New York Yankees: Fifth Starter Competition Looks To Be A Dogfight

A. J. Burnett

New York Yankees GM Brian Cashman took the words “Pitching is a priority,” right out of ex-Texas Rangers owner Tom Hicks mouth this off-season.

Cashman has left skipper Joe Girardi and Co. with a tough decision to make come Spring Training, as seven starting pitchers cannot fit into five spots.

The situation is as follows, CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Michael Pineda and Ivan Nova look to be the locks to start the 2012 season, pending no extenuating circumstances say otherwise.

This leaves AJ Burnett, Freddy Garcia and Phil Hughes all fighting for the one remaining spot left in the starting rotation.

So, the question is who should be the Yankees fifth starter out of the above three?

Ok…. before you all unleash on me, please note that I based purely on who out of the three would be the most effectively to start the 2012 season in the rotation.

So, I decided to use a process of elimination to see who looks best on paper. It was the only legit option for now, as no one knows who shows up in what shape yet etc.

First, I looked at Burnett, Garcia and Hughes basic stats for the first-half of 2011.

Clearly Hughes is out based on stats from last season, but I believe that having Hughes make a few starts in Scranton/Wilkes Barre is a good idea even if he has a good spring.

After his mess of multiple injuries in 2011 it would be irresponsible to base getting this coveted rotation spot on one good first-half of the 2010 season. The reality here is Hughes is less trustworthy than Burnett, and that is for a fact.

Also, Hughes lack of preparation doesn’t help his case either. Don’t kid yourself about this off-season, as it was Cashman that forced Hughes into a special training program, and at 26-years-old motivation should be a given.

Another factor to note is that Sabathia is conventionally slow out of the gate; so designating four or five starts to allow the Yankees ace to get warm, meaning don’t count on him, is a good idea.

Burnett or Garcia?          

Now most people would choose Garcia because of the prejudice Yankee fans have against Burnett, but in this case they might want to think for a second about this one.

Yes, Burnett can be terribly erratic and very frustrating to watch because he is so talented. When Burnett is on, he is unhittable but when he is off it is bad. Over his last two seasons the scale has tipped the wrong way for Burnett more than anyone would like.

As for Garcia, he also typically takes a few starts to get into a groove and he is no youngster either. In April, May and June of last season, Garcia gave up nine home-runs compared to Burnett’s 14. But over those three months, Garcia pitched 84.3 innings and had 56 strikeouts, while Burnett pitched 106.2 innings and fanned 85 batters.

If the Yankees are going to get anything at of Burnett the best time is at the start of the season, as he usually dips off after the All-Star Break.

Also, the idea of letting Burnett pitch his way out of the rotation might be the way to go. He did come through big time in Game 4 of the 2011 ALDS and the pressure seemed to work then, so in my opinion it is worth giving it a shot again. Burnett’s ego might get too bruised if he immediately goes to the bullpen than Garcia’s initially would, which is something to consider.

Overall, this is kind-of a crapshoot until we get to see all the pitchers in Spring Training because as of now there are too many “What If’s?”

Still, I stand firm and do believe the fifth spot rightfully belongs to Burnett and if he can get his home-run numbers down without walking anymore batters he could have a solid 2012 season.

Guess we will know soon, as pitcher and catchers report on February 19th,which is creeping upon us slowly.

And just like a kid on Christmas Eve, I can’t wait.




  1. We don't care about strikeouts: we care about ERA.

    A team wins or loses based on the difference between runs scored and runs given up.

    If I strike out 12 batters/game but have an ERA of 5.0, nobody should care about those strikeouts.

    • Ken – Just like alcan below, I don't judge pitching on ERA but I always include it for readers like yourself. It is like using batting average to judge a hitter.

      Yankee Stadium is a hitters park so obviously a pitchers ERA is going to be higher.

      Also last season, four of Burnett's losses were due to the Yankee hitters only scoring 0-2 runs; and his ERA in those four games was a 3.00, he gave up just four homers and his WHIP was 1.000.

