12:35 pm Apr. 23, 20127
The New York Yankees, after 15 games, are 9-6. They lead the American League East, and seem well-enough equipped to stay there all season.
But they have gotten off to the start despite a starting rotation has performed well short of expectations that it would be among the best in baseball. Through Sunday's games, New York's rotation had an E.R.A. of 5.84, good for 29th of 30 teams in the league.
Part of this is just a matter of the ball not bouncing their way. CC Sabathia, the staff ace, has strikeout and walk rates right in line with his excellent 2011. Phil Hughes has also seen his E.R.A. climb higher than his peripherals would indicate it should be.
But another part will likely need addressing: Freddy Garcia.
He isn't pitching well, at all. His E.R.A. is an unsightly 9.75, after he failed to get out of the second inning in New York's game on Saturday against Boston.
His walks and strikeouts are right in line with his reasonably effective 2011. But he's getting hit hard.
His line-drive rate is way up over last year, when 22 percent of his balls in play resulted in line drives, compared to 36 percent grounders and 41 percent fly balls. This year, 36 percent of the balls in play off Garcia have been line drives. Which explains the .409 batting average off Garcia when hitters put balls in play, up from last season's .292.
Meanwhile, the Yankees have David Phelps waiting for a spot in the rotation.
Phelps has a 2.92 E.R.A., pitching in long relief, with strikeout and walk rates that suggest the performance is no fluke. And his pitching in the high minors over the past two seasons provides ample statistical evidence that he is ready to contribute.
But the real reason to dump Garcia for Phelps is the longer-term picture, and the limited upside Garcia provides even this season.
Remember, for all his success last year, Garcia pitched just 146 2/3 innings in 2011. In fact, the last time Garcia pitched more than 157 innings in a season was back in 2006. So best-case, the Yankees are probably getting two thirds of a season from Garcia.
Garcia is also 35, and signed through the end of the season. No one thinks he is part of the Yankee future.
Phelps, on the other hand, is just 25. He could be a low-cost rotation member for the Yankees for years to come, a huge help for a team trying to balance massive long-term commitments with an attempt to get under $189 million in total team salary by 2014.
Of course, Andy Pettitte, set to rehab on Wednesday in Trenton, could theoretically step in and take the rotation spot sooner than later anyway. But Pettitte shouldn't stop the Yankees from proceeding with Phelps, too. Pitchers get hurt all the time, and the best thing any team can do is to start its best five at any moment, and deal with the next injury wrinkle as it comes up.
The Yankees have been well served by Garcia since they acquired him. But replacing him in the rotation now may turn out to be the easiest decision they have to make all year.