Right Church Wrong Pew

The Yankees are smart to deploy a six-man rotation right now, but they are wrong to carry 13 pitchers in order to accomplish it.

As good as Phil Hughes looked last night, it’s hard to really say he is “cured” until you see him do it a few more times. Don’t get me wrong, it was great to see him rise to the challenge and show command and velocity with his fastball, but let’s remember that his ERA is still 6.93. Hughes should keep getting the ball, but his rotation spot should not be guaranteed until he repeats the results from last night a few more times.

Ivan Nova has certainly done more than enough to warrant inclusion in the rotation. His overall ERA of 4.01 is not impressive, but consider his monthly numbers. April- 5.82, May-3.90, June-3.58, July (2 starts) 2.25. That’s a pretty clear trend of improvement and he clearly deserves to take the ball and start for them. And contrast it with AJ Burnett’s numbers this year. April-3.93, May-4.06, June-4.15, July-4.83. Personally, I am more concerned with AJ (what’s new?) than Nova, but AJ will get the longer leash thanks to the 2+ years and $40+ million left on his contract. (I don’t agree with that, but it is a financial reality and the Yankees are smart enough to know AJ could never emotionally handle a demotion to the bullpen.)

So, keeping Hughes and Nova in the rotation makes a lot of sense to me. It gives the Yankees more time to figure out which one of them can help in the playoffs (Excuse my looking ahead, but the Yanks have a 98.9% chance of making the playoffs according to Baseball Prospectus) and it allows them to use their other pitchers less. That’s a big deal for someone like Bartolo who I have continuously pointed out hasn’t thrown 100 innings since 2005. (He’s at 109 right now) But, Garcia threw only 157 innings last year and less than that in the three previous seasons combined.

And CC Sabathia could use a bit of a breather too. He has 176 innings and has only thrown less than 100 pitches in 1 of his 24 starts this year. If you figure he gets about 10 more starts under a usual rotation and averages his current 7.3 innings per start, he will throw 250 innings- 13 more than last year and 20 more than 2009. Perhaps it is merely a coincidence, but his playoff numbers are bad- 4.66 career ERA- and his one good postseason was 2009 when he “only” threw 230 innings in the regular season. (You could also say his 2001 postseason was good, but it was also one start.) In every other year he has thrown more than 230 and in every other year his postseasons have been mediocre at best. (2010 ERA of 4.5 in ALDS and 6.3 in ALCS) John Flaherty said on YES last night that the Yankees couldn’t use a six-man rotation because it would cost CC Sabathia the chance to win games, but isn’t the point to win the World Series?

So for all of those reasons, I think a six-man rotation isn’t a bad move for the foreseeable future, but the Yankees need to get back down to 12 pitchers. The Yankees have been comfortable in the past using starters in games on their throwing days and they should embrace that concept again. If they need a long reliever, they can just use the starter who would have been pitching that day in relief and figure things out the following day. They have really botched Hector Noesi’s development this year, getting him only 55 innings so far between the majors and minors. Sending him back to AAA and letting him stretch out as a starter again would be a good idea. And remember, rosters expand four weeks from tomorrow, so there will be plenty of available arms in the near future.

UPDATE 10:45PM I take back anything remotely nice I said about AJ. What a joke that he couldn’t last five in this game.