The Yankees Starting Five:
CC Sabathia
Hiroki Kuroda
Andy Pettitte
Ivan Nova
Phil Hughes

The Blue Jays Starting Five:
RA Dickey
Josh Johnson
Mark Buehrle
Brandon Morrow
Ricky Romero

Yankee starters combined for 1001 innings in 2012 and totaled 14.8 WAR — good for 4th in the American League. They will return their same top 5 starters to begin the 2013 campaign.

Blue Jays starting pitching managed only a meager 5.1 WAR over 916 innings — 12th in the AL. Whereas Sabathia, Kuroda, and Hughes all pitched over 190 innings, none of the Jays starters managed to hit 190 IP. The closest was Henderson Alvarez (187 IP), but he went to Miami in the blockbuster deal that brought back Johnson, Buehrle, and Jose Reyes. Toronto’s top two starters on Opening Day of 2012 will slide down to the bottom two slots in the 2013 rotation, with three new Blue Jays leading the charge. Let’s see how these pitchers stack up head-to-head:

CC Sabathia (career ERA: 3.50, 2012 ERA: 3.38) vs RA Dickey (career ERA: 3.98, 2012 ERA: 2.73)

Sabathia’s 2012 was widely regarded as a down season. This is true with respect to his infamous durability. Two stints on the 15-day DL left CC with only 200 IP. He hadn’t pitched less than 230 since 2006. However, the fact is that his 2012 skills were among the best of his career.  He had the second-best K% (23.7%) of his career, second-best BB% (5.3%), third-best GB rate (48%), and third-best xFIP (3.20).  He had arthroscopic surgery to remove a bone spur in his pitching elbow in October, but expect to see him pitching on Opening Day. He remains one of the elite pitchers in baseball.

Dickey had a career year in 2012, pitching to a 2.73 ERA over 233 IP en route to winning the NL Cy Young. It didn’t come out of nowhere either, as Dickey had posted ERAs of 3.28 in 2011 and 2.84 in 2010. Dickey’s three-year run of success began when he started throwing his knuckleball at an average of 76 mph, faster than any other knuckler in history. In 2012, he threw it even a tick faster at 77 mph. His K/9 rate shot up to a career-high 8.9, while his BB/9 fell to a career-low 2.08. Dickey was the best pitcher not named Verlander last year. He’ll continue to frustrate batters going forward, but he won’t repeat his phenomenal 2012 effort. Besides the switch to the tougher division, Dickey’s knucklers will be more vulnerable in the HR-prone Rogers Centre than they were in spacious New Shea.

Advantage: Tie. CC will throw more innings than 2012, and Dickey will take a step back.

Hiroki Kuroda (career ERA: 3.42, 2012 ERA: 3.32) vs Josh Johnson (career ERA: 3.81, 2012 ERA: 3.15)

Kuroda proved to be a masterful free agent signing. For a 1 year / $10 million deal, the Yankees received 219 innings of 3.32 ERA ball.  Amazingly, he showed no ill effects from turning 37, moving to the AL East, or pitching in Yankee Stadium. Kuroda will be back on another one-year deal, this time with a 50% raise. Despite another notch on his conveyor belt, you know what you’ll get from the 38-year old. Kuroda was the best #2 starter in baseball last year and he’ll be among the best again in 2013.

Johnson has ace upside, as his 2009 and 2010 ERA illustrate: 3.23 and 2.30, respectively. He was an unstoppable force in 2011, posting a 1.60 ERA in 60 innings. However, that was as far as he got that year, as inflammation in his pitching shoulder forced the Marlins to shut him down for the remainder of the season.

When he returned as the Marlins’ 2012 Opening Day starter, he had lost a tick on his fastball. Johnson’s strikeout rate (7.8), walk rate (3.1), and groundball rate were all a little off from their 2009-11 heights. He finished the season with a 3.81 ERA — still above average, but not ace level. Like Dickey, Johnson will have to endure the league switch, and he’s particularly likely to have some trouble in his new home digs. Johnson’s spectacular career ERA is heavily founded upon an abnormally low 7.2% HR/FB rate. Since his debut in 2005, Johnson has the third lowest HR/FB out of the 165 starting pitchers with at least 500 IP. We’d expect some regression to the mean, even if he weren’t leaving one of the most flyball-friendly environments for a pitcher.  Factor in health considerations (he’s only surpassed 200 IP once in his career), and JJ’s upside advantage is entirely negated.

Advantage: Yankees. Kuroda’s superior reliability gives the Yanks a slight edge here, but the two are close in mean expectation.

Andy Pettitte (career ERA: 3.86, 2012 ERA: 2.87 ) vs Mark Buehrle (career ERA: 3.82, 2012 ERA: 3.74)

What to make of Andy Pettitte? He returned to the mound after a year of retirement, just short of his 40th birthday, and was absolutely vintage. His 3.27 xFIP was right in line with the work he did in his prime years. He spent over two months on the DL, but it was due to a comebacker fracturing his ankle — not shingles, or some other old man’s infirmity. His average fastball velocity was the lowest of his career at 88 mph, but he somehow managed to match his career-best 22.8% K-rate.

The old dog even showed some new tricks, inducing a 56% groundball rate that was comfortably higher than anything he’d managed before. Surely, we can’t expect prime Pettitte in a season where he’ll turn 41, but he’s a very solid bet to be an above-average pitcher from the #3 slot.

