Hitters yesterday, pitchers today.
CC Sabathia: 12-3, 3.09 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 7.1 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, 2.54 K/BB, 13 QS (68%)
Sabathia tends to start slowly in April, but after a dud on Opening Day Night, he ran off six straight strong starts, which spoiled us a bit and made his three bad outings in his next four turns and May gopheritis (8 homers in his first five starts that month) seem like a bigger problem than they actually were. Since the calendar flipped to June, he’s gone 8-0 with a 1.81 ERA and just two home runs allowed in eight starts. Crisis over. Incidentally, after 19 starts last year, CC was 8-6 with a 3.86 ERA.
A.J. Burnett: 7-7, 4.75 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, 6.8 K/9, 3.8 BB/9, 1.76 K/BB, 8 QS (44%)
Burnett had only two real duds over the first two months of the season, but his June was a total disaster: 0-5, 11.35 ERA, 9 homers in just 23 innings over five starts. Those five starts coincided exactly with pitching coach Dave Eiland’s absence from the team, and A.J. has been sharp in his two starts since Eiland’s return (13 2/3 IP, 9 H, 2 R, 0 HR). That bodes well for Burnett’s second-half performance, but, jeez, talk about a hothouse flower. A.J. is the second-highest paid starter in the Yankee rotation, but is last among the team’s starting five in each of the stats listed above, largely due to his horrid June.
Andy Pettitte: 11-2, 2.70 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 6.9 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, 2.49 K/BB, 13 QS (76%)
Pettitte, who just had the best first half of his 16-year career, was undeniably the Yankees’ ace in the first half. He allowed more than three runs in just three of his 17 starts, completed five innings in every one of those 17 starts, and completed six or more innings in 14 of them. Despite Pettitte’s protests, the Yankees skipped his second start in May because of some tightness in his elbow, but he had only allowed one run in the start before being skipped, allowed none in six innings after returning to action, and hasn’t had any further problems with the elbow since. As a pitcher who’s ERA has been nearly a half-run lower in the second half than the first over the course of his career, he’s a legitimate Cy Young contender.
Javier Vazquez: 7-7, 4.45 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 7.6 K/9, 3.6 BB/9, 2.11 K/BB, 9 QS (53%)
Vazquez’s return to the Yankees started almost as badly as his previous stint ended, though in retrospect, his 1-3, 9.78 ERA performance over his last five starts doesn’t look so bad compared to Burnett’s five-start in June. Javy at least had a win and back-to-back starts in which he allowed fewer runs than innings pitched. Still, Vazquez was lacking velocity on his fastball and seemed to be pitching scared, so the Yankees skipped his sixth start to give him a reboot. It worked. Since being skipped, Vazquez has posted a 2.75 ERA in 11 starts and one key relief outing (striking out Kevin Youkilis with two on and two out in a two-run game, setting up a ninth-inning rally against Jonathan Papelbon). Since the calendar flipped to June, seven of Vazquez’s eight starts have been quality.
Phil Hughes: 11-2, 3.65 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 8.1 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 3.14 K/BB, 9 QS (56%)
Taking off my analyst hat for a second, how freaking cool was it that Phil Hughes made the All-Star team? Given all of the expectations, hopes, the refusal to trade him for Johan Santana (which I agreed with), the injuries, the struggles, to watch him pitch in the All-Star game at age 24 was just incredibly satisfying, even if he did wind up taking the loss. Andy Pettitte made the All-Star team as a 24-year-old sophomore and went on to be one of the best starting pitchers in the history of the franchise. Hughes is not only finally on that path, but he could actually be better than Andy in the long run. It’s enough to make my heart skip a beat.
Okay, back to an objective look at Hughes’ first half. Hughes was awesome in his first six starts (5-0, 1.38 ERA, nearly no-hitting the A’s in his second start of the season, allowing one or no runs in four of those six outings). He was also hit-lucky, benefiting from a .223 opponent’s average on balls in play and allowing just one home run despite giving up his fair share of fly balls. Since then he has posted a 5.08 ERA in ten starts, only half of which have been quality. He’s continued to win thanks to strong run support and his ability to pitch more than six innings per start on average, but his performance in those last ten games has been more “real” as it has been accompanied by a .315 BABIP (high, but not off the charts like his early-season mark) and ten home runs in ten starts (including seven taters in his last five).
