In complete contrast to preseason expectations, the 2011 Yankees have mostly been a team lead by its pitching. Not only is the team’s ERA+ of 119 higher than its OPS+ of 112, but according to bWAR, the Yankees’ pitching staff has almost accumulated as many wins above replacement as it offense (20.2 to 21.4).
In August, however, the profile of the team has started to change. During the month, the Yankees have scored a whopping 6.1 runs per game, while leading the majors with a wOBA of .381, far outdistancing the second place Cubs at .356. By just about every measure, the Yankees have been the Bronx Bombers during the dog days of August.
Just as the Yankees’ hitting has gone to another level, the pitching has taken a turn for the worse. The team’s ERA of 4.14 since the start of August ranks eighth in the American League, the lowest position of any month. What’s more, the starters’ ERA of 4.94 is at least a full run higher than every other month’s rate. In other words, during August, the Yankees’ rotation has been composed of five A.J. Burnetts.
Although the cumulative ERAs of Yankees’ starters in August represent close to the worst case scenario at the beginning of the season, on an individual basis, there is room for optimism. Although veterans like Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia have been slowed by either injury or ineffectiveness, the young tandem of Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova have turned in a combined five starts with a game score above 60 (four of which have been above 70). If Hughes and Nova can maintain their second half resurgence, and CC Sabathia returns to his general excellence, the current lull in starting pitcher performance should be mitigated, especially once the team returns to a five-man rotation.
Considering the Yankees have the best record in the A.L., as well as the top ERA+ in the league, it is somewhat ironic that the team’s potential playoff rotation behind Sabathia remains a mystery. With the exception of Burnett, who may not survive in the rotation beyond this weekend’s double header in Baltimore, a case could be made for any one of the four candidates vying for a game 2 start in the ALDS. One the one had, that’s a remarkable testament to the overall depth of the team, but on the other, it raises questions about the viability of the Yankees’ starting rotation once October rolls around. Although the lack of certainty is a little bit disconcerting, the Yankees still have six weeks to figure out their playoff rotation. And, if no obvious choices emerge, continuing to score six runs per game wouldn’t be a bad alternative.