HIT OR MISS

The 2010 Yankees rotation by the numbers
by David Golebiewski

T

he lasting image most Yankees fans will have of the team’s 2010 starting rotation is manager Joe Girardi slowly walking to the mound in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series, tapping his right forearm to signal the bullpen, and taking the ball from Phil Hughes, who bowed his head and went back to the dugout with the somber body language of someone walking the Green Mile. It was the end of a playoff run during which New York starters posted a collective 5.23 ERA, and it marked the end of Dave Eiland’s tenure as the club’s pitching coach. 2010 certainly wasn’t all bad for Yankees starters, as CC Sabathia topped 20 wins, Andy Pettitte pitched well when healthy, and Phil Hughes established himself. But mediocre seasons from A.J. Burnett and Javier Vazquez dragged down the starters’ overall performance: The Yankees ranked 10th in the American League in ERA and 12th in fielding

independent ERA (FIP), a more skill-based metric than regular ERA that evaluates pitchers on strikeouts, walks, and home runs allowed. It’s hard to say that a 95-win team had a real weakness, but the Yankees starting rotation was a soft spot for an offensive juggernaut.

CC’S GROUND ASSAULT
Amid all the chaos, CC Sabathia just kept taking the ball and putting the Yankees in a position to win. The 6-foot-7, 290-pound lefty tossed 237.2 innings, third in the majors, while compiling a 3.18 ERA and 3.54 FIP. Sabathia wasn’t quite as dominant in 2010 as in recent seasons; his 7.5 whiffs per nine innings pitched and 2.8 walks-per-nine were his worst figures since 2005. His FIP was also the highest its been since the middle of the decade. But even so, Sabathia was one of the best starters in the game, and he compensated for fewer

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THE 2011 NEW YORK YANKEES
whiffs and more walks with an uptick in his ground ball rate. Sabathia didn’t miss as much lumber as usual. According to FanGraphs, he got a swinging strike on 9.4% of the pitches he threw. That’s comfortably above the 8.5% major league average, but falls short of his 10.7% average since 2002 (the first season for which FanGraphs has data). But CC’s groundball rate spiked. During the course of his career, Sabathia has been neutral in terms of grounders—his ground ball rate going back to 2002 is 45%, one percentage point above the major league average. In 2010, though, Sabathia burned worms 50.7% of the time. How did he get those extra ground balls? Table 1 shows Sabathia’s ground ball rates by pitch type over the past three seasons, courtesy of PITCHf/x data from Joe Lefkowitz’s website and pitch type averages from Harry Pavlidis of the Hardball Times. Table 1: CC Sabathia Ground Ball Rate by Pitch Type
Year 2008 2009 2010 MLB Avg. Fastball 45.7 41.5 48.8 42.0 Slider 48.4 40.2 52.8 45.0 Changeup 50 51.9 52.6 50.0

Andy Pettitte’s pick-off move is as devastating today as it was in his rookie year, 1995.
The fastball and curve got a whiff about as often as Nick Swisher frowned, but the cutter was a different story. Table 2 shows the strike and whiff rates on Pettitte’s pitches, based on PITCHf/x data from the Texas Leaguers website. While Pettitte was effective yet again in 2010, he got a little help from his friends and benefitted from some Houdini-like escapes with runners on base, as witnessed by his ERA being far better than his 3.85 FIP. Table 2: Andy Pettitte 2010 Pitching
Pitch Fastball Cutter Curveball Change-up Strike % 64.8 65.8 67.0 52.8 MLB Avg. 60-64 68.3 58.0 60.9 Whiff %* 2.6 22.9 6.1 9.7 MLB Avg. 5-6 8.8 12.1
Photo this page: Al Bello/Getty Images Upper photo on previous page: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Sabathia induced more ground balls this year on all three of his main pitches—fastball, slider and change-up. Ground balls are a positive for a pitcher—it’s pretty hard for a batter to get an extra-base hit on a Baltimore Chop, and runners that do get on base might be eliminated by another grounder. Sabathia’s double play rate (the percentage of the time he got a twin-killing with a runner on first base and less than two outs) was 16% last season, the highest mark of his career and well above the major league average of 11%.