Given that this is really Hughes’ first full season in the major league rotation (his previous high was 13 starts and 72 2/3 innings in his rookie year of 2007; he’s already at 16 starts and 101 innings this year), I have no problem with how he’s been pitching. His peripherals are strong, he’s proving he can work out of jams, turn over a lineup, etc. etc., and that 11-2 record and strong start are keeping the heat off his less dominating performance of late. Everything’s going according to plan, including the Yankees’ skipping him occasionally to keep his innings down. As far as finally getting his career as a starter on track, his first half has been an A. In the context of the rotation and the league as a whole:
Mariano Rivera: 1.05 ERA, 0.64 WHIP, 8.7 K/9, 1.6 BB/9, 5.50 K/BB, 20 SV, 2.400 WXRL
The Greatest of All Time still dominating at age 40 despite a sore left side and a bad right knee. Fuggedaboudit.
Joba Chamberlain: 5.79 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 9.6 K/9, 3.4 BB/9, 2.86 K/BB, 0.141 WXRL
Oh yeah, it was totally worth sacrificing up Chamberlain’s potential as a starter for this. To be fair, Chamberlain’s been better than his ERA and WHIP. Those peripherals are solid, and despite some ugly outings, he has still been a net positive per his WXRL (which totals up his impact on the team’s win expectancy in each of his outings). Still, since mid-May he has posted an 8.71 ERA in 22 outings, losing three games and blowing a save in a fourth. It’s not that he’s actually been awful, but he’s been maddeningly inconsistent. Instead of a potential successor to Mo, Joba has looked like the second-coming of Kyle Farnsworth or the relief version of Burnett. I’m becoming convinced that the Yankees greatly overestimated Chamberlain’s mental and emotional maturity and with all of the role-changing he’s done, he’s been set adrift and is developing into a classic million-dollar arm/ten-cent head-type with results that don’t live up to his stuff.
Here’s the good news regarding Joba’s rocky last two months: Joba has been unlucky, as opponents have hit .420 on balls in play against him since mid-May. He’s not giving up the long ball, having allowed just one home run over that stretch and just two on the season. He’s still striking guys out (19 Ks in 20 2/3 innings), and 14 of those 22 outings have been scoreless. Curiously, his scoreless outings have been coming come in threes. Since June 1, he’s turned in three-straight scoreless outings four times, each time giving up runs in his next appearance. That might just be a coincidence, but if I were the Yankees, I’d be looking for any kind of clue that might help Chamberlain get back to his pre-rotation dominance. Actually, if I were the Yankees, I’d trade for a lock-down eighth-inning guy, send Joba down to Triple-A as a starter and tell him we’re very sorry and we’ll never put him in the bullpen again. Chances of that happening: less than zero.
David Robertson: 5.46 ERA, 1.79 WHIP, 9.7 K/9, 5.2 BB/9, 1.88 K/BB, 0.296 WXRL
Walks were Robertson’s bugaboo coming up through the minors, and they’ve been a large part of his problem thus far this year, but one can understand why he might be afraid to throw strikes given his .398 BABIP. The good news is that, in direct contrast to Chamberlain, Robertson has been more effective since mid-May, posting a 2.82 ERA and allowing runs in just three of 21 outings since May 8. His walk rate hasn’t been better during that span, and his BABIP hasn’t been much better either, but he’s getting the job done (not allowing a home run in those 22 1/3 inning has helped).
Damaso Marte: 4.08 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 6.1 K/9, 5.6 BB/9, 1.09 K/BB, -0.495 WXRL
Those peripherals and WXRL tell a very different story that Marte’s roughly league-average ERA and solid WHIP. That’s because the LOOGY has allowed 27 percent of his 22 inherited runners to score. That’s just six runs, but it’s also just one less than Chamberlain and Robertson combined, and if you add those six runs in to Marte’s pitching line, his ERA leaps up to 7.13. Ouch. Marte seems to be getting the job done against lefties, who have hit .146/.200/.268 against him with 11 strikeouts in 45 plate appearances, but his BABIP on the season is .160, which suggests things could get real ugly in the second half. Are you convinced yet that the Yankees need to trade for a relief pitcher?
