• Worry About Burnett & Hughes – And Not Nova & Garcia

    Posted by on March 29th, 2011 · Comments (13)

    I was looking back at what I wrote seven weeks ago, at the start of Spring Training this year, regarding my observations on the 2011 Yankees (heading into this season) – and I still feel the same way today.

    But, above all else, at this junction, what concerns me the most about the Yankees this year is their starting pitching – and it’s not the back-end (Nova and Garcia or a fill-in TBA) which scares the snot out of me. 

    Actually, I think the keys to the Yankees success this year are A.J. Burnett and Phil Hughes – meaning they have to pitch well in order for the Yankees to reach the post-season in 2011.

    Related, I keep going back to the fact that Hughes had an ERA of 5.15 over his last 20 games in 2010. Also, there’s the whole issue with Phil’s velocity being MIA this spring.

    And, Burnett is wildly inconsistent. Further, if you look at A.J. over the last 6 seasons, his win totals are: 12, 10, 10, 18, 13, 10 – with 18 coming in his opt-out year. Seems to me, looking at these numbers, it’s safe to say that Burnett, when not playing for a contract, can only be counted on to win 10-13 games a season.

    Bottom line, if Hughes is going to pitch to an ERA close to five this season and Burnett is going to be just a 10-game winner, that’s a much larger problem for the Yankees than having a journeyman and a rookie bringing up the rear of their starting rotation. 

    Of course, maybe Hughes and Burnett will both win 16+ games this season – and the Yankees, as a team, will win 95 games and make the post-season this year?  But, I’m not counting on that – based on what we know, for fact, today, about Burnett and Hughes.   

    And, if A.J. and Phil don’t pitch well this season, we in Yankeeland could be looking at a team that’s going to win 85-90 games and miss out getting a post-season berth.

    Comments on Worry About Burnett & Hughes – And Not Nova & Garcia

    1. Raf
      March 29th, 2011 | 10:14 am

      Given recent staffs, I wouldn’t be worried if Hughes & Burnett didn’t pitch up to their potential. More often than not, the Yanks have had 2 starters go down due to injury and ineffectiveness. Also remember that the one year they missed the playoffs, it took an inordinate number of injuries, as was with the Red Sox last year.

      What will really be telling this year is if the big 3 in the AL East stay healthy all season long.

    2. MJ Recanati
      March 29th, 2011 | 10:29 am

      Steve Lombardi wrote:

      And, Burnett is wildly inconsistent. Further, if you look at A.J. over the last 6 seasons, his win totals are: 12, 10, 10, 18, 13, 10 – with 18 coming in his opt-out year. Seems to me, looking at these numbers, it’s safe to say that Burnett, when not playing for a contract, can only be counted on to win 10-13 games a season.

      You’ve mentioned this in other threads as well and I’ve always said the same thing: a pitcher’s win totals really don’t tell you much about the kind of pitcher he is.

      I don’t understand why you’re so fixated on a number that, as recently as a few years ago, you knew was relatively subordinate in the overall analysis of pitching.

    3. Greg H.
      March 29th, 2011 | 10:43 am

      With the Yankees offense, bench and pen being in good to solid shape, the rotation doesn’t need to be lights-out, they just need to keep the team in the game. They’ve made the postseason with mediocre starters before, and they can do so this year. It’s a safe bet that at least one and possibly two of the B’s will see major league innings this year. It’s also safe to say that around midseason there will be a trade involving a decent starter as well.

      MJ Recanati wrote:

      a pitcher’s win totals really don’t tell you much about the kind of pitcher he is.

      A better measure than wins would be how many games the team won during each pitcher’s starts. Last year AJ Burnett was horrible in that regard, this year I expect better.

      Raf wrote:

      What will really be telling this year is if the big 3 in the AL East stay healthy all season long.

      Absolutely, always and ever, and even more so this year.

    4. March 29th, 2011 | 12:02 pm

      MJ Recanati wrote:

      a pitcher’s win totals really don’t tell you much about the kind of pitcher he is.

      Agreed, 100%, in a given season. Sometimes, Run Support or luck will screw with wins. Look at Hughes last year, he won 18. Does that mean he’s like CC in terms of being a great SP last year? Hell no.

      But, when a guy does it year after year, like Burnett, pitching for decent teams, it tells you something. It means something is going on. And, in this case, it’s what we know – Burnett is wildly inconsistent. He can be great. He can suck. He can be so-so. And, you never know which he’s going to be each time out. He’s not a #2 starter. At best, he should be your #4 guy.

    5. Corey Italiano
      March 29th, 2011 | 12:08 pm

      Greg H. wrote:

      A better measure than wins would be how many games the team won during each pitcher’s starts.

      How is that any better? If anything, it’s worse because of all the extra variables that you’re adding in.

    6. Greg H.
      March 29th, 2011 | 1:03 pm

      @ Corey Italiano:
      Yes, you’re correct – it doesn’t allow for the relievers dumping the game once the starter’s gone. How about something to the effect of run differential upon exit? I mean, if the team is ahead or even, or maybe one run down, when AJ Burnett leaves the game after the 6th inning, I’ll take it. We can potentially outplay most teams in the late innings because of our combination of lineup, bench, and pen.

    7. Corey Italiano
      March 29th, 2011 | 1:17 pm

      Greg H. wrote:

      How about something to the effect of run differential upon exit?

      That too doesn’t work unfortunately…

      If he throws 8 shutout innings and the team only puts up 1 run, then he gets a +1.

      If he throws 3 innings and gets knocked around for 8 runs, but the Yanks win 9-8, he gets a +1.