Buehrle. As they say in Canada: “r” before “h,” except after “ue.” The longtime White Sox pitcher returns to the American League, and continues to make a mockery of sabermetric ERA estimators:  4.14 career FIP, 4.22 career xFIP, 4.29 career SIERA, 4.92 career tERA…3.82 career ERA. He’s as reliable as they come, having pitched over 200 innings for an incredible 12 consecutive seasons.

Advantage: Blue Jays. It’s not much of an advantage, and Pettitte is capable of outpitching Buehrle in terms of rate stats. But while they have the same career ERA, Buehrle is 7 years younger and makes 200 IP a near-certainty.

Ivan Nova (career ERA: 4.38, 2012 ERA: 5.02) vs Brandon Morrow (career ERA: 4.10, 2012 ERA: 2.96)

The MSM is counting Phil Hughes as the Yankees #4 starter, with Nova battling David Phelps for the #5 slot. The MSM also bases their entire evaluation of a pitcher on ERA, from the most recent season alone. Sadly, sometimes it seems the Yankees share this methodology. Both treated Nova as if he were really a true 3.70 ERA in 2011 (sell high). And now, it seems they’re both treating him as the 5.02 ERA pitcher he seemed to be in 2012 (buy low). He is neither.

His 2011 skills were the same as his 2010 skills — a bit worse than league average. But, contrary to appearances, he took an important step forward in 2012. His K/9 rate leapt up to 8.1 and his xFIP- was 95- (5% better than league average).

He got burned by a .331 BABIP and a 16.6% HR/FB rate, most of which is just random variation. Now, there’s nothing in Nova’s 2012 velocity, pitch selection, or Zone % that changed so dramatically to make us think there’s a very solid foundation for the apparent leap in skill. He did get some more movement on his pitches and he threw up in the zone more, both of which helped increase the swings and misses (and the HRs). However, we don’t see anything to suggest Nova is on the verge of a breakthrough. Expect him to be around league average and pitch in about 175 innings.

Brandon Morrow has a somewhat opposite story to Nova. His awful 4.72 ERA in 2011 hid a sparkling 3.53 xFIP (building on a 3.48 xFIP in 2010). His 2012 seemed like a breakthrough year after he put up a 2.96 ERA, but that masked an average-ish 4.03 xFIP. Morrow’s K/9 fell below 8 after peaking around 10.5 in those 2010-11 seasons. In addition, he was limited to 124 innings after a strained oblique sent him to the 60-day DL. Morrow, a former reliever, also started the 2011 season on the DL, but made it through the rest of that season without any problems.

Advantage: Blue Jays.  Morrow is a better pitcher than Nova. However, that advantage will be somewhat blunted by the fact that he is coming off of a 124 inning season, and the Blue Jays will probably not expect him to pitch much more than about 175 innings.

Phil Hughes (career ERA: 4.39, 2012 ERA: 4.23) vs Ricky Romero (career ERA: 4.09, 2012 ERA: 5.77)

Hughes had a very average 2012. He had an average 4.23 ERA, an average 7.76 K/9 rate, and an average 1.9 WAR. His biggest achievement was staying healthy and pitching 191 reasonably effective innings. He displayed good control with a 2.2 BB/9, but he solidified his rep as a flyball pitcher (48% FB rate), which is not well suited to a righty pitching half his games in Yankee Stadium. This is Hughes’ last year before becoming a free agent. It will likely be his last as a Yankee, and there’s little left of the amazing promise he once held for the organization. He was once the top pitching prospects in all of baseball, and had one golden season as Mariano’s setup man in 2009. But, injuries and mismanagement by the Yankees have dimmed the glow of his star, and there’s not much reason to think he can improve upon 2012. Take away his relief innings and you’ve got a starting pitcher with a career 4.68 ERA. Sad.

After dominating the AL in 2011 for 225 innings of 2.92 ERA pitching, the Blue Jays named Romero their Opening Day starter in 2012. Upon checking his xFIP that year (3.80), you had a feeling the Jays might get RickRo’d for placing those ace expectations on him. But oh how the mighty did fall! Romero pitched to a horrific 5.87 ERA in 2012. He maintained a 50%+ GB rate, but he was wild as a march hare with a league-worst 5.22 BB/9. Romero had arthroscopic surgery on his pitching elbow after the season, and the Blue Jays hope that the root cause of his struggles has been addressed.

Can Romero bounce back from a 5.77 ERA/4.86 xFIP to at least pitch around his career average? Sure he can, and we can look to his Yankee counterpart here as proof. In 2011, Hughes battled arm troubles and wound up with a 5.79 ERA/4.90 xFIP — almost the exact same pile of statpoop Romero dropped off in 2012. Hughes was able to follow this up with a season that was right in line with his prior efforts.

Advantage: Blue Jays.  Health will be the deciding factor here, but RickRo walks into the 2013 with much more of his upside in tact than Hughes. And it’s not as if Hughes has been the picture of health throughout his career. Hopefully, he will be spurred on knowing it’s his walk year.

Conclusion: It’s a surprisingly close matchup. The Blue Jays revamped their rotation as dramatically as you’ll ever see, with a Cy Young winner as the cherry on top. But, they had a big gap to overcome in 2012 performance.

The Yankees return their starting staff and can actually hope to see a small improvement from 2012, mainly due to increased innings from Pettitte and Sabathia. Nova should be better also.

Expect the Jays starters to beat out the Yankee starters in ERA, but the Bronx’s hurlers to win in innings pitched, which means less opportunities for inept relievers. Overall, call it a tossup.