New York Yankees Player Roster In 2013 Part 2 – The Pitchers: State Of The Union
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Monday, March 4, 2013
By Nicholas Rossoletti (MLB Reports Trade and Yankees Correspondent): Follow @NRoss56
Allow me to re-introduce myself. I have spent the last three months discussing the Marlins, Astros, Mariners and the off-season trades. I have loved every second of it, and I appreciate my readers more than you will ever know. That being said, today I undertake something that has always been a dream. Today, I begin a journey where I get to do something that the 14 year old me always wanted to do. Today, I take over as the Yankees correspondent, which is a fancy term for a guy who gets to write about his favorite baseball team. Some of my most vivid memories of my past relate to the Yankees. I will never forget the moment that ball fell into Charlie Hayes‘ glove. The pure joy of the first time my team would be called world champions.
Embracing my Dad in a bear hug as we celebrated something that meant so much to the both of us. Since then the Yankees have provided endless enjoyment as I watched a dynasty grow up as I grew up. Now, it has come to a point where the Yankees face their championship window closing. It happens to all great teams, but the question that hangs in the balance is whether the window is already closed or can the Bombers come up with another magical season before this generation fades? We will try to answer that question starting with the Yankee pitchers.
CC Sabathia Highlight Reel:
Any discussion of Yankee pitching begins with two names that each contain two letters. C.C. and Mo. The ace of the rotation and the anchor of the bullpen. We will start with C.C. and the rotation, and as is only natural for a person following the Yankees for the last thirty years, we will close it out with the Sandman and his teammates down in the ‘pen.
Carsten Charles Sabathia took a long road to being the Yankee ace and a world champion. C.C. is going into his 12th Major League campaign in 2013 having pitched 7+ seasons with the Indians, approximately half a season with the Brewers and the last four with the Yankees. Since arriving in New York, Sabathia has been the unquestioned ace of the team and one of the most consistent workhorses in baseball. Many experts look at last year’s numbers from C.C. and see a decrease in production. While there was an increase in his HR/9 to .99 in 2012, this was still below league average. Besides this minor deviation from his past performance, any rumors of Sabathia’s eminent demise seems more like wishful thinking by the Yankee-hating public than anything that is really backed up by solid statistical evidence.
Sabathia’s Strike Out Rate of 23.7% was the highest it has been while he has been a Yankee and his Walk Rate of 5.3% was the lowest it has been during his time in New York. His K/BB Rate of 4.48 was the highest it has been since 2007 and his WHIP was the lowest it has been in 4 years. While there needs to be some concerns over Sabathia’s off-season elbow clean-up and the decrease in Innings Pitched, it is more than worth noting that Sabathia’s decrease was from 230+ Innings Pitched the previous three seasons to “only” 200 Innings Pitched in 2012.
Obviously, Sabathia will age and eventually his numbers will take a step backward, but there is nothing statistical outside of the home run rate to indicate that this will occur in 2013. In fact, the decrease in Innings Pitched is probably the smartest move for the Yankees moving forward as protected Sabathia’s arm is key considering his importance to the team and their major financial commitment to him.
Following Sabathia in the rotation is a Yankee legend. Andy Pettitte came back from retirement in 2012 and pitched 75.1 Innings of very competitive baseball. Here is where I think Yankees fans need to get ready for at least some regression from their fan favorite. Pettitte’s limited peripheral statistics last year show a pitcher who was better than he had been for years prior to his retirement. Pettitte had a Strike Out Rate of 22.8% in 2012, which was tied for the highest Strike Out Rate of his career (tied with 2004) and his Walk Rate of 6.9% was lower than his Walk Rates in both 2009 and 2010.
For a pitcher who will turn 41 years old in June of this season, it is hard to see how Pettitte’s numbers will trend at a level above the sample sizes he generated during the early part of his career. Certainly, it isn’t impossible, but I think Yankees’ fans have to ready for a more normal Andy Pettitte.
Think a low to mid-4′s ERA with Strike Out Rates in the 17%-19% range. While this is a fine middle of the rotation piece, the Yankees also have to be realistic about the number of innings that Pettitte’s left arm can generate for them this year. It’s never easy to watch our heroes age, but Pettitte’s 2012 numbers are just not a realistic expectation of his 2013 season. After Pettitte, the Yankees will follow with Hiroki Kuroda, Phil Hughes and most likely, Ivan Nova or David Phelps. This will be the starting rotation until the Yankees know whether or not Michael Pineda will return in mid-2013.