10.5

PETTITTE POUNDS THE ZONE, PITCHES OUT OF DANGER
Lefthander Andy Pettitte turned 38 last season, though you wouldn’t have known it by watching him on the mound. Same piercing stare toward home plate, eyes just over his glove. Same wicked pick-off move. About the only thing indicating his graybeard status was the pulled groin and elbow inflammation that limited him to 129 innings pitched. Pettitte posted a 3.28 ERA in 2010, his lowest figure since his Astros days, and punched out 7.05 batters per nine innings pitched, while showing solid control by walking fewer than half as many (2.86 per nine innings). He didn’t blow hitters away, getting swinging strikes just 7.6% of the time, but Pettitte pounded the strike zone. New York’s 22nd-round pick two decades ago got a first pitch strike 63.3% of the time, handily outpacing the 58.8% major league average. Pettitte peppered home plate with his fastball, cutter, and curveball.

*Whiff % is calculated from total pitches thrown, not just pitches swung at.

Pettitte’s .295 batting average on balls in play was 20 points lower than his career average. This is at least partially due to the Yankees’ excellent defense: New York ranked second in the majors in Defensive Efficiency, the percentage of balls put into play that are converted into outs. He also stranded 77.3% of the base runners he allowed, considerably better than the 70–72% major league average and his career mark of 71.6%. While better pitchers do strand more runners, Pettitte’s 2010 strand rate was very high and is likely to drop.

PHIL HUGHES EMERGES
Ever since the Yankees selected him in the first round of the 2004 amateur draft, fans have closely followed Hughes’s career as he has gone from top prospect, to young big leaguer cutting his teeth in the rotation, to dominant reliever, and now to starter once again. New York shifted Hughes back

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Hit Or Miss
to the rotation in 2010, and the results were promising. He wasn’t as lights-out as his 18 wins would suggest—Hughes received by far the highest run support of any qualified starting pitcher in the majors, 9.7 runs per nine innings. But it was a solid season nonetheless for the 24-year-old. In 176.1 innings pitched, Hughes averaged 7.5 strikeouts and 3.0 walks per nine while posting a 4.19 ERA. Opponents often lofted the ball against Hughes (36.1% ground ball rate), which resulted in his giving up 1.3 homers per nine innings, and his 4.25 FIP matched up quite nicely with his actual mark. Hughes didn’t manhandle hitters, with an 8.8% swinging strike rate, but he rarely got behind them. The 6-foot-5 righty threw a first pitch strike 63% of the time, and located 49.9% of his pitches within the strike zone overall, better than the big league average of 46.5%. Hughes doesn’t have much of a change-up at this point, and his mid-70s curveball is erratic, but his low-90s fastball and upper-80s cutter get strikes and whiffs, as shown in Table 3. Table 3: Phil Hughes 2010 Pitching
Pitch Fastball Cutter Curveball Strike % 68.2 73.0 53.9 Whiff % 9.1 11.8 5.8

Don’t let the win total fool you—Hughes hasn’t become an instant ace. But with some work, he has the talent to approach that level one day.

questioned whether the former Marlin and Blue Jay would be able to hold up physically into his mid-thirties. So far, that hasn’t been a problem. But after a so-so first year in pinstripes in 2009, Burnett bombed in 2010. In 186.2 innings, Burnett posted a 5.26 ERA. Some of that Boeing-level ERA is likely due to bad luck—his .319 batting average on balls in play was 22 points above his career average, and his 68.8% rate of stranding runners was about 3% below his career mark. That helps explain why Burnett’s FIP (4.83) was lower than his actual ERA. But Burnett isn’t getting Ks like he used to, and his usually stellar curveball got creamed. During his big league career, Burnett has struck out 8.2 batters per nine innings, but he saw that number fall to just 7.0 in 2010. Since 2002, FanGraphs shows that Burnett has gotten a swinging strike on 10.1% of his pitches. Last year? 7.9%. Burnett’s low-80s curveball is the biggest culprit for his struggles. According to PITCHf/x data from Texas Leaguers, Burnett’s deuce got a whiff 16.6% of the time in 2008 and 16.7% in 2009. In 2010, that rate fell to 14.1%. That might not sound so bad, considering the major league average is 11.6%, but those extra curveballs that batters put in play were hit. Hard. Based on PITCHf/x data from Lefkowitz’s website and Pavlidis’s pitch type averages, Table 4 shows Burnett’s opponent slugging percentages on curveballs put into the field of play over the past three seasons. Table 4: A.J. Burnett Curveballs In Play
Year 2008 2009 2010 MLB Avg. Opp Slugging Percentage .464 .381 .533 .512

HAVE YOU SEEN A.J. BURNETT’S CURVEBALL?
When the Yankees inked A.J. Burnett to a five-year, $82.5 million deal prior to the 2009 season, some baseball pundits

Can Burnett re-discover his curveball? That’s the $50 million question for Brian Cashman and the Yankees.

