Before the Yankees’ adopted a six-man rotation at the end of July, the team’s starters had posted one of the lowest combined ERAs in the league. Since then, however, the Yankees’ rotation has ranked 9th in the league with a 4.85 ERA. Coincidence or correlation?
When Joe Girardi first decided to expand the rotation to six, it was presented as a temporary solution to the Yankees’ glut of starters. In reality, however, it was really a structure designed to keep the struggling A.J. Burnett in a starting role. Six weeks later, not only has Burnett continued to weigh on the team, but now it seems as if the efforts made to accommodate the erratic righty have brought the rest of the staff down with him.
Yankees’ Starters ERA vs. American League, by Defined Period (click to enlarge)
Luckily, the Yankees’ offense produced at season-high levels during August and early September. As a result, the team’s winning percentage has actually been higher since the Yankees’ adopted the six-man rotation (.614 vs. .600). However, the end doesn’t justify the means. Not only could the Yankees have won even more games during this period, but the team now finds itself with a rotation in flux only two weeks before the start of the post season. The six-man rotation may have been designed to accomplish something, but it’s hard to figure out exactly what.
The aggregate decline in the starting rotation’s performance is enough of a reason to doubt the Yankees’ pitching strategy, but even more concerning is how pervasive the impact has been. Although the younger Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova have performed better on extra rest, the four veterans in the rotation have all lagged considerably. Granted, Burnett, Bartolo Colon, and Freddy Garcia were all candidates for a drop off regardless of the change, but what stands out the most is what has happened to staff ace CC Sabathia.
Yankees’ Starters Before and After the Six-Man Rotation
|Before July 31|
|A.J. Burnett||10||12||138 1/3||4.23||1.294||7.8||16.4||6.3||52.6|
|Bartolo Colon||10||6||97 2/3||3.23||1.228||7.8||14.9||6.1||54.8|
|Brian Gordon||1||1||10 1/3||5.23||1.452||3.5||15.3||5.2||44.0|
|CC Sabathia||17||6||168 2/3||2.56||1.115||8.3||14.8||7.3||61.8|
|Freddy Garcia||10||8||110 1/3||3.18||1.296||6.0||14.8||6.1||53.4|
|Phil Hughes||3||4||31 2/3||8.24||1.895||4.5||18.1||4.5||35.4|
|Since July 31|
|CC Sabathia||4||5||61 1/3||4.26||1.533||10.0||16.1||6.8||50.9|
|Freddy Garcia||4||1||24 2/3||5.84||1.500||5.5||18.0||4.9||44.4|
|Ivan Nova||6||2||52 2/3||3.42||1.158||6.0||14.7||6.6||55.6|
Note: Wins and losses represent team results, not individual records.
Source: baseball-reference.com and fangraphs.com
In his nine starts since the Yankees’ abandoned the traditional five-man set, Sabathia has pitched to a 4.26 ERA. Even more concerning, however, is how hittable the big lefty has appeared during the stretch. In five of his last nine outings, Sabathia has allowed at least 10 hits. During the first four months, he had only one such game, and before this year, he had never had more than five in any one season.
Before Sabathia’s recent struggles, the Yankees had won 17 of his 23 starts, but have now lost five of his last nine. What’s more, there has also been some collateral damage. During the recent stretch, Sabathia has averaged two fewer outs per game. As a result, not only has the bullpen been overworked in games when Sabathia hasn’t started, but it has also lost the typical day of rest it previously enjoyed every fifth game. Perhaps that’s why the following secondary relievers have been tagged with a loss in recent Yankee defeats: Hector Noesi, Scott Proctor, Aaron Laffey, Cory Wade and Boone Logan?
As if losing more games, wearing out the bullpen, and upsetting the routine of your ace aren’t bad enough, the Yankees have also painted themselves into a corner with regard to their post season starting rotation. Regardless of whether Sabathia goes on four or five days rest next week, the team will be forced to use their ace on short rest in his final start if they want to line him up for the ALDS opener. Regardless of what one thinks about the merits of the six-man rotation, Girardi’s failure to set Sabathia up for the post season could be a costly miscalculation.
Would the Yankees rotation have performed better on normal rest? Has Sabathia’s late season slump been the result of too much rest? It’s impossible to say, but the Yankees had a starting rotation that wasn’t broken until an attempt was made to fix it. Now, with the days dwindling down, the Yankees will have to scramble just to get back to where they started. Perhaps it will all work out in the end, but the means to get there has been questionable nonetheless.