by Eno Sarris //
Most teams fudge the fifth starter from year to year, hoping that that a young prospect or retread veteran takes the reins and provides the team for just enough for the team to win games at a decent clip. The Yankees are no different in this regard – and yet they’ve had some decent fifth starters over the years. Some even rose to fantasy relevance.
Well, not many. Phil Hughes, in his 2007 debut and again in 2009, might have been the best. Sergio Mitre and Ivan Nova were decent enough to find a few spot starts in mixed leagues last season. Otherwise, it’s been a bad stretch.
Joining the fun over the past week are Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia. That’s a pretty terrible group of veteran options. The best strikeout rate of the crew over the past two years was Garcia’s 5.95 K/9 in 2009 (the average across baseball hovers around seven K/9). That’s being a little unfair to Mitre, who is a groundball inducer (58.7% groundballs career, 40% about average). But still, aside from Garcia’s 59 innings in 2009, Nova’s 4.36 FIP in 42 innings last year (a number on the ERA scale that attempts to strip out batted-ball luck) was the best of the bunch (4.10 is about league average).
It’s a tough group. Garcia’s lost about five MPH off of his peak fastball and now uses his 88 MPH four-seam heater only 30.2% of the time, or less than any non-knuckleballer in the league last year. His 157 innings were also almost 100 more than he’d managed in a single season since 2006. He’ll need help even if he’s decent, and Colon, who has only managed 200 total innings since 2007, might not be the one to manage it. Mitre might be the man, but his career 4.72 FIP is not impressive and he had the worst groundball rate of his career last year.
Could Ivan Nova or a young man behind him step to the fore? The problem with Nova is that he’s never shown the upside to approach the league average in either K/9 or BB/9, even in the minor leagues. If his control was better, he might be able to take advantage of an okay ground-ball rate, but he hasn’t shown strong control.
On the farm, Dellin Betances, has buckets of upside. He’s managed double-digit strikeout rates thanks to his mid-nineties fastball and impressive curve. He’s also 22 and has only pitched 14 1/3 innings of Double-A ball, so he needs more seasoning. Ditto for 19-year-old Manny Banuelos, who opened eyes at the Arizona Fall League last fall.
Considering how badly last year’s veteran fifth starter worked out (Javier Vazquez), it’s hard to put much stock in the reclamation projections (Garcia and Colon). Instead, expect Garcia and Mitre to split much of the time. If Mitre recovers his old groundball rate, he might actually be the best of the crew… until the young ones are ready.