JAVIER VAZQUEZ: SECOND STINT WORST THAN THE FIRST
The first time Javier Vazquez passed through the Bronx back in 2004, he didn’t exactly endear himself to Yankees fans while putting up an ERA near five. That following offseason, Vazquez was sent packing to Arizona as part of a deal for Randy Johnson. But in December of 2009, New York re-acquired him (along with Boone Logan) from the Atlanta Braves in exchange for outfielder Melky Cabrera, left-handed reliever Mike Dunn, and pitching prospect Arodys Vizcaino. Cabrera disappointed his new club and was released after the season, but Dunn’s erratic mid-90s heat showed some promise and Vizcaino dominated in Single A before coming

Photo this page: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

A.J. Burnett raises his arms in disbelief after Bengie Molina takes him deep in the ALCS.

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THE 2011 NEW YORK YANKEES
down with a partial tear in his throwing elbow. Vazquez, meanwhile, lost his fastball velocity and his control at JFK’s baggage claim. Only the most quixotic Yankees fans expected Vazquez to pitch nearly as well as he did with Braves, considering that 2009 was the pinnacle of his career and he would no longer have the benefit of bullying opposing pitchers in the batter’s box. Even so, he was expected to be a durable, well above-average starter to complement CC Sabathia. That didn’t happen, as Vazquez’s 2010 was a disappointment by any measure. He was battered for a 5.32 ERA in 157.1 innings pitched, striking out 6.9 batters per nine and showing uncharacteristically poor control by walking 3.7 per nine. It was the first time in Vazquez’s career that his strikeout rate was below the major league average, which was 7.1 in 2010. Ditto for his rate of free passes issued (3.3 BB/9 major league average in 2010). Add in a very low ground ball rate (35.5%) and a home ballpark that features cozy dimensions down the lines, and you have a recipe for whiplash: Vazquez served up 1.8 home runs per nine innings. Vazquez sat around 91–92 MPH with his fastball in recent years, but that dipped to the 88–89 MPH range in 2010. According to FanGraphs’ pitch type run values, Vazquez’s fastball was a quarter-run worse than the average major leaguer’s per 100 pitches thrown (as shown in Table 5). With a four-pitch repertoire, Vazquez doesn’t rear back and fire as much as some starters. But his reduced heater might have had a damaging effect on his breaking and secondary stuff, too. Table 5: Javier Vazquez 2010 Pitch Effectiveness
Pitch Type Fastball Slider Curveball Change-up % Thrown 53 15 17 15 Run Value -0.25 -1.02 -0.77 -0.18

Javier Vazquez didn’t find redemption in his second tour in pinstripes.
reliever or Triple A insurance arm who can get some ground balls. Sinker-baller Mitre is cut from a similar cloth as Moseley. When not starting, the former Cub and Marlin did a passable job out of the bullpen in low-leverage situations. Table 6: Other 2010 Yankee Starters
Pitcher Dustin Moseley Ivan Nova Sergio Mitre Innings As Starter 51.0 36.2 13.2 ERA 5.29 4.91 5.93 FIP 6.02 4.42 5.86

All of Vazquez’s pitches were in the red, which had fans seeing red. Don’t expect a part three to his Yankees career.

In addition to the five fellows listed above, Dustin Moseley, Ivan Nova, and Sergio Mitre got some starting assignments for the Yankees in 2010. In 101.1 combined innings pitched, that trio had a 5.24 ERA and a 5.42 FIP (see Table 6). Moseley, a former Angel who missed most of 2009 with forearm, elbow, and hip injuries, latched on with New York after being non-tendered. A soft-tosser who relies heavily upon his secondary stuff, Moseley is best suited as a middle

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Photo this page: Tom Pennington/Getty Images

THE OTHER GUYS

Nova is the more intriguing name. The lithe, 24-year-old righthander increased his strikeout rate at Triple A Scranton/ Wilkes-Barre while showcasing low-90s velocity and a sharp curve during his first taste of the majors. The Yankees briefly lost him to the San Diego Padres in the 2008 Rule V Draft, but he figures to make a positive impact in the years to come as an inexpensive power arm on the team’s staff or as trade bait. MSP

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