      Fact is Hughes got a lot of help from the Yankee bats during the first-half of 2010, which masked a lot of his issues. Hughes would get a W in games where he would throw 6+ innings and give up 4-8 runs, but the hitters provided him the cushioning that Burnett tends to not get when he pitching well.

    • Just so you know….14 of Hughes wins from 2010 were when the Yankee bats scored 6+ runs. Hughes won 0 games when the bats scored 0-2 runs and his other 3 wins were when the team scored 3-5 runs.

      I just believe that this is AJ's spot first, and if screws up it will be his own fault. Garcia can go to the bullpen and Hughes can start in Scranton, as after last seasons BS that is what really what Hughes deserves to prove himself again. It will keep his arm going so he will be ready to jump right into the rotation when and if he is needed.

  2. ERA can be very misleading as well that is why none of the mlb teams soley rely on ERA… there is WHIP and more important FIP…. scouting of pitching nowadays is baed on FIP. I would explain but for someone that knows so much they should be able to loo it up.

    AJ will either be the fifth starter or get traded.

  3. Sorry for the spelling above… here, let me try again…

    ERA can be very misleading as well, that is why none of the mlb teams solely rely on ERA… there is WHIP and more important FIP…. scouting of pitching nowadays is based on FIP. I would explain but for someone that knows so much they should be able to look it up.

    AJ will either be the fifth starter or get traded.

    • As I just replied to Ken, ERA is not a great stat to judge starters because league, ball park, errors and other factors are not taken into account. It is a popular stat, like batting average is for hitters. So, I always include it because people look for it.

      I will repeat again that, in 4 of Burnett's losses in 2011 were due to the Yankee hitters only scoring 0-2 runs; and in those 4 games his ERA was a 3.00, he gave up just 4 homers and his WHIP was 1.000.

      Hughes got tons of help from the Yankee bats during the first-half of 2010, which masked a lot of his issues. Hughes would get a W in game where he would throw 5+ innings but give up 4-8 runs; only to be saved by the hitters who provided him major cushioning that Burnett tends to not get when he pitching well.

      • ERA+ adjusts to the particular ballpark. A score of 100 is average. Burnett's 2010/2011 ERA+ was 82/86 respectively. DIPS ( defense- independent pitching stat) measure a pitcher's effectiveness based only on plays that do not involve fielders: home runs allowed, strikeouts, hit batters, walks. Once again Burnett is last.

        But at least Burnett is healthy when he's bad.

        Here's a good metric: No other GM wants him even if Yanks eat most of his salary.

  4. You really made me re-think my idea of the 5th starter. It should go to AJ for him to lose and have Hughes stretched from initially being the long guy out of the bull pen and Garcia getting work in the early part of the season. AND I'm still waiting for the left handed bat! Ibanez maybe?

    • Thank you John….just so you know I am not delusional, I am a Burnett fan but I am well aware of his downside, as it is beyond frustrating. But overall he rightly deserves the first shot and let it be his to keep or to lose.

  5. You stated:
    "Now most people would choose Garcia because of the prejudice Yankee fans have against Burnett, but in this case they might want to think for a second about this one".

    Prejudice: preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience :

    You like to butcher the English language. I think our dislike of Burnett's performance has to do with his being 40 out of 42 in ERA/WHIP. That's some performance, huh? And he's erratic and frustrating because he's talented? I think you need to stop drinking his Koolaid and get back to reality.

    You stated "Yankee Stadium is a hitters park so obviously a pitchers ERA is going to be higher" Burnett's ERA was much higher on the road (6.28) and he gave up more HR's based on Hr/IP on the road. But then again you don't like ERA. Use any sabermetric you want to judge Burnett and he's toast in 2011.

    You can pick the 5th starter in 2 words. Spring Training

    • Sorry…I just think people are too harsh on Burnett. Yankee fans bitch and moan money that they are not even paying and sometimes shutting up is needed.

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