CINCINNATI, OH: Ivan Nova #47 of the New York Yankees pitches against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
For all the (justified) talk about the potential weakness of the Yankees' rotation this spring, here's a granite-cold fact: Yankees' starting pitchers this season have combined for a 3.86 ERA, sixth best in the American League. That's obviously not great -- and they're just one bad start away from ranking eighth -- but it's plenty good enough for a team that ranks second in scoring.
More to the point, the Yankees don't have any starters who haven't been decent, at least. In Phil Hughes' three early-season starts, he posted a 13.94 ERA. But he's been on the DL since then, and among the six other pitchers who have started for the Yankees this season, Ivan Nova's 4.13 ERA is the highest.
Just goes to show what we know.
The plot might soon thicken, though. Hughes made a rehab start in the minors last weekend, and it went well; he's expected to make at least two more rehab starts before maybe joining the big club. Meanwhile, Colon's recovering from his hamstring and has has started a throwing program; he might come back before the All-Star break.
We know that Sabathia and Burnett, absent injury, aren't going anywhere. And considering Colon's 3.10 ERA and his outstanding strikeout-to-walk ratio -- 4.00, easily the best among the starters. If he's really healthy, he has to pitch until he stops pitching so miraculously well.
Which still leaves four pitchers -- Garcia, Nova, Gordon, and of course Hughes -- for two rotation slots. And I will argue that the ultimate disposition of those two rotation slots is not self-evident. Still, a quick look at the numbers suggests this order of desirability:
Gordon is a great story, making his first start at 32. And his Triple-A performance this season was simply tremendous. But in his Yankee debut last week, he struck out three and walked three; early returns -- very early returns -- suggest that he's a Quadruple-A pitcher, assuming of course that such beasts actually exist (I think they do). Gordon does start against the Reds tonight, and if he's got any chance of sticking with the Yankees he'll have to start impressing everyone immediately.
Garcia has obviously been better than we expected. Or maybe he's been exactly as good as we expected, given that his numbers this season are practically identical to last season's. Last season's did seem a bit of a fluke, given three previous, injury-plagued seasons. But maybe those were the fluke. Garcia's never going to be great again, but at this point he sure seems steady.
Meanwhile, Nova did impressive everyone Monday night. His strikeout-to-walk ratio this season is quite unimpressive, but he's given up only six home runs in 81 innings and he's got the fourth-highest ground-ball rate in the American League. As long as he keeps doing that, he doesn't need a good strikeout-to-walk ratio. Not to pitch well enough to deserve a rotation slot, anyway.
Hughes has been through a little bit of Hell, trying to figure out how he went from Phenom to Dead-Armed Mystery in two not-so-easy steps. But if he keeps throwing in the low 90s -- as he did in his rehab start -- he's potentially the Yankees' second-best starting pitcher. Then again, there's no rush. Regardless of what the surging Red Sox do, the Yanks are a great bet to qualify for the postseason tourney. So when it comes to Hughes, the No. 1 priority should be getting him in shape for October, not July. Long-term, though, he's the most deserving of this group.
The trickiest part of all this is separating Nova and Garcia. But considering Nova's success in the minors last season -- especially his strikeout rate, which was far superior to his mark in the majors -- his long-term future is obviously better than Garcia's. Which suggests that his short-term future is just slightly better, too.
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When Bartolo Colon and Phil Hughes are both ready to rejoin the Yankees' rotation, who should get the fifth slot?
Freddy Garcia (149 votes)
Brian Gordon (23 votes)
Ivan Nova (443 votes)
615 total votes