Kuroda was a godsend for the Yankees in 2012. Coming over to the American League from the Dodgers, Kuroda in his age 37 season provided the Yankees with 219.2 quality innings while making 33 starts. As what was supposed to be a one year stop gap, the Yankees could not have been happier with the acquisition, and they have given Kuroda another chance to help the team compete for a championship in 2013. There is no secret to Kuroda’s success as it can be explained in two words: ground balls. Kuroda has never been an elite Strike Out artist and last year was no different as he posted a three year personal low in Strike Out Rate of 18.7%.
He succeeds with limiting base runners and getting timely ground balls at a well above league average rate of 52.3%. The Yankees need this trend to continue for one more season. Kuroda has a very simple sounding job. Eat innings, keep the ball on the ground and keep the team in games. This is clearly more difficult than it sounds, but Kuroda has a history of doing just that.
There is very little statistically to indicate that he can’t repeat very similar results to 2012 as his Walk Rates, WHIP and BABIP are all in line with his previous Major League seasons. In fact, the only statistical outlier that jumps out when you review Kuroda’s numbers might be the reason he is playing in New York. His 2011 Ground Ball Rate of 43.2% with the Dodgers was the lowest of his Major League career by a considerable margin. As long as Kuroda can avoid what seems like a statistical anomaly in 2011, he should be a nice piece yet again for the Pinstripes.
Phil Hughes is an enigma that Yankees fans have spent the better part of 7 years in a roller coaster relationship. Hughes went from “can’t miss” uber-prospect who tore through Double-A at age 20 striking out seemingly everyone he saw, to a dominating bullpen piece for the 2009 World Champions, to a work-man like 18 game winner at age 24, whose stuff seemed to ready to blossom into the pitcher Yankees’ fans had been promised, and finally to a seemingly injury-prone starter whose stuff is domineering enough to consistently be a middle of the rotation type piece. Hughes’ latest ailment came to light in the last ten days or so when we learned he had an upper-back injury that could force him to miss the beginning to the 2013 season.
Sadly enough, Yankees fans are probably less than surprised by this news after injuries claimed Hughes’ entire 2011 season. When Hughes has been on the field during the last three seasons, he has been unable to show the swing and miss stuff that created the perception of him as an elite type prospect. Hughes Strike Out Rate of 20% in 2010 and 20.3% are far from poor, but Hughes was never touted to be “above-average”.
This was the ace of the future, and that perception has created the disappointment in the minds of the fans. The hype machine surrounding a younger Hughes is more to blame for Yankees fans dissatisfaction with who Phil Hughes is than Hughes himself. In all honesty, Hughes being healthy and providing quality above average innings every fifth day is crucial to the Yankees chances of success. Hughes has grown as a pitcher. He has reduced his Walk Rate to 5.6%, which is huge improvement on past seasons, and he threw 191.1 Innings for a team desperately in need of solid starting pitching in 2012.
The fifth starter in the rotation will almost assuredly be a competition between Ivan Nova and David Phelps. Nova is another enigmatic problem for the Yankees. After living on the ground ball in a very Kuroda like manner during his first two seasons in the Bronx (Ground Ball Rates of 51.4% in 2010 and 52.7% in 2011), Nova changed his style of pitching slightly and showed more Strike Out potential. Coming into 2012, the overwhelming criticism of Nova was that he just did not have the stuff to make Major League hitters swing and miss. He answered this challenge by jumping his Strike Out Rate from 13.9% to 20.5% while decreasing his Walk Rate from 8.1% to 7.5%.
With Strike Outs way up and Walks trending down, conventional wisdom would say that Nova would be in for a career year in 2012. Much to his dismay and that of the team, the change in styles created new and very different problems. His extreme ground ball nature trended more towards a closer to league average 45.2% while his line drive rate shot up from 18.4% to 22.4%. Most troubling was that this new style led to Nova giving up a metric ton of Home Runs.
