With playoff baseball less than two months away, it’s only natural that the New York Yankees would begin worrying about their starting rotation for October.
You know, because CC Sabathia can’t pitch every single game. (Well...he probably could, but for dramatic effect let's say it’s out of the question.)
AJ Burnett is at the heart of the Yankees' pitching woes. More specifically, its his inability to pitch well on a consistent basis that has Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman once more searching for answers regarding the role of their No. 2 starter.
Because great pitching wins championships, and because Burnett has been maddeningly inconsistent all season, Yankee management needs to consider the possibility of revamping the team's starting rotation.
Yes, I’m talking about stripping Burnett of his title of "postseason starting pitcher".
I realize that it sounds ridiculous to bench a pitcher who’s set to make $16.5 million this season, but considering Burnett’s underwhelming performances on the mound, it’s the best option if the Yankees want to advance come October.
Enter Ivan Nova. And his 10-4 record. And his 3.81 ERA. And his 10 quality starts. Compared to Burnett (8-9, 4.60 ERA, 8 QS), Nova’s stat-line supports what I’ve been seeing all season: Ivan Nova gives the Yankees a better chance to win than AJ Burnett.
Burnett’s reputation and contract should no longer be the determining factors when it comes to penciling him in as the second starter. Girardi has been hamstrung all season by having to pitch Burnett after Sabathia, simply because it’s what's expected. (Where the word “expected” implies that the front office wants to see their big-contract players in important positions out on the field.)
What may have worked during the regular season, however, will not necessarily lead to success in the postseason. In October, a bad start at the beginning of a playoff series can effectively end a team’s season. The Yankees can’t afford that from their second starter.
Especially during the best-of-five Division Series round.
With a rotation of Sabathia, Nova, Colon and Garcia, the Yankees would be starting their four best pitchers, with the option of pitching Sabathia in a decisive Game 5.
In the ALCS or the World Series, Burnett could be inserted into the rotation for Game 5, meaning he’d only have to pitch once per playoff round. This would save the Yankees from having to go with a three-man rotation in an effort to get Sabathia the maximum number of starts in each series (as they’ve done in previous years).
Nova's recent success has made it increasingly difficult to deny him the second spot in the rotation come October—if not sooner.
The knocks on Nova—lack of experience, can’t pitch past the fifth inning, questionable maturity—are laughable at this point. The No. 2 spot in the rotation should be given based performance—and Nova's been far-and-away superior to Burnett up to this point.
Nova is pitching deep into games, he’s able to work out of jams without giving up the big inning, and he’s displaying the maturity level required of a starter at the top of the rotation. Being moved about between Triple-A and the Major Leagues has yet to faze him.
Whereas most pitchers would take being sent down to the minors as an insult, Nova has used it as motivation to make the most of his major league starts when the big club calls on him. That's the kind of mentality you want from a pitcher in the postseason.
If Burnett were on a league-minimum contract (like Nova), there is no doubt that his erratic performance would’ve resulted in a stint at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre by now. Burnett’s reputation can only carry him so far; at some point, he needs to put in pitching performances that justify such a big contract.
Nova can provide stability in the rotation after Sabathia that the Yankees have lacked. The Yankee offense won’t have to play catch-up in Nova’s starts, as they so often do in Burnett’s.
Yes, the Yankees are among the top offensive teams in the majors: second in runs scored (607), first in home runs (150), seventh in batting average (.265), second in on base percentage (.344), and third in slugging percentage (.443).
But despite their offensive prowess won't make the Yankees World Series favorites. Remember, it’s pitching that wins championships.
It’s time for the Yankees to take that saying to heart.
With the recent developments surrounding catcher Jorge Posada’s relegation to the bench, it seems like Cashman and Girardi are open to making roster moves that are in the best interest of the team, no matter how big a player's contract might be.
Maybe they’ll take a page out of their collective book and employ the same logic when it comes to the postseason rotation.
After all, you can’t make progress without change.