      I think the best thing to do is look at all the stats aggregate, add in your own judgement (from watching the games), and then make a call.

    8. March 29th, 2011 | 1:21 pm

      The stats you may be looking for are:

      Neutral Losses [NL]

      It is a projection for how many losses a pitcher would have if he was given average run support, considering the amount of actual decisions.

      Neutral Wins [NW]

      It is a projection for how many wins a pitcher would have if he was given average run support, considering the amount of actual decisions.

    9. MJ Recanati
      March 29th, 2011 | 2:21 pm

      Steve Lombardi wrote:

      But, when a guy does it year after year, like Burnett, pitching for decent teams, it tells you something. It means something is going on. And, in this case, it’s what we know – Burnett is wildly inconsistent. He can be great. He can suck. He can be so-so. And, you never know which he’s going to be each time out. He’s not a #2 starter. At best, he should be your #4 guy.

      AJ Burnett’s teams by year/finish for seasons in which he pitched at least 120 IP (indicating health):

      2001 Marlins: 76-86 (4th place) – 11 wins
      2002 Marlins: 79-83 (4th place) – 12 wins
      2004 Marlins: 83-79 (3rd place) – 7 wins
      2005 Marlins: 83-79 (3rd place) – 12 wins
      2006 Blue Jays: 87-75 (2rd place) – 10 wins
      2007 Blue Jays: 83-79 (3rd place) – 10 wins
      2008 Blue Jays: 86-76 (4th place) – 18 wins
      2009 Yankees: 103-59 (1st place) – 13 wins
      2010 Yankees: 95-67 (2nd place) – 10 wins

      I’m not sure I understand how you can create a relationship between a pitcher’s annual win totals and his team’s finish in the standings and then say “well, a guy only winning 10 games on an 85-win team isn’t very good.” One thing doesn’t have much to do with the other.

      Cliff Lee, in a walk year, was 12-10, pitching half the season on the eventual American League Champion Texas Rangers (where he went 4-6). What the hell sort of information do you glean from that?

    10. Evan3457
      March 29th, 2011 | 4:29 pm

      MJ Recanati wrote:

      Steve Lombardi wrote:
      But, when a guy does it year after year, like Burnett, pitching for decent teams, it tells you something. It means something is going on. And, in this case, it’s what we know – Burnett is wildly inconsistent. He can be great. He can suck. He can be so-so. And, you never know which he’s going to be each time out. He’s not a #2 starter. At best, he should be your #4 guy.
      AJ Burnett’s teams by year/finish for seasons in which he pitched at least 120 IP (indicating health):
      2001 Marlins: 76-86 (4th place) – 11 wins
      2002 Marlins: 79-83 (4th place) – 12 wins
      2004 Marlins: 83-79 (3rd place) – 7 wins
      2005 Marlins: 83-79 (3rd place) – 12 wins
      2006 Blue Jays: 87-75 (2rd place) – 10 wins
      2007 Blue Jays: 83-79 (3rd place) – 10 wins
      2008 Blue Jays: 86-76 (4th place) – 18 wins
      2009 Yankees: 103-59 (1st place) – 13 wins
      2010 Yankees: 95-67 (2nd place) – 10 wins
      I’m not sure I understand how you can create a relationship between a pitcher’s annual win totals and his team’s finish in the standings and then say “well, a guy only winning 10 games on an 85-win team isn’t very good.” One thing doesn’t have much to do with the other.
      Cliff Lee, in a walk year, was 12-10, pitching half the season on the eventual American League Champion Texas Rangers (where he went 4-6). What the hell sort of information do you glean from that?

      Bingo.
      The Jays finished 4th, way out of the money, the year AJ won 18.
      The next year, as the notional #2 starter, he won “only” 13, yet, somehow, the Yanks won it all. Go figure.

    11. Scout
      March 29th, 2011 | 7:41 pm

      I took Steve’s original post to suggest that the Yankees have a lot riding on Hughes and Burnett this season, now that Pettitte has retired. I agree with the thrust of Steve’s comment. If Hughes and Pettite give the Yankees quality starts at the rate that winning teams usually expect from their 2-3 starters, the team will compete in the most challenging division in basball. Otherwise, the Yankees will need to compensate with stronger-than-expected performances from the back end of the rotation, generally not a good formula for success.

    12. Evan3457
      March 29th, 2011 | 9:56 pm

      Scout wrote:

      I took Steve’s original post to suggest that the Yankees have a lot riding on Hughes and Burnett this season, now that Pettitte has retired. I agree with the thrust of Steve’s comment. If Hughes and (Burnett) give the Yankees quality starts at the rate that winning teams usually expect from their 2-3 starters, the team will compete in the most challenging division in basball. Otherwise, the Yankees will need to compensate with stronger-than-expected performances from the back end of the rotation, generally not a good formula for success.

      My point being that if AJ can just get back to where he was in 2009, and Hughes can match himself from last year overall, then all Nova/Garcia/Colon/whoever have to do is match Joba/Wang/Mitre/Hughes/Gaudin 2009, and they’re as good as 2009, starting pitching-wise. Not a terribly high hurdle for the back end. (63 starts, 301 IP, 4.87 ERA)

    13. MJ Recanati
      March 30th, 2011 | 8:02 am

      Evan3457 wrote:

      My point being that if AJ can just get back to where he was in 2009, and Hughes can match himself from last year overall, then all Nova/Garcia/Colon/whoever have to do is match Joba/Wang/Mitre/Hughes/Gaudin 2009, and they’re as good as 2009, starting pitching-wise. Not a terribly high hurdle for the back end. (63 starts, 301 IP, 4.87 ERA)

      Precisely this.

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