Facing the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Beyond CC Sabathia, identifying the best Yankee starters based upon quality of opponents is a difficult task.

As I'm on the road three time zones away, I haven't seen very much live Yankees baseball since last Wednesday, but I couldn't help notice the way A.J. Burnett's latest outing erupted into controversy. For about 12 hours on Saturday and Sunday, my Twitter feed looked like the aftermath of a rap war, particularly when it came to parsing Joe Girardi's postgame comments.

We've flogged Burnett enough in this space, but the most glaring thing about his recent struggles is the way he's been roughed up for seven runs by the White Sox and the Twins — lousy offensive teams — in between games where Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova have put up zeroes and ones. After Burnett's latest outing, even Girardi and Brian Cashman now sound closer to acknowledging that whatever they're packing into that objective pipe, the $82.5 Million Dollar Man isn't necessarily one of their top five starters.

One split worth examining is the way the six starters have performed against teams with records below .500 as compared to those .500 and better. Keep in mind, this means those teams' records as of today, rather than when they were early-season hot or cold streaks, so that early April series against the 0-6 Red Sox appropriately ends up in the .500+ category.

                --------- .500+ ----------  -------- Sub-.500 --------  
Pitcher GS IP SO/9 ERA FIP GS IP SO/9 ERA FIP
CC Sabathia 19 137.7 8.0 3.40 3.18 8 60.0 9.3 1.95 2.38
Ivan Nova 11 67.0 5.2 3.49 4.30 10 57.7 5.5 4.53 4.40
Freddy Garcia 11 61.7 6.6 4.09 4.08 9 60.7 5.3 2.23 3.35
Bartolo Colon 13 81.7 7.8 4.41 4.45 6 43.0 7.5 1.88 2.69
A.J. Burnett 14 85.7 7.2 5.15 4.57 12 70.3 8.1 4.73 5.23
Phil Hughes 6 29.3 5.5 5.52 4.87 4 22.3 4.0 6.04 5.26
Staff 75 661.0 7.2 3.76 3.89 50 460.0 7.4 3.29 3.63
Rotation 74 463.0 7.1 4.14 4.05 49 314.0 6.9 3.38 3.82

A few things stand out among what are still somewhat small samples:

• The Yankees have obviously pitched much better against the dogs (against whom they've gone 35-15, for a .700 winning percentage) than against the tougher teams (42-33, .560), but you can certainly make a case that Nova has been the team's second-best starter against the good 'uns based upon his ERA and his average innings per start against the latter.

• FIP gives you a slightly different answer largely because Steady Freddy has been smoked for a .332 BABIP against those teams while Strivin' Ivan (?) has received the benefit of excellent defensive support with a .261 BABIP; Garcia has also missed significantly more bats against the better teams. FIP also sees Burnett as pitching a wee bit better against the good teams than the bad, though if you look at the slash lines (.269/.333/.443 vs good, .238/.340/.445 vs bad) it's basically a wash.

• Nova and Hughes are the only starters who have lower ERAs or FIPs against the good teams, though the latter's number of innings in the two splits are small enough that you can't attach too much importance, particularly if you axe those early-season debacles.

• Even if you want to make the case that Sabathia, Garcia, and Nova are now the Yankees' top three starters, the fact that they've collectively been bombed for a 7.23 ERA by the Red Sox in 25, 13 and 4.1 innings, respectively, is terrifying if not terribly significant from a statistical standpoint. Colon (3.00 ERA in 15 innings) is the only starter who's held the Sox in check at all.

* While Sabathia, Colon and Garcia have all dominated the bad teams, it's Colon who has disproportionately loaded up against them; he's the only one in the group whose FIP is more than a run lower against the dregs than against the winners. Meanwhile, Girardi and staff have done a fine job of maneuvering so that Sabathia has faced predominantly good teams, as an ace should. They've largely treated Colon and Burnett that way as well, suggesting an evolving view of whom their number two starter is.

All of which only makes clear that it's still murky as to whom the Yankees should start in the second game of a playoff series. That's probably the single most pressing question over the final 27 games of the regular season.

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