His HR/FB rate went from 9.5% in 2010 and 8.4% in 2011, which are about average to slightly above average rates in the Major Leagues, to an atrocious 16.6% in 2012. The question for Nova is a simple one. Can he figure it out and put together the above average Strike Out Rate and the well-above average Ground Ball Rate? If he can, the upside isn’t a five starter. It is a one/two starter.
Think Kevin Brown in the early 2000′s with the Dodgers. If Nova can put together a 20+% Strike Out Rate, a Walk Rate of 8.0% or less and a Ground Ball Rate of 50+%, he will be very rare indeed. To this point though, there is nothing to indicate that he can successful incorporate both styles of pitching nor carry the necessary Strike Out Rate to be an elite (or even above average) option without getting whiplash from watching the ball fly out of the park.
Phelps has been a Yankee farm hand since 2008. Over the course of that time, he has developed swing and miss type stuff, and he spent the 2012 season bouncing between the bullpen and rotation as he contributed 99.2 slightly above replacement innings for the Yankees. Phelps most important weapon is the Strike Out. His Strike Out Rate of 23.2% in 2012 was terrific, but the Strike Out Rate comes with the caveat that it is almost assuredly increased by the time spent in the bullpen where, for lack of a better term, pitchers can “let it all hang out” due to the limited number of innings they are called on to pitch.
The good news for the Yankees is that his sample size in Triple-A from 2011 shows a Strike Out Rate of 20% so the swing and miss stuff isn’t all an illusion of the bullpen. Phelps has several big concerns though when we examine him for a full-time rotational role. The first is a terrible HR/FB rate of 13.6%. Much like his chief competition, Ivan Nova, Phelps tends to spin around on the mound to watch the ball leave the park more than anyone would like to see.
When you tie that in with a below average Walk Rate of 9.2% and a slightly high Flyball Rate of 38.4%, it is easy to see why Phelps is fighting for a rotation spot despite having very nice Strike Out numbers. Both Phelps and Nova have above average stuff, but neither has shown the ability to consistently do the job. Spring training results will be important for both pitchers although both may find themselves with starts to begin the season if Phil Hughes back is not healed in time for his first turn in the rotation.
The reason the Yankees are left to decide between Phelps and Nova for their final spot while relying on two 35+ year old veterans is due to injuries to their younger assets. Michael Pineda was acquired during the off-season after the 2011 season from the Mariners for Jesus Montero. Montero was largely considered a top 10 prospect who spent a portion of the second half of the 2011 season and the post-season with the Yankees. When the Yankees trade for Pineda, there was a sense of genuine excitement about the deal.
Pineda was a dynamo for the Mariners in 2011. Having put up a Strike Out Rate of 24.9% as a starting pitcher in 2011, the belief was that then 22 year old was amongst the elite young pitching talents in the game. His second half in 2011 was a struggle, but most considered that a bump in the road for someone with this kind of stuff. After being traded, Pineda suffered a shoulder injury that required major surgery. He is still on the road to recovery from that injury, and as with all shoulder injuries, there are major questions as to whether or not he will ever regain his 2011 form. This alone is a major blow to the Yankees pitching staff. However, this was not alone as far as the Yankees injury woes.
After Pineda suffered his shoulder injury, Manny Banuelos, who was the Yankees top pitching prospect, suffered a torn UCL and was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery. Banuelos was beginning his assent to the Major Leagues. He had spent part of 2011 in Triple-A, and while his Walk Rate going into 2012 had always been around a fairly unflattering 12%, Banuelos showed promise as a strike out machine. The damage to his elbow has set back his development and created opportunity for other players in the Yankee rotation as it was expected that Banuelos would be ready to contribute something to the team in 2013.
As the Yankees rotation goes, so goes the team’s chances to compete in 2013. Failure of the starting pitchers to produce competitive innings would damn the team fairly quickly in the hyper-competitive American League East. With that being said, the bullpen has always played a key role in the Yankees success, and it is hard to undermine their contributions. For the better part of 17+ seasons, the piece that made the Yankees bullpen go was Mariano Rivera.
Mo is a Yankee legend, who exploits in both the regular and post-season are best left to a tribute article entirely about #42. In 2012, Yankee nation got a taste of what will be the inevitable when Rivera torn his ACL shagging fly balls in the outfield. The season felt different without Rivera heading out to the mound in save situations with Metallica blasting in the background. Rivera had told the world that 2012 would be his final season and that he would retire.