Chan Ho Park: 6.18 ERA, 1.48 WHIP, 7.2 K/9, 2.3 BB/9, 3.14 K/BB, -0.209 WXRL
If you’re getting depressed, you might want to stop reading now. Park missed a month due to a strained hamstring and it was probably his best month as a Yankee. When healthy, he has allowed six home runs in 27 2/3 innings and stranded just two of his six inherited runners. His peripherals are solid, but that doesn’t seem to be helping.
Alfredo Aceves: 3.00 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 1.5 K/9, 3.0 BB/9, 0.50 K/BB, 0.528 WXRL
Aceves hit the DL with a herniated disk on May 8 and is desperately trying to avoid season-ending surgery. After a set-back during his July 5 bullpen session and a third epidural, he has no timetable for a return. How much has his absence hurt the Yankees? He’s still second on the team in WXRL.
Sergio Mitre: 2.88 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 5.4 K/9, 3.2 BB/9, 1.67 K/BB, 0.146 WXRL
Entering his second season after Tommy John surgery, Mitre looked like a different pitcher in spring training and looked ready to step into Aceves’s utility stopper role until he pulled an oblique taking batting practice in preparation for the Yankees’ series at CitiField in mid-June. That was a devastatingly stupid injury. Fortunately, Mitre is close to returning, having already thrown nine rehab innings, including three for Triple-A Scranton Thursday night. Activating Mitre and calling up Jonathan Albaladejo (1.01 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 11.8 K/9, 4.92 K/BB in 44 2/3 innings for Triple-A Scranton) could go a long way toward improving the Yankee pen in the second half.
Boone Logan: 3.93 ERA, 1.75 WHIP, 6.4 K/9, 5.9 BB/9, 1.08 K/BB, 0.033 WXRL
See those peripherals? Mix in the fact that lefties have hit .280 against him with a .400 on-base percentage. The Yankees have been lucky that Logan has been a net positive in his two stints and is now again safely tucked away at Triple-A. They best not tempt fate by giving Logan a third chance.
Chad Gaudin: 4.67 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 6.8 K/9, 4.7 BB/9, 1.44 K/BB, -0.339 WXRL
As WXRL reveals, Gaudin has been worse than his traditional stats would suggest. Since being released by the A’s with an 8.83 ERA and re-signing with the Yankees, Gaudin has allowed runs in half of his ten appearances. He has pitched twice since June 21, and with starter Dustin Moseley now in the major league pen, I’d expect Gaudin to be dropped upon Mitre’s return.
The Yankees have gotten some quality emergency relief work from their Triple-A starters this year. Moseley, Romulo Sanchez, and Ivan Nova have combined for this line in five appearances: 9 2/3 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 6 K, with the only run scoring on a solo homer off Moseley, the only hit he allowed in a three-inning appearance. The sample is small enough to be meaningless, but Nova’s contribution came in his first two major league appearances, and Sanchez has recently been moved into the Scranton pen, which could be a precursor to his return to the major league pen. Less encouraging were Mark Melancon’s last two unfairly short stints (one appearance each). Melancon avoided his 2009 bugaboos, walking and hitting no one, but gave up five runs (four earned) in four total innings, and back at Triple-A his struggles have continued (4.72 ERA, 1.92 WHIP, 1.74 K/BB in 24 appearances since the end of April).
The Yankee bullpen is 20th in the majors in WXRL and 19th in ERA (4.14) and 9th in the AL in both measures. That’s with Mariano Rivera. The contrast between Mo and the rest of the bullpen has been so stark that it seems unfair to lump Rivera in with the rest. Here, then, is a grade for everyone else.
The only AL team with a better SNLVAR (the WXRL equivalent for starting pitchers) than the Yankees is the Mariners, and only the Padres and Cardinals have a better mark in the NL. Those teams and the Giants are the only clubs with better starters’ ERAs than the Yankees’ 3.68. The Yankees have needed just two spot starts all season (both by Sergio Mitre due to Pettitte’s elbow and Vazquez’s early struggles), and three of their starters deservedly made the All-Star team. Also worth noting, only the Phillies (largely due to Roy Halladay), and Mariners (due to Felix Hernandez and, until recently, Cliff Lee), have gotten more innings per start from their starters this year, which is why the Yankees D+ bullpen hasn’t been able to drag the team down in the first half.