After strong showings by Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova facing the White Sox, the Yanks were faced with a dilemma. They’d prefer not to go with a 6 man rotation for a variety of reasons, but both of the young hurlers performed so well, in a pressure situation, that they not only saved their spots in the rotation but threw their caps in the ring as competitors for the elusive #2 starter’s role on the team. The easiest decision for Girardi would have come had one of them been bombed. Hughes would have been sent to the bullpen to reprise his 2009 role, or Ivan Nova would have been sent to AAA since he has options remaining. But neither of those scenarios happened. One could argue ‘it was against the White Sox’ but that didn’t seem to help AJ Burnett.
So now the Yanks are faced with a good problem, but that doesn’t make it any easier to unravel. The Yanks don’t want a 6 man rotation, but they’re also desperate for a #2 type starter for October. Both Hughes and Nova displayed that ability last week, so jettisoning either from the starting rotation could be a big mistake. If Hughes goes to the bullpen, you’ll lose him as an option for the rest of the year and more importantly the playoffs, since in short order his arm won’t be stretched out enough to give you length. If you send Nova to the minors again, for a 2nd time where his performance didn’t dictate it, you risk disillusioning the young man thinking that no matter what he does he will always be the odd man out on this team. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t exactly be wrong about that. It’s not as if he has something he needs to work on, the slider he displyed in Chicago is the final piece of the puzzle for Nova, and it raises his ceiling from a back of the rotation ground ball pitcher to someone who can generate grounders AND miss bats. That’s huge. As a profile, that’s what some of the best pitchers in the game do consistently, so now Ivan just needs to show he can do it on a regular basis and keep doing what he’s doing. For him to prove he can do that, it needs to happen on the MLB level. Both young pitchers need to stay in the rotation now to see if they can fill that #2 role in October.
Nobody wants to take starts away from CC Sabathia, or even upset his routine all that much. He’s one of the 3 best pitchers (along with Verlander and Weaver) in the American League. The 8 game bulge the Yanks currently enjoy for the playoffs would allow for it, but you want him to stay sharp and stay on the roll he’s currently on. Too much rest could take him out of that rhythm, and like most pitchers CC often talks about being a pitcher who likes to establish a routine and stay with it.
Burnett’s problem is, was, and always has been fastball command. Extra rest may give him a little boost on his velocity, but can only hurt his command. If you think he’s been bad as your #2 starter, check out his Days of Rest splits for his career. On 5 days rest the walks rise and the strikeouts decline, as expected. He’s not going to the bullpen, either. One of the biggest issues of his disappointing career where his results have never matched up with his stuff has been his ability to keep his emotions in check. By his own admission, he gets down on himself lets a few bad pitches snowball into a 6 run inning. Sending someone with a fragile psyche who’s been a starter his entire career to the bullpen is to risk losing him as a productive member of the team completely. He’s signed for 2 more years to a contract nobody will take. You have to run him out there, and if that’s tough to swallow I would suggest viewing him more as a #5 than a #2. As a career .500 pitcher, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment if you expect more.
Onto the proposal. Everyone worries that the surgically repaired shoulders of Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon simply won’t hold up all year. Even if they were never hurt, there would concern that ages of Garcia (34) and Colon (38) would lead them to run out of gas down the stretch. Considering both factors, I think its too much to ask for 30+ effective starts out of either of them. Both should benefit from added rest, particularly at this point of the season. I would alternate to these two as #5 starters while keeping everyone else on their regular turns. Due to rain outs, here are 50 games left in the next 53 days of the season, including an August 27th doubleheader facing the Orioles. Given how jam packed the schedule is, that means that Garcia and Colon would split up 11 starts over the final two months of the year, and both would be lined up perfectly to take both ends of the August doubleheader. If Garcia takes 6 of those and Colon takes 5, that would put Garcia at a manageable 25 starts for the year and roughly 150 IP. Colon would log 22 starts and 140-150 IP for the season. Given their age and injury history, that sounds like a reasonable number for both men. When faced with a close call, I’d lean toward giving Garcia one of those 11 starts, since he’s a feel pitcher who needs to stay as sharp as possible. As power pitcher who’s always had good fastball command, Colon should only benefit from added days off at this point of the year. Of course, if anyone gets injured or proves ineffective, then you go back to the traditional 5 man and make your move then. But as a temporary or permanent measure, I think this proposal will work for all parties involved, including the two aging starters. There’s a thought in baseball that aging pitchers only have so many bullets in their arm, let them save those bullets for October.
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