This is a far cry from what the Yankees, and from what we, the fans, expected this January. It seemed like the Yankees’ ran nine-deep in terms of starting pitching, mostly because they did. This was before Michael Pineda tore his labrum. This was before Triple-A implosions from both Dellin Betances (21 walks in 22-plus innings and an unsavory 7.25 earned run average) and Manny Banuelos (five-plus innings combined from two starts, where he had a 0.29 strikeout to walk ratio). This was before Phil Hughes confirmed that he is but a shred of what he was two years ago. This was before David Phelps of all people was named to the rotation. Weren’t nine people supposed to be ahead of him?
More on that promotion: whether Phelps deserved to be the one summoned is a separate question entirely. The real question is, “Why the hell did Freddy Garcia lose his rotation spot?” Was it that ugly 12.51 ERA? I bet it was. I thought we were past that, Brian.
I’ll make no claim that Garcia looks confident on the mound. Au contraire. But the peripherals tell the true, and sad, story. The one that goes something like, “Phil, we know your ERA is nearly 5 runs lower than your former rotation counterpart’s, but we know you’re doing a worse job than even Freddy.” Don’t believe me?
Earned Run Average (ERA): Let’s get this out of the way: Phil Hughes has a 7.88 ERA, a mark which is (spectacularly) nearly five runs better than Garcia’s. That alone was probably enough to give Freddy the boot. But don’t be foolish: ERA does not tell the whole story.
Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP): Ah, how about a more perfected ERA? One that strives to tell the story of exactly how a pitcher did with the elements under his control? One that factors in only true outcomes – home runs, strikeouts, walks, and hit by pitches? In this category, Phil Hughes has a 6.39 mark where Freddy Garcia has a 5.51 mark.
Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP): Yeah, both those numbers are still ugly. The home runs, lest you’d forget (and I know you wouldn’t, as the recent shellacking that has been regularly handed to each of these starters isn’t likely to slip the memory anytime soon), contribute most heavily to the inflated FIPs. Let’s assume the balls would stop falling over the fence, and that the ERA would regress to the mean, or league average (about 10.5%). Phil Hughes’ mark still stands at 4.71, where Freddy Garcia’s is a respectable 3.95.
Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP)
Here’s where it gets a little muddied. Garcia’s .440 mark raises red flags when compared to his career mark of .285. One would think far fewer balls would fall in play in the near future and that he’d start making outs, thus spiraling his ERA, FIP, and xFIP down to respectable levels. After all, his strikeout to walk ratio has been fairly consistent with career trends, meaning the only true difference is balls hit in play. Shouldn’t he get better? Perhaps, but his 42% line drive rate against paints a picture of someone who is getting hit not because his opponents are purely lucky, but because he is purely hittable. His career line drive rate against is more than half that gaudy percentage, and he’s not generating many fly balls (at least not of the variety that stay in the park). Hughes, on the other hand, owns a .373 BABIP, still incredibly high for a pitcher with a career mark of .289. One would suspect that his mark would go down considerably, as he’s generating fly balls half of the time and line drives at a rate below his career mark. That said, even if the fly balls start dropping for outs for Hughes, he’s still having trouble stranding runners, which, sadly, isn’t a total aberration. His 65% mark last year was below the league average, and his 56% mark this year is more than 16% below the league average.
So what do we have here? We have one player who’s lost his confidence (Garcia, who is stranding even fewer runners and is giving up bean ball after bean ball). We have another who’s lost his stuff (Hughes, who has lost two miles per hour on his fastball since 2009, two and a half miles per hour on his cutter since 2010, and who is registering a negative pitch value for his fastball for the first time in his career).
Are you betting on the reversal of bad luck or the return of a lost and mangled skillset? I’d bet the former, but the Yankees are betting the latter.And it could get ugly.