As the trade deadline approaches, I’m increasingly certain that the Yankees aren’t going to make a trade for a number two starter. The Yankees have a legitimately deep, talented farm system
that they intend to squander with value that needs to be assessed carefully. That big, empty-the-farm pitcher isn’t available this year. Ubaldo Jimenez was that guy in 2010. He’s not in 2011. James Shields wasn’t in 2010, is this year, but probably won’t be traded within the division, if at all.
At the beginning of the season everyone took it as a given that the Yankees would be in the market for a starter, at all costs. At the time this made sense. CC Sabathia: BEAST, but after him the Yankees were looking to Phil Hughes who’d had a bad second half and the mercurial A.J. Burnett. Anyone with a pulse and an arm was in a position to serve as the fourth and fifth starters. And that’s precisely what the Yankees did with Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon.
A funny thing happened on the way to 2007 redux. Colon was surgerically repaired (do you believe in magic?) to his old form and Garcia had something left in the tank. Through 18 and 19 starts respectively, these two have given the Yankees 104.0 and 111.1 innings of 3.40 and 3.65 FIP baseball. Each pitcher has been worth exactly 2.0 fWAR.
For the entire season to date I’ve marveled at Colon’s stuff (Larry can testify that I was always a HUGE supporter) and been indifferent to Garcia for his lack of stuff. As a result, I’ve never bothered to investigate how they’re putting up solid numbers, until now. We’ll start with Freddy.
Make no mistake, Freddy may not have a single pitch that tops 88 mph, but he’s been excellent for the Yankees so far this season. His ERA/FIP/xFIP are 3.23/.3.65/4.11. His strike out rate is 5.98 per nine innings, which isn’t spectacular, but he makes up for it with a respectable 2.59 walk rate and a tiny 6.3% home run rate. No matter how you slice it, Garcia is getting the job done.
Anyone who pays attention to Al Leiter when he announces Yankee games will surely have heard him say that a pitcher doesn’t need to throw hard if he knows how to pitch. Garcia is the embodiment of that logic. Freddy’s fastball averages 87.3 mph, according to Fangraphs, and is his hardest pitch by a considerable margin. Garcia makes up for his slow moving heater (if you can call it that) with four other pitches that he throws at least 7.9% of the time each. He mixes in a slider, a split fingered fastball, a curveball and a changeup. The slider and the splitter make up about 45% of what he throws. All these pitches range in speed from just 72 mph to 81 mph, each breaking differently through the zone.
Garcia’s fastball is as bad as you’d expect such a slow, straight offering to be. It’s worth -1.01 runs for every 100 thrown, but that’s ok because his slider, curveball and splitter are all plus pitches, worth 0.72, 0.77 and 0.61 runs for every 100 thrown respectively, while his change is a neutral offering. In defense of what Al Leiter says, any pitcher with three plus pitches will be successful in the major leagues, regardless how hard he throws.
This portion of the post came about because Larry was wondering why Garcia had gotten hit so hard against the Red Sox and the Blue Jays, in what were really his only bad starts of the year. In light of these data, stopping short of breaking down the performance of my two least favorite Yankee opponents, I’m going to posit that Garcia was missing his spots against teams that force you to make your pitches. If Garcia hangs a slider or a splitter, good offensive teams will punish him. Fortunatley for the Yankees, he hasn’t done that a lot this season.
If Freddy Garcia needed a few paragraphs to break down what he’s done this year, Colon can be summed up in a single word: fastball. Bartolo Colon has only thrown fastballs this season, and every season for which Fangraphs has pitch type data. Since 2002, Colon has thrown his fastball at least 72.9% of the time. In 2009 he threw it 90% of the time. This season he throws it 83.4% of the time, which is to say always. To put things into perspective, CC throws his fastball 60.3% of the time. Colon is proud of his fastball, as Michael Kay would say.
And with good reason. According to Fangraphs, Colon’s fastball is worth 0.77 runs for every 100 thrown, making it the fourteenth most valuable fastball in the American League. His fastball lines up close to pitchers such as Michael Pineda, Ricky Romero and David Price, all of whom can pitch a little, last I checked. The results speak for themselves. Colon’s ERA/FIP/xFIP are an impressive 3.29/3.40/3.25. With a strike out rate of 7.96 and a walk rate of 2.34 Colon has been the second best pitcher on the Yankees.
Performance-wise, Bartolo’s one weakness is that he only throws fastballs. Occasionally he’ll mix in a below average slider (-0.40 runs) and an awful changeup (-2.86 runs), but if he throws 100 pitches in a game he turns to those two pitches just 15 times in total, about 1.5 times per inning. So, really, he doesn’t use them. This means that everything flows from that fastball. As we’ve all seen, when Colon is getting that filthy horizontal movement on his two seamer he’s practically unbeatable, but when he’s not he can implode quickly. Bartolo’s worse outings came about right around his injury, particularly just when he came back from the DL and has been good for two consecutive starts. Hopefully the worst is behind him.
Entering this season the Yankees were perceived as under dogs (to the extent that was possible) because of their uncertain starting rotation. The Bombers took chances on Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia and hit the jackpot, twice. To a certain extent, the problems the Yankees are trying to answer now are because these two have spoiled them so much. If Colon and Garcia had struggled the team would be looking for starters to make a push for the playoffs. Instead, these two have thrived, and the Yankees are legitimate contenders. Rather than becoming concerned that one of the two gets seriously injured this late in the season (a legitimate risk), I’m trying to enjoy the ride because it’s always fun to play with house money.
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