Memo to Yanks: Pitch By the Numbers, Not By the Salaries

To sit through the plethora of stories about the Yankees' starting rotation you'd think they had pitching to burn. "Logjam" is the most common word used to describe the starting six, and, incredibly, we're also seeing "embarrassment of riches."

It's embarrassing, all right, but the riches have yet to appear.

Of course, they will have to go with C.C. Sabathia as number one, no matter how ineffective he has been this summer and against the Red Sox all season. The question seems to be not whether the Yanks will be in the playoffs — they're far ahead in the race for the wild card spot — but whether or not they'll be playing from a position of strength by winning the division.

Why there should be a debate over whether it's a good thing to finish first in the division is a puzzle to me — more on that in a couple of weeks when the issue is closer to being settled. Right now I'm thinking that the Yanks could use one clear-headed strategist to cut through this decision-by-committee muddle they seem to be in over the last three to four weeks.

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Ivan Nova, possibly the best surprise of the season, is going tonight against the Kansas City Royals. He should be able to pick up the victory, which would make him 12-4 with an ERA of somewhere around 3.80. But not only have the Yankees been talking about not keeping him in the rotation, there's actually been talk of demoting him back to the minors! Nova is 24 years old and if he wins tonight, he'll have the best won-loss percentage among Yankee starters, Sabathia not excepted.

How Nova's performance rates anything except a number two spot in the rotation is a situation that only the Yankees brass could hang a question mark on. On just about any other team, the guy with the 12-4 record would be in the rotation.

The only other question should be whether the team is going to go with Phil Hughes, Bartolo Colon, or Freddy Garcia in the number three spot. Given Hughes's record of injury and inconsistency, it's understandable that there would be some hesitation to hand the job to him. But it's time for the Yankees to make a decision: Hughes, 25, was once called "The Pocket Rocket" — that's how close his mechanics were to Roger Clemens — and despite the disheartening postseason flubs last year, he still won 18 games. And here's what he's done in his last three starts: 18 innings, 16 hits, 2 walks, 17 strikeouts, and 4 runs. Isn't this precisely what the Yankees were hoping for when he got back from rehab? If they are not going to put faith in him this season, then when?

Obviously, the Yankees' two and three starters for the playoffs are going to be selected on the basis of how they perform through the end of September. But just as obviously, there shouldn't be any doubt as the what they want to happen: They should be hoping that their young starters — Nova and Hughes — continue to develop into exactly the kind of pitchers they thought they'd be when they invested all the time and money. (Hughes's rehab alone has cost more than $2.5 million).

A.J. Burnett, the Yankees' biggest burden and biggest pain-in-the-ass (in this century at least), shouldn't even be out there for consideration. It's inexplicable why the Yankees are afraid to sit this prima donna down. Here's a guy who, back on August 3 when presented with a 13-0 lead, couldn't get through five innings, and has had just one decent start this August. And by decent, that means last night, giving up 10 hits to the Royals. If the Yankees were judging Burnett by performance and not by his salary, he'd be sitting in the bullpen ready to eat up innings for anytime the team needs someone to soak up runs in a rout.

As for Colon or Garcia, obviously Joe Girardi should go with whoever has the hot hand. From June to now, Colon has made it through 7 innings only once; Garcia over the same span has gone at least 7 five times.

This really isn't a difficult decision. For once, the average fans, simply by looking at the basic stats, are arriving at sensible conclusions that somehow elude the Yankees' highly paid manager and several highly paid executives. You don't go by the pitcher's salary, you go by his numbers.

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Go to the Voice's Runnin' Scared for more Jockbeat by Allen Barra.


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