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Yankees rotation preview: Sabathia, Nova and Garcia, oh my

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The Yankees will apparently go with a three-man rotation for the playoffs. Joe Girardi announced CC Sabathia will start Game 1, rookie Ivan Nova will start Game 2 and Freddy Garcia will start Game 3.

If Games 4 and 5 are required, the Yankees will apparently reset by sending Sabathia back to the mound. (This is in contrast to the Tigers, who appear to be happy with a 4-man rotation. Unless Jim Leyland is bluffing. Which he's probably not. But you never know what to believe with him.)

Looking at the Yankees playoff rotation, well, it just doesn't look that good. Yankees fans may take offense to that, but compared to most playoff rotations they just don't rate that well. Sabathia is obviously good. Nova has had good results, at least. Throwing Garcia is just admission AJ Burnett has been awful and the Yankees' offense is typically good enough to survive whatever starter takes the mound.

Here's a sketch of the three pitchers.

CC Sabathia

Sabathia really doesn't need much of an introduction, does he? He's big, he's incredibly good and he wears pajama pants to the mound.

His fastball averages 94 mph, and his slider is devastating. He has 8.72 strikeouts per nine innings and just 2.36 walks. His FIP is 2.88 and his xFIP is 3.02. Plus he gets batters to put the ball on the ground a lot. Yeah, he's good.

But he's nothing new to you, so we'll move on.

Ivan Nova

SB Nation's Rob Neyer wrote about Nova:

(H)is current status as the Yankees' No. 2 starter probably says equal parts about his growth and their desperation.

It isn't to say the 24-year-old right-hander isn't a good pitcher. He's got some nice results. 16 wins, 3.70 ERA, 59% quality start. His big thing is a ground ball rate of 52%. Since he calls Yankee Stadium home, that's a great starting point for any pitcher.

But don't pay too much attention to the wins. For one, well, it's wins. For two, he gets nearly 6.5 runs per 27 outs during the time he's on the mound, and 6 for games he starts. Going five or six innings with that kind of support will tend to get you some wins and not a lot of losses.

The ERA is good, but he's a pitcher who struck out 5.33 batters per nine innings while walking 3.10. That results in a Fangraphs-calculated SIERA of 4.14 and xFIP of 4.16. One area he has been especially lucky compared to his teammates is bequeathed runs scored. Yankees relievers let just 4 out of 29 get on the scoreboard for the best ratio on the team.

Fangraphs wrote of Nova earlier this month:

Nova appears to have been pitching over his head the entire season. Among all the candidates for the number two slot, Nova carries the lowest strikeout rate, and his 3.21 walk rate trails only AJ Burnett. While that’s hardly encouraging,

Nova will be pitching his games at home, where he is a career 4.19 ERA compared to 3.51 on the road. As you would probably expect, home runs have been a leading factor for that.

So he's decent, but we're not talking about the best pitcher in the world here. My gut sense is the Yankees would probably prefer not to start him in Game 2 of a playoff series, but they don't exactly have a lot of other good options so he's the second best of what they've got.

Freddy Garcia

One front page story at Pinstripe Alley -- the SBNation Yankees blog -- questioned whether to put AJ Burnett on the mound rather than Garcia. The numbers "surprisingly" -- he wrote -- favored Burnett. The fans in the comments seemed to agree.

Fangraphs' wrote the case for Garcia:

Garcia has only produced a negative WPA in 38% of his starts, whereas Burnett stands at 59%. Burnett has also been torched more frequently, as he has had eight starts this season with a -.200 WPA or worse, compared to just four times from Garcia. When you have a killer offense, you don’t necessarily have to have a three-hit shutout, you just want the game kept within reason. Garcia has shown he can do that with greater regularity than has Burnett

At this point, I have to point out that I can barely believe Garcia is in the Yankees playoff rotation -- and that has nothing to do with numbers.While battling injuries on a yearly basis, he actually signed a minor league deal with the Tigers in 2008. He even made it up to the big club. Of course we know he was with the White Sox the past two seasons and could get annoying.

OK now I'll show shock because of the numbers. Garcia pitched just twice in August, and four times in September. In those September games, he has allowed opponents an OPS of .973 and has an ERA of 7.36. During those four starts he has not gone more than 6 innings. He has allowed 7, 5, 3 and 0 runs. Maybe the Yankees like that pattern and expect -2.

Quoting ESPN New York's story:

The promotion of Garcia, who turns 35 on Oct. 6 and has a fastball that tops out in the mid-80s, exiled A.J. Burnett, the Yankees' $16.5 million per year No. 2 starter, to the bullpen and likely ensured that Bartolo Colon has thrown his last pitch in a Yankees uniform.

"We just like the way that Freddy's pitched," manager Joe Girardi said. "We talked about it and debated it a long time and decided to go with Freddy. We like the way Freddy's competed all year and we're going to send him out there."

The fastball in the 80s was apparently what caught Girardi's eye. The article reports Garcia was selected to give Detroit a look different from Sabathia and Nova.

Garcia has a 3.62 ERA but 4.36 FIP. He strikes out 5.89 per nine innings while walking 2.76.