The injury changed his mind, and Rivera will return for one more summer in the Bronx in 2013. We could go over the numbers on Rivera, but the Strike Out Rates, Walk Rates and other metrics are less important here than whether age and injury have effected Rivera’s ability to throw his cutter. If he can still throw the pitch that made him famous in the same fashion as early 2012 then the Yankees will have their closer back.
Setting up for Rivera are some very talented individuals. David Robertson has been the primary set-up man for the Yankees for the past several seasons. Robertson’s biggest weapon is the strikeout. His Strike Out Rate in excess 30+% over the last three seasons makes him the most likely replacement for Rivera when Mo finally retires even though he has struggled in that role in the past. Until then, Robertson has been very successful at using the strike out to the benefit of the team in high leverage relief appearances. The only weakness Robertson has truly shown is a tendency to walk batters.
In 2012, he corrected that problem in a fairly large way reducing his Walk Rate from 12.9% to 7.7%, which is a very encouraging trend moving forward. Pairing with Robertson in the set-up will be Joba Chamberlain. Chamberlain is a once highly touted prospect whose roller coaster professional career is well documented. After coming back from injury, Chamberlain regained his swing and miss stuff posting a 23.2% Strike Out Rate, but he suffers from a similar problem to several other Yankee pitchers.
Joba’s HR/FB at 15.0% is very problematic. This needs to improve in order for Chamberlain to reach his ultimate potential (whether that is in the bullpen or elsewhere in 2014 as a member of the rotation). Clay Rapada and Boone Logan provide the Left-Handed specialist roles out of the pen, and the remaining pen will be filled out by Cody Eppley, who is a fairly ordinary bullpen arm at this point in his career and potentially former Mariners closer David Aardsma, who has been recovering from an elbow injury.
The bullpen is even more key to this season as the Yankees will have to carefully monitor their older starters innings in order to ensure full, successful seasons from an aging rotation. With injuries, age and a change in the guard, the Yankees pitching staff will be the key to the team competing in 2013. Pitching is always the key to winning in the Major Leagues, but with the change in the lineup, this year’s pitching staff will be all that more key. Now the only thing left is to see how they perform.
*** The views and opinions expressed in this report are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of mlbreports.com and their partners***
A big thank-you goes out to Our ‘Trade and YankeesCorrespondent’ Nicholas Rossoletti for preparing today’s featured article. Nicholas is a young professional living in downtown Miami. He is a lifelong baseball fan and an avid Yankee supporter. Having grown up during the last two decades, he counts Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera as his favorite ball players of all time. He believes in sabermetrics and that new stats have already changed the way the baseball industry sees players. He was for Trout over Cabrera, he thinks RBIs tell you a lot more about a team than a player and that defense and pitching, ultimately, win championships. Rational thought and introspective analysis over the narrative is how we come to understand the game we love. The narrative is just a way to keep those who don’t really love the game watching. Feel free to follow Nicholas on twitter and talk the game of baseball Follow @NRoss56
“There are three things in my life which I really love: God, my family, and baseball. The only problem – once baseball season starts, I change the order around a bit.” ~ Al Gallagher, 1971
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Posted on March 4, 2013, in MLB Teams: Articles and Analysis, The Rest: Everything Baseball and tagged mariners, marlins, astros, American league, new york yankees, AL East, phil hughes, cc sabathia, joba chamberlain, ivan nova, jesus montero, yankee stadium, michael pineda, mariano rivera, david robertson, hiroki kuroda, andy pettitte, david phelps, la dodgers, Bronx Bombers, Charlie hayes, clay rapada, boone logan, nicholas rossoletti, @nross56 twitter, kevin brown, cody eppley, gold glove award winner, 2012 ALCS, AL Cy Young Award Winner, 2009 World Series, manny banuelos, david aardsma, carsten charles sabathia, 25 Man Yankee Roster 2013, Yankees Starting Rotation 2013, Yankees Bullpen 2013, 2011 ALDS, 1996 World Series, 1998 World Series, 1999 World Series, 2000 World Series. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.