of the Yankee rotation. But, lost in all the excitement, is the solid performances the Yankees have gotten from Burnett and Nova. It is just as fair to say that they have also contributed to the team’s pitching success so far in